Take an Exclusive First Look Inside the Dabney

Chef Jeremiah Langhorne's highly-anticipated Shaw restaurant opens this week.

Chef Jeremiah Langhorne in front of the Dabney's open hearth, the cornerstone of his Mid-Atlantic restaurant in Shaw. Photography by Andrew Propp.

One of the most highly-anticipated restaurant openings of the year is almost here: The Dabney, which is slated to debut by the end of this week. Chef/owner Jeremiah Langhorne left his post as chef de cuisine at Charleston’s highly-acclaimed McCrady’s two years ago, and has spent the interim time with business partner Alex Zink transforming a set of 19th century row homes in Shaw’s Blagden Alley into a 55-seat restaurant focused on Mid-Atlantic cuisine.

The cozy dining room is set with reclaimed wood tables and a hard pine floor.

What makes the Dabney stand out from other locally-focused restaurants is the interplay between old and new, and the depth to which Langhorne explores the culinary traditions of the region. The cornerstone of the restaurant is a ten-foot hearth visible from the warmly-lit dining room, similar to those found in 19th century homes. Oak and hickory logs fuel a fire at the center, though the idea isn’t to cook over open flames—hot embers heat a cast-iron griddle, or can be put in a “burn box” for roasting, while whole ducks and chickens can be hung to smoke.

You have so much control and a better depth of flavor,” says Langhorne of the hearth. “A lot of people look at it as limiting, but I see endless possibilities.”

A 13-seat bar is the place to sip cocktails such as horchata made with toasted Carolina gold rice.

Much of Langhorne’s inspiration comes from historical cookbooks, like one he always keeps in the kitchen: Good Housekeeping in Old Virginia. The recipe collection was published in 1879, and includes a number of Langhorne’s family formulas; the chef was born in DC and raised in the Shenandoah Valley, where his lineage dates back over a century.

“It’s a great way to humble yourself,” says Langhorne, flipping through the pages. “Whenever I feel like I’m really clever, I’ll look in here and see that someone did it 200 years ago with half the equipment and technical knowledge.”

Case in point: a recipe for sweetbreads and waffles, which sounds like it’s pulled from a trendy tapas menu, not a cookbook that recommends visiting your “local tinner” for cooking equipment. Langhorne put his own spin on the dish, creating a foie gras and chicken liver parfait that he serves with crispy waffles made from red fife, and heirloom grain he likens to “whole wheat bread intensified.” The communal dish will be served with whipped maple syrup and roast paw paw puree.

A chalkboard room connecting the two kitchens is filled with menu ideas and a running tab of what’s in season.

Guests can get a peek of the kitchen’s creative process in a chalkboard-lined hallway behind the open kitchen. The cooks keep running lists of what’s in season, the homemade vinegars and preserves currently available in the pantry, and a constantly-evolving menu of ideas: “VA Finest” country ham with biscuits and preserves, catfish with tomato gravy, chow chow, and field peas, or chicken and dumplings.

Tucked behind the chalkboard walls is a second commissary, equipped with a high-tech Alto-Shaam oven, Robot Coupe, stainless steel butchery table, and other modern gadgets and conveniences for bringing the chefs’s visions to life.

“I spent a lot of time working on modern cooking,” says Langhorne. “You’re an idiot if you discount any genre of cooking—‘I only work with modern techniques, or I’m only into classic.’ We make sure we have a full spectrum to work with.”

An urban garden above the restaurant is planted with chard, sorrel, hyssop, and much more.

Also in play is a 250 square-foot garden above the restaurant. Langhorne spent time foraging and farming with McCrady’s chef/owner Sean Brock. While the Dabney’s plot is fairly small by comparison, it allows the team to use various parts of the plants—buds, flowers, stems—during different points in their life cycles.

Many of the garden’s ingredients will play into the cocktail menu at the 13-seat bar, run by former Columbia Room bartender Tyler Hudgens. The curated list riffs on classics, such as drinks derived from hearth-roasted pears and apples, or a spin on horchata made with toasted Carolina gold rice. Desserts, too, play on a mix of sweet and savory, with Langhorne—a self-described sweet tooth—working double-duty as pastry chef. One corner of the open kitchen will be devoted to a generous display of pies, cakes, and seasonal cobblers.

“Dessert always makes me think of abundance, like those medieval dinner scenes,” says Langhorne.

Menus may change nightly, depending on what’s in season and the kitchen’s creativity.

Look for dinner to begin at the restaurant by the end of the week, when the restaurant will also begin accepting reservations. Langhorne says the Dabney may eventually offer weekend brunch, but given the restaurant is years in the making, they’re not going to rush now.

The Dabney. 122 Blagden Alley, NW.

Brick from the original 19th century row houses lines the dining room.
Guests can head out to a small patio in warm weather for drinks before dinner.
A builder in Baltimore fashioned the tables, which will be set with ceramic and antique serving pieces.
Reservations for the dining room will be accepted.
Chef Jeremiah Langhorne comes from Sean Brock’s highly-acclaimed McCrady’s in Charleston.
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.