Does Bethesda really need another higher-end restaurant? That’s the question Newton’s Table chef/owner Dennis Friedman asked himself when deciding whether to go forward with his white-tablecloth concept that had been struggling to draw a regular neighborhood crowd. Ultimately he decided against it, choosing instead to open the Bethesda Barbecue Company. The 100-seat joint takes over the same space, and is in the soft-opening phase now. Here’s what to know before you go.
The look: Rustic. Contrary to earlier reports that Friedman and partner-in-‘cue David Smelson are serving brisket on Newton’s former linens, the dining space and bar are undergoing a remodel. The original seats and room’s white columns will be replaced by reclaimed-wood tables, log poles, and vintage barbecue paraphernalia on the walls. Expect the full revamp over the next few weeks.
The barbecue style: Eclectic. Some joints focus on a particular region, but when it comes to barbecue in Washington, cooks tend to be wary of recreating any “authentic” style. Friedman says the meats coming out of the hickory smoker have roots in North Carolina’s Lexington style, and the house sauce is modeled after the signature vinegary red brew. Diners can also pick a more mustardy North Carolina version for dousing pulled pork, ribs, and brisket, or a sweeter option with an Asian twist. The slow-smoked meats can be ordered as sandwiches or platters, both with sides like slaw, collard greens, or smoky potatoes.
The other eats: Shrimp and grits, grilled flatbreads, hot-smoked salmon, and more. While barbecue is the focus, the menu offers plenty of other options. Friedman particularly likes bacon pops—essentially spice-rubbed pork belly on a stick—that are served with fried pickles, and the mac with Cabot cheddar. And yes, there are also salads topped with chicken or shrimp for lighter eaters.
The boozy drinks: Bartender-designed. The team asked some of Washington’s ‘tenders, such as Rogue 24’s Bryan Tetorakis and Taha Ismail of Mike Isabella Concepts for their input. The challenge: Make a drink you’d want for yourself after a long shift. You can bet the results are pretty boozy.
The beer/wine: Affordable. As with the rest of the menu, Friedman aims for a budget-friendly price point (apps run $6 to $12, while entrées hover in the $8 to $16 region). Beers by the can or bottle range from PBR to craft, and like the wines will rest in the $5 to $9 range. Happy hour is also in the works.
Up next: Soon you’ll find a spectrum of services, including carryout, delivery, catering, and, in the near future, a barbecue Super Bowl special. Friedman also hopes to tap into his fine-dining background once the restaurant is up and running, hosting ticketed tasting dinners with guest chefs. In the meantime, settle in with a can or beer and a plate of burnt ends.
Bethesda Barbecue Company. 4917 Elm St., Bethesda; 301-718-0550. Open Monday through Friday 11:30 to 11, Saturday 11:30 to 12:30, Sunday 11:30 to 10.