When sommelier Brent Kroll started thinking about opening a wine bar, he had two ideas. One, of course, was Maxwell Park, where his team (normally) pours more than 50 wines by the glass with monthly rotating, often quirky themes. The second idea was to focus on wine and food pairings with flights matching each sip with the perfect small dish.
In a pandemic, though, Maxwell Park isn’t able to fully be what it set out to be. Limited seating means the bar is pouring less than half the wines it otherwise would. “We’re kind of a diluted version of ourselves because of Covid,” Kroll says. So why not pick that second idea up off the cutting room floor and turn the place into more of a special destination? Beginning August 31, Maxwell Park’s Navy Yard location will become Russell Island, a pairing pop-up named after a Michigan island where Kroll would go fishing as a kid.
The menu will consist of ten savory dishes, three cheese, and three sweets, each of which is accompanied by a suggested pairing. Think lamb tartare with a salty Canary Islands rosé; umami truffle-parm popcorn with an oily Grüner Veltliner; or candied-pretzel peanut butter truffles with an oaked sherry. The food menu comes from former Annabelle sous chef Brandon Shapiro and Michael Rafidi of adjoining Mediterranean restaurant Albi.
Try three half-glasses of wine for $20 or pair them for $38 total. Flights of five or ten are also available (see full menu and prices below). While you will be able to get wine a la carte too, it’s a better deal if you opt for the pairing. Vials of wine will be available if you’d rather try the pairings to-go.
“My career background is selling people really expensive pairings, like why they need to have expensive white Burgundy with lobster and stuff like that. This is making it affordable and super casual, but with the expertise still of top sommeliers in the area, including myself,” says Kroll, who’s joined by his somm-partners Niki Lang and Daniel Runnerstrom. A new addition to the team: Nicolette Anctil, who was sommelier at acclaimed Husk in Nashville for the last three years.
Kroll says the concept is a little more labor intensive, but that’s why now is the best time to try it. “We can’t take that many people. If I packed this to the gills at Maxwell, we’d probably go down in flames.”
The pop-up will last at least through September and possibly until there’s a vaccine—”who knows.” Reservations for the wine bar’s eight outdoor tables and 16 indoor seats will be available by emailing email@example.com. (You can also walk in.)
Russell Island is also a chance for Kroll to experiment with the format for a new bar down the line.
“Honestly, the next concept I do in DC will be this concept,” Kroll says. “I might as well get those creative juices running.”
Russell Island at Maxwell Park Navy Yard. 1346 4th St., SE.