Roofers Union: Aiming High—And Low
In Adams Morgan, Roofers Union tries to please food lovers and boozehounds alike.
Reviewed By Ann Limpert
The main dining room at Roofers Union overlooks the bustling 18th Street strip. Photograph by Scott Suchman.
Comments () | Published July 1, 2014

Roofers Union
Address: 2446 18th St., NW, Washington, DC 20009
Phone: 202-232-7663
Neighborhood: Adams Morgan
Cuisines: American
Opening Hours: Bar: Monday - Friday: 5pm to Close; Saturday- Sunday: 11am to Close | Kitchen: Sunday - Wednesday: 5pm to 10pm; Thursday: 5pm to 11pm; Friday - Saturday: 5pm to 12pm | Brunch: Saturday - Sunday: 11am to 2:30pm
Nearby Metro Stops: Woodly Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan
Price Range: Moderate
Dress: Informal
Noise Level: Chatty
Reservations: Recommended
Best Dishes Lamb ribs; artichoke dip; cauliflower; pig-ear salad; sweetbread po' boy; kielbasa; fried-chicken sandwich; cipollini-onion rings; pineapple upside-down cake.
Price Details: Starter's $6 to $12, entrées $8 to $22.
Scene:
Low-key

Of all the appropriation and upscaling that restaurants have perpetrated (ethnic chic, picnic chic, dive-bar chic), perhaps the most perplexing is the attempt to conjure blue-collar spirit at Roofers Union in DC’s Adams Morgan.

There are ghostly work suits and rusty tools hanging across one wall of an otherwise generically airy, reclaimed-wood-heavy dining room. A graphic of a laborer with a hammer is stamped on the beer glasses holding the oak-aged IPA. (Alas, there were no actual workers to be found when the dining room’s roof sprang a leak during a recent evening rainstorm.)

And beyond the red plastic sandwich baskets and a plate of $8 hot dogs, there’s nothing particularly salt-of-the-earth about the menu. Chef Marjorie Meek-Bradley—who also oversees the Cleveland Park restaurant Ripple—has culled an odd but approachable collection of boozing-friendly snacks, sausages, and entrées. You might find yourself in front of an elegant (and wonderful) skillet of sweet-and-sour cauliflower dotted with mint and golden raisins. Or a po’ boy with an unexpected stuffing—perfectly fried sweetbreads.

At Ripple, Meek-Bradley is known for her way with charcuterie and meat. Here that virtuosity is on display in an appetizer of lamb ribs with a spicy-sweet glaze whose addictiveness competes with that of the cumin yogurt it’s served alongside. And I could nibble all day long on the crispy pig ears that are threaded through a frisée salad. (The other salads—a haphazard wedge and a blandly dressed Caesar—you can skip.)

But aside from a snappy kielbasa smothered in peppers and roasted potatoes, the sausage section of the menu has been disappointing. The best thing about an andouille corn dog was the cheddar spread it came with. (It made a great dip for the side of house-made chips.) A beer-cooked brat was devoid of flavor; a spiral of merguez sausage was ferociously salty. When it came to larger entrées, the skirt steak that was the centerpiece of the steak frites was juicy enough on its own; it didn’t need to be swimming in herbed butter.

The food will be beside the point for many who pay a visit—this is the heart of Adams Morgan, after all, home of Jell-O shots and Jumbo Slices. And Roofers Union, which took over the tri-level space that was once the Reef, has a major selling point for the “let’s get hammered, bro” set in its sprawling rooftop, which has a bar of its own.

On each of four visits, the sloshy scene up there made the sparsely populated dining room feel as quiet as a church service. Still, a dearth of servers meant it was a frustrating place to eat, with long lags followed by a traffic jam of appetizers and entrées.

The narrow downstairs bar, with its smart, on-point bartenders and terrific happy hour (discounted bar snacks, cocktails, beer, and wine daily from 5 to 7), might just be the best place to camp out over a crock of gooey artichoke dip or a Sriracha-and-honey-glazed fried chicken-thigh sandwich. A big bonus: It’s pretty much free of the faux working-stiff shtick.

Our favorite place to hang out at the three-level Roofers Union: the relaxed downstairs bar. Golden raisins and mint dress up a skillet of roasted cauliflower. Photographs by Scott Suchman.


This article appears in the July 2014 issue of Washingtonian.

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