News & Politics

100 Very Best Restaurants 2013: Restaurateurs of the Year

Barbara and Jeff Black have hits all over town—five restaurants, a bocce bar, a fish market—and there’s more to come.

Barbara and Jeff Black. The Pair’s restaurants are relaxed and fun—but serious about food. Photograph by Scott Suchman

When chef Jeff Black and his wife, Barbara, debuted their first
restaurant, Addie’s, in 1995, Washington had a very different dining
culture. “Everything looked like a men’s club—very stiff,” says Jeff. “I
hated that. The first thing we did when opening Addie’s was to paint it
bright yellow.”

Eighteen years later, the Blacks are hardly seen as culinary
rebels—you won’t find foams, “soils,” or other science-experiment tricks
in their kitchens—but they have mastered the art of unpretentious yet
thoughtful American restaurants, harboring a special love for

There’s BlackSalt, the buzzy dining room—and fabulous fish
market—that draws the likes of Michelle Obama despite its out-of-the-way
location in DC’s Palisades; Black’s Bar & Kitchen in Bethesda; Black
Market Bistro in Garrett Park; and Pearl Dive Oyster Palace in DC’s Logan
Circle along with its upstairs bar, Black Jack, where hip crowds sip
inventive cocktails and play bocce.

The journey wasn’t easy. After meeting at the Culinary
Institute of America, the pair was lucky to work under some of
Washington’s greats: Jeff with Jean-Louis Palladin and Bob Kinkead,
Barbara alongside caterer Susan Gage. But they ran out of money opening
Addie’s in Rockville, putting their employees on an interest-heavy payment
plan, buying worn equipment, and taking side gigs. Their first paycheck
arrived nine months after they opened.

Still, that one restaurant became a restaurant group and a
handful of employees grew to some 350. Although they’re reluctant to take
on potentially demanding investors and landlords—the Blacks borrow mostly
from the bank and own three of the five buildings their eateries
occupy—they’re willing to help finance fellow chefs’ efforts to strike out
on their own. This year, they’re playing a part in a South American grill
from former BLT Steak chef Victor Albisu as well as a project in Takoma
Park by longtime Black Restaurant Group chef Danny Wells. Taking a similar
approach to the community, in 2011 they founded the Black’s Family
Foundation, which raises money for local charities.

When it comes to their own restaurants, they’re not done:
Despite a recent stumble—plans for a massive oyster bar in Merrifield’s
new Mosaic District fell through at the last minute—Jeff is scoping places
for their next venture.

“I tell my team we’re climbing a mountain and there’s no peak,”
he says. “As soon as you stop climbing the mountain, you fall

100 Very Best Restaurants 2013

Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.