Virtue Feed & Grain (Full Review)
Cathal and Meshelle Armstrong serve up a mix of American staples and Irish country food in a former feed house
Reviewed By Kate Nerenberg
Comments () | Published October 11, 2011

Virtue Feed & Grain
Address: 106 S. Union St., Alexandria, VA 22314
Phone: 571-970-3669
Neighborhood: Alexandria
Cuisines: American
Nearby Metro Stops: Braddock Road
Price Range: Moderate
Dress: Informal
Noise Level: Chatty
Reservations: Not Needed
Best Dishes What I Drink cocktail with Amstel Light, lemon soda, and rum; fried calamari; pate maison; Cuban sandwich
Price Details: Starters $5 to $12.50, entrees $14 to $22

The two-floor restaurant has seats for 350 diners, an arcade room, and a lounge. Photographs by Scott Suchman

>> More Photos of Virtue Feed & Grain

In 2004, when husband-and-wife team Cathal and Meshelle Armstrong opened Restaurant Eve in Old Town, they broke restaurant conventions with their three-in-one model: a neighborhood bar, casual bistro, and special-occasion tasting room under a single roof.

A couple of years later, they went downscale, slinging excellent fish and chips at the nearby Eamonn’s. Above that shop, Eve team member Todd Thrasher kicked off Washington’s cocktail/speakeasy trend at the signless PX. In 2007, the Armstrongs rescued the sinking Majestic Cafe on King Street (now the Majestic) and started turning out good, simple American food. It seemed the couple could make just about any restaurant idea work.

In June, the Armstrongs opened Virtue Feed & Grain, near the Potomac River waterfront. The former feed house, built in the 1800s, is mammoth: Its two floors hold 350 seats, an arcade room, and a lounge. The interior, with exposed ductwork, iron beams, and bar TVs, is dizzying. There are plans for Sunday pajama brunch, block parties six times a year, and a walk-up window for takeout.

The menu of nearly 50 items is a mix of American staples—deviled eggs, chicken pot pie, Virginia peanuts—and food that recalls Cathal’s Irish background, such as rockfish with colcannon. But not much we tasted on that long list was worth returning for.

Fried rings of calamari have a peppery bite and a delicious Marie Rose–like dipping sauce. A Cuban sandwich was good—at least compared with a salty, stringy pile of corned beef on rye. A generous portion of pâté maison would have been worth diving into again and again, but the accompanying baguette slices were in short supply—and stale.

Deviled eggs were oversalted. Artichoke-and-crab dip was devoid of seasoning. Mac and cheese turned up flavorless, and a cast-iron skillet of marrow bones was buttery but bland. The best thing about a plate of thinly sliced ox tongue was the fresh arugula salad on top.

Main courses didn’t redeem things. A cut of salmon was overcooked, and roast chicken had an oddly pungent brine. Smoked-haddock chowder was tasty enough—if you like drinking heavy cream straight from the carton.

The restaurant winds up feeling like the brainchild of novice restaurateurs who had lots of money and ideas with no one to edit them down. The Armstrongs are also working on a food emporium, slated to debut this fall, and a second Eamonn’s. In the past, they’ve juggled lots of restaurants skillfully, but it seems their ambitions have outpaced their abilities.

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This review appears in the October 2011 issue of The Washingtonian.

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Posted at 12:00 AM/ET, 10/11/2011 RSS | Print | Permalink | Washingtonian.com Restaurant Reviews