There’s a lot to be excited about at Makan and Thirsty Crow, a two-part Malaysian restaurant and subterranean Malay-American sports bar that’s taken over the former Meridian Pint space in Columba Heights. Business partners Kenrick Wu and chef James Wozniuk—a six year alum of Erik Bruner Yang‘s group—quietly opened the basement gastropub portion of the concept last weekend, serving a 50/50 American and Malaysian food menu alongside beers and whiskeys.
At Thirsty Crow, named for a Malaysian fable, patrons can catch Arsenal matches and American football on 16 televisions over cold Carlsberg beers, drams of whiskey, and drink-friendly eats. There’s also billiards and 24 taps for brews, wines, and batched cocktails. Sure, you can order Buffalo wings and cheeseburgers, but we have our eye on the wok-fried noodles with Chinese sausage, grilled sates, and nasi lemak, a coconut rice bowl that’s the national dish of Malaysia.
Wozniuk is running a limited menu for now, but plans to expand it with dishes inspired by street hawker fare like Malaysian fried chicken and a Ramly burger—a popular style of smash-burger wrapped in an egg omelet and topped with sweet chili sauce. Soon, he’ll start crowd-testing plates for Makan, which is is slated to open mid-December.
Makan, which will occupy 100 dining and cocktail bar seats on the sidewalk-level, is what Wozniuk calls “full immersion Malaysian.” The cuisine that brings together influences from China, India, Thailand as well as fellow Muslim countries. It will also be the only dedicated Malaysian restaurant operating in the District.
“You really notice the void of not being able to eat it [Malaysian food]” says Wozniuk, who began regularly traveling to the country five years ago. “Not having something like this here, and for the food to be so amazing, I can’t wait to share the experience I love with everyone else.”
Wozniuk is a Texas native but he’s no stranger to Southeast Asian cuisine. Over a decade ago, he became such an avid fan of Bangkok Golden’s then-secret Lao menu that chef/owner Seng Luangrath invited him into her kitchen for cooking lessons and Sunday family meals. (He now counts her as a close friend and mentor.) He started with Maketto as a chef de cuisine in 2013 (two years before the restaurant formerly opened) and most recently helmed Spoken English. When it came time to strike out on his own he wanted to try and recreate the Malaysian flavors he loves.
Part of Makan’s shareable menu will be inspired by Nasi Campur, “mixed rice” restaurants where scoops of grains are accompanied by a huge variety of meat and seafood dishes, sambals, breads, and vegetables. In Malaysia, the plethora of items are often spread out buffet or cafeteria-style, but at Makan, you’ll find a dozen-odd options on the menu that will be served on family-style platters with the signature scoop of rice. Patrons will also share smaller plates such as roti jala (net-like crepes served with curries for scooping), spicy house-made noodles, or petai a.k.a. “stink beans.” (“They look like fava beans but smell like gasoline and have a very unique taste,” says Wozniuk.) Another Malaysian dish Wozniuk is excited to introduce: locally made, real-deal tempeh—not the stiff blocks sold in grocery stores.
“It’s a different experience. It’s softer, tender, but still has the texture of the beans,” says Wozniuk, who compares the difference to homemade tofu.
Down the line, the team wants to introduce crowd favorites like Malaysian chili crab. Also: weekend dim sum. Wozniuk says brunch is when he’ll take more creative license, offering spins on hawker and kopitiam (cafe) fare like noodles, soups, dumplings, sweet and savory waffles, and even a few favorites that nod to his southern roots.
“I love biscuits, so there’ll definitely be a biscuit on the menu,” says Wozniuk.
Makan and Thirsty Crow. 3400 11th St., NW. Thirsty Crow open from 4:30 PM to close on weekdays, at noon on weekends.