Restaurateurs of the Year: Khalid Pitts and Diane Gross of Cork

Photograph by Matthew Worden.

For a while, it seemed as if wine bars might replace real bars. Automatic wine machines turned up as far away as the new Kybecca in Fredericksburg, and you could find biodynamic wines—a fad among green-conscious drinkers—in Annapolis at the Purple Tooth. The formula of small plates and wine flights became as common as mini-burgers, cupcakes, and frozen yogurt. Many area wine bars are worthy destinations, but Cork—which opened last year in DC’s Logan Circle—has emerged as valedictorian of the class.

It’s an improbable success story: Husband-and-wife team Khalid Pitts, 41, and Diane Gross, 39, have unlikely résumés for restaurateurs—he’s a union political director, and she’s a former civil-rights lawyer. But the two Logan Circle residents and longtime wine lovers had a vision. They wanted, Gross says, a “comfortable space with no flash and no big words on the wine list.”

To that end, the Old World–only wine roster is explanatory without being pretentious. Cork set the standard for the others of its breed: It immediately became a neighborhood spot as much for its lived-in familiarity—most of the artwork is by Pitts’s father—as for the value-driven menu from former CityZen sous-chef Ron Tanaka. He turns out rustic, seasonal, and sometimes nostalgic plates such as garlic-and-lemon-spiked fries and a jazzed-up grilled cheese.

Wallet-friendly wine bars are likely to continue cropping up, and they and other ambitious, midprice restaurants would do well to follow the Cork model.

“We have a responsibility,” says Gross, “to keep things fresh and new to keep customers interested. But we also have to have food and wine that our regulars can rely on.”

This appeared as part of the 100 Best Restaurants section in the February, 2009 issue of the Washingtonian. 


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