Combine the brains behind a hip Tex-Mex spot and a popular barbecue joint and you get this: Hill East Burger, a smoked burger saloon with tallow-washed cocktails and a taxidermied armadillo.
The new spot—opening Saturday, October 7 near the Potomac Ave Metro—comes from Republic Cantina owner Chris Svetlik, Sloppy Mama’s owner Joe Neuman, and Ben Alt, who’s bartended and served at top restaurants like Tail Up Goat, Martha Dear, and Queen’s English. The trio met in 2016 doing different ventures in Mess Hall’s commercial kitchen and have worked together in various capacities since then: Alt consulted on the beverage program at Republic Cantina, and Sloppy Mama’s collabed with Svetlik’s defunct Republic Kolache.
“We all found ourselves coming out of the pandemic still standing, and I think ready to put another project into the world. And as we talked about possible ideas and spaces, it just felt like our skill sets aligned well,” Svetlik says.
They landed on smoked burgers, which have become popular in Texas but are a rarity in DC. Like a lot of pit-masters, Neuman has sold smoked burgers as a special at Sloppy Mama’s to avoid wasting the trim from all his prime brisket. He’ll now supply that trim to Hill East Burger, which also aims to source whole cows down the line. (Steak nights to come.)
Rather than serving the thick half-pound patties you might find in Texas, Hill East Burger is focusing on smash burgers using local Roseda Farm’s grass-fed aged beef that’s cold-smoked with hickory. The opening menu has just three burger options, including the signature “Puebla” with smoked poblano relish, smoked cheddar, mustard, and pickles. Stack them with single, double, or triple patties. Look out for seasonal specials like a Thanksgiving-themed burger with cranberry relish and stuffing.
The menu also includes Texas-style chili (no beans, no tomatoes), “wedgey” fries, and a handful of other sandwiches. Of note: a fried chicken sandwich with country gravy and pickled jalapeños. Vegetarians will find a fried grits-and-black-eyed-pea patty with pickled onions, tomato jam, and arugula. You can also skip the buns and get both options as “nugs.”
The bar will serve around a dozen beers—mostly local with the exception of a German smoked beer. Alt is also adding some thematic touches to the cocktails, including a smoked tea rum old-fashioned and a boulevardier made with beef tallow-washed bourbon. “Think of it kind of like salt,” Alt says of the tallow, which comes from Sloppy Mama’s. “It’s just kind of a flavor booster. The texture coats your mouth.”
The snug space, formerly Wisdom, has a bit of a Texas vibe with wagon-wheel light fixtures and that taxidermied armadillo. Bonus: an old-school (working!) jukebox. But while there are many Texan reference points, Svetlik notes there are also plenty of Southern and Southwestern nods too.
“I think this stands on its own. It’s not necessarily like a Texan defined concept,” Svetlik says. “I think we really will be seen as a place to come hang out, not just get a quick casual meal.”
Hill East Burger. 1432 Pennsylvania Ave., SE. Monday through Friday, 5 to 11 PM. Saturday and Sunday, noon to 12 PM. Kitchen closes one hour early.