Late Night, Party Space, Outdoor Seating, Good for Groups
Daily, 4 to 7.
Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays
“Vote Against Prohibition,” reads a faux-faded sign on the ruddy brick wall at Brickside Food & Drink, downtown Bethesda’s latest hangout. And though that issue is relevant only in the history books, most of the twentysomething crowd on a recent weeknight was enthusiastically showing its love of the hard stuff—swilling rye-spiked punches in Mason jars and, at happy hour, $10 buckets of Miller Lite. But as the bar was packed three-deep, the dining room’s cozy leather booths stayed mostly empty.
That’s too bad because hidden among the usual sports-bar fare—a tangy-creamy spinach-and-artichoke dip, chicken fingers and wings—are some unexpected gems. Chicken “pops” translate to hefty, sweetly glazed drumsticks with a cucumber-yogurt dipping sauce. They’re a nice starter, as are fried wedges of soft polenta with blue cheese. A slightly spicy tomato broth makes a restrained portion of mussels worth ordering, and it’s even better as it soaks into garlic toast.
There are misses to watch out for: Overcooked cauliflower with garlicky tahini sauce was a mushy, white-on-white mess. A sauceless pizza arrived on a good, lightly charred crust but was bogged down by gluey, flavorless Armenian string cheese. And a thinly pounded, breaded pork chop emerged bland and tough from the fryer.
When it comes to bigger plates, it’s no surprise pastas are a draw. Andrea Pace—chef/owner of the ambitious Italian dining room Villa Mozart in Fairfax—is co-owner of Brickside. His orecchiette with sausage and broccolini is straightforward and satisfying, while linguine is twirled around shrimp and slicked with a lovely tomato-brandy sauce. It might seem odd that they share space with racks of barbecue ribs, but no matter—those are pretty tasty, too.
No doubt the Mason-jar cocktails will keep flowing, but the kitchen deserves some attention.
This article appears in the May 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.