Back in January, chef Kyle Bailey made a surprising announcement: he was leaving the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, where he had been executive chef at Birch & Barley and Churchkey for six years (he oversaw several other NRG concepts, too). His new gig? He’d become corporate chef for Longshot Hospitality, which counts Sixth Engine, the Dubliner, and Town Hall among its properties.
Bailey is focusing his early efforts on the casual American Sixth Engine, housed in a former firehouse near Mount Vernon Triangle. We caught up with Bailey to find out what diners can expect from his new endeavor.
Washingtonian: What went into the decision to leave Birch & Barley?
Kyle Bailey: You know, six years is a long run, man. It’s the longest that I’ve ever worked at a restaurant. And I’m proud to say that it was my restaurant. It was really cool. Change is good. Change is good for everybody. My career evolved and NRG became a big thing. It grew a lot, it expanded very, very quickly. I just never really wanted to be a part of [something like that].
So everything you were doing, both at the restaurant and within Neighborhood Restaurant Group got really big?
Yeah, it got big. Super big. And not that I don’t like growth, not that I don’t like expansion. But measured control is more what I was going for. And the scene changed a lot. You think about how many restaurants opened up in the past year, like “name” restaurants. Walking down 14th Street, it’s like every other building is a restaurant now.
So what drew you to Sixth Engine?
I love the feel. I love the old firehouse. It’s got a killer bar program that nobody knows about. It’s got a great dining room that nobody really knows about. It’s got the best patio that nobody knows about. It’s like I walked in and the stage had been set.
Sixth Engine isn’t really a foodie destination. Was it a risk to move from a place where you were really known to a situation like this?
The other side of that is that what people would have expected me to have done would be to go to an established restaurant. It would probably be a high-end steakhouse because that’s kind of the next step for where I am in my career. And that just does not interest me at all, man. To go to a place that’s already established, that’s already got a thing. I never wanted to just be stagnant. To not move. Every day here I still get to cook. I’m making pastas all the time. I just knocked out our first rolls of sourdough. We’ve got charcuterie, we’ve done kraut. We’re making all this stuff in house.
Since you arrived here–and I know it’s only been around six weeks–have you done anything to the menu?
So, we’re going really slow. They do have a bunch of regulars—a bunch of neighborhood folks. So there’s no reason to scorch the earth on that one. Let’s go slowly, let’s see what people like. See what’s fun. So it’s been slow changes and that’s fine by me. The food is lighter. More seasonally driven. Colorful–that’s a big thing.
I know in the past you’ve been a fan of switching things out pretty frequently. With that said, has anything so far become a highlight?
I still want to do that. The menu is driven by the farmers and by what they can bring you and what’s seasonal. So a good bet is always going to be any pasta. What’s better than handmade pasta? Is there anything better than that? It’s so good.
What might make it on to the menu going forward?
Expect whole animal again. Whole animal butchery is huge. I haven’t butchered a pig in a month. I feel crazy. We’re going to continue with charcuterie, the pasta, the ferments. We’re working pretty closely with the bar program here.
Are you working at any of the other properties?
A little bit at the Dubliner. Very little at Town Hall. Pretty soon I’ll be going through there.
Seems like the goal is just to strike the right balance?
You get stretched thin man, and it’s no fun. Also, those [restaurants] are going. They’re going very well. [The Dubliner] is 46 years old, that’s amazing. That place knows how to work.