Food

Former Republic Chef Opens Zinnia’s Upscale Dining Room in Silver Spring

Danny Wells brings surprising seafood dishes and smoked meats to the Restaurant at Zinnia.

Photograph courtesy Zinnia.

Zinnia, a sprawling all-day restaurant and bar in Silver Spring, has slowly rolled out its many dining and drinking spaces since opening last year. The multi-concept venue, which takes over the historic grounds of Mrs. K’s Tollhouse, includes a casual cafe for breakfast and light lunches, a tavern, a huge garden for eating and sipping al fresco, and now, an upscale dining room. The Restaurant at Zinnia opens for reservations on Wednesday, September 7, with longtime Black Restaurant Group chef Danny Wells at the helm. 

Garden-inspired dishes include tiny herb dumplings with mushrooms over creamy risotto soubise. Photograph courtesy Zinnia. 

MoCo neighbors may be familiar with Wells; he’s a Takoma Park native and opened Republic (which recently closed) with restaurateur Jeff Black in 2013. He also served as head chef at sister restaurants Black Salt and Pearl Dive over his 16 years with Black Restaurant Group. Wells briefly left the kitchen to go into hospitality consulting, but Zinnia co-owner Chris Brown—who also owns Takoma Beverage Co.—lured him back. 

“We got to know each other through typical hospitality interactions like borrowing some bitters for the bar, or some rosemary for the kitchen [at Takoma Beverage Co],” says Brown. “I’ve always wanted to work with Danny, and teaming up with him has helped to elevate the culinary program at Zinnia.” 

A smoker in the garden produces dishes like this smoked lamb tart with whipped feta. Photograph courtesy Zinnia. 

Wells overhauled the cafe and tavern/garden menus with a few familiar dishes like steamed mussels in roasted garlic-tomato broth or a crispy gulf shrimp po’boy.  But his main focus is the modern American restaurant. There, diners will find an eclectic a la carte menu that draws from Wells’ years with seafood-centric Black restaurants and his relationship with local farms and foragers—plus some throwback dishes like the Tollhouse Caesar or broiled oysters that nod to the near century-old Mrs. K’s. 

Head-on prawns in a zesty sauce with heirloom peppers. Photograph courtesy Zinnia. 

Wells says he’s angling for “something more intriguing than salmon” when it comes to seafood dishes. Standouts might include jumbo Gulf prawns with mojo criollo sauce and heirloom peppers, or a swordfish piccata sauced with blue crab butter, lemon, capers, and cherry tomatoes. A smoker in the garden turns out dishes like a smoked Elysian Fields lamb tart with feta and roasted peppers, as well as mammoth Creekstone Farms ribeyes with smoked onion butter and red wine sauce. Vegetarians have plenty of options between plant-focused starters and entrees such as a summery corn gnocchi. A chef’s tasting menu may be an option down the line. 

A former terrace is transformed. Photograph courtesy Zinnia. 

Brown tapped design powerhouse Edit Lab at Streetsense (behind the look of the Dabney, Tiger Fork, and more) for the restaurant. 

“They took a lot of time nurturing the essence of Mrs. K’s. It’s very clean but pays homage to what it was for 90 years,” says Brown. Umbrellas from a former terrace are now recreated on the ceiling, and floral wallpaper is dotted with—what else—zinnias. 

The Restaurant at Zinnia. 9201 Colesville Rd., Silver Spring.

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.