When Ray’s restaurateur Michael Landrum quietly opened the Tasty Dug-Out inside Arlington’s Hell Burger, we had a lot of questions. Mainly: how can a baseball dugout be tasty, and what is “Modern Zemblan, Estoty & Tartary Cuisine,” as advertised at the entrance.
It turns out the dugout has nothing to do with sports, and the cuisines are fictional—at least in the sense that they’re references to Vladimir Nabokov novels. You will find real food and drink served at the tiny, eight-table section devoted to the new menu, which specializes in “dug-outs”—a nickname for stuffed khachapuri breads, which resemble dugout canoes. Landrum admits to having fun with the concept.
“It’s an abbreviated, condensed, and mildly representative reflection of my background and travels,” says the restaurateur, who framed the menu around favorite dishes from Russia, Georgia (the country), and the Mediterranean.
Whereas Hell Burger currently operates as a counter-order joint, The Dug-Out—a section of the main dining room partially enclosed by bookcases—offers full table service. The menu starts with sweet and savory snacks such as rye with honeyed goat cheese or smoked salmon, meant to pair with chilled vodkas or a lengthy selection of teas (try the eye-catching blooming teas, wrapped in jasmine leaves). Other dishes fall in three categories, all favorite foods of the chef/owner: kharcho, a hearty lamb soup with spiced pilaf; khachapuri breads (a.k.a. “tasty dug-outs”) with toppings like brined cheese and a runny egg, or steak tartare; and shakshuka, traditionally eggs poached in a spiced tomato sauce. Here the dish is served in khachapuri instead of bowls, with optional extras like artichokes or thick-cut pepperoni. Being a Ray’s operation, there’s also steak—a classic filet with maitre d’hotel (herbed) butter, served with thick-cut fries and tomato salad.
“The whole purpose is to just have fun with it,” says Landrum. “We’re taking very beloved cuisines, and introducing them both authentically and in innovative combinations.”
The restaurant-within-a-restaurant is open for dinner-only on weekdays, and all day Saturday and Sunday. Space is first-come, first-serve.
The Tasty Dug-Out inside Ray’s Hell Burger. 1650 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; 703-841-0001. Open for dinner Tuesday through Friday, 5:30 to close (around 9); Saturday and Sunday, noon to close.