Charley Prime Foods Aims to Be a Steak and Cocktail Destination in Gaithersburg

The lakefront spinoff of Bar Charley also offers housemade pastas and a kids menu

Charley Prime is a spinoff of Bar Charley in DC. Photograph by Deb Lindsey.

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Charley Prime Foods. 9811 Washingtonian Blvd., Gaithersburg.

The owners of steak-centric Bar Charley in Dupont and Italian joint Little Coco’s in Petworth are combining the best of both—plus some—at their just-opened waterfront restaurant and bar, Charley Prime Food, in Gaithersburg. Located in the Rio Lakefront shopping and entertainment complex, the spot offers housemade pastas, steaks, cheffy family-friendly fare, plus a huge list of cocktails.

It is the farthest from DC that veteran restaurateurs Jackie Greenbaum and Gordon Banks have ventured for an opening, but not unfamiliar territory. Their longtime chef Adam Harvey—now a partner in Charley Prime—lives in the area, and Banks grew up nearby. “They had their work cut out to make me be interested, and it didn’t take long,” Greenbaum says. “To be honest, it’s way more interesting and beautiful than I knew it would be.”

It’s also nearly three times the size of Bar Charley, with almost 200 seats inside and out. The kitchen alone is the size of its counterpart’s dining room. “This gives us the opportunity to really go to town,” Greenbaum says. “We are really able to step it up into what Bar Charley could have been, if it had the space.”

Little Coco’s spicy rigatoni alla vodka is on the menu at Charley Prime. Photograph by Deb Lindsey.

For starters, the new restaurant has a dedicated pasta-making room. Little Coco’s chef Russell Pike is helming the kitchen alongside Harvey. They’re carrying over Little Coco’s favorites like spicy rigatoni alla vodka and goat cheese ravioli, plus rustic garlic cheesy bread topped with a big scoop of ricotta.

Charley Prime features a mix of affordable and splurgy steaks. Photograph by Deb Lindsey.

Affordable steaks like a bavette and hanger (both under $30) have transferred over from Bar Charley, but Charley Prime has some higher-end additions like Japanese A5 wagyu and tomahawk ribeye from Linz Heritage Prime Angus. “It just blew me away,” Harvey says of the Linz beef. “This is literally some of the best prime beef that I’ve ever had in my life.” All steaks come with fries or salad.

Charley Prime’s chicken Milanese with lemon-caper butter. Photograph by Deb Lindsey.

Other non-beef entrees include chicken Milanese with lemon-caper butter and roasted lamb French dip.  Other starters include “faux gras” made from whipped mushrooms and fried green tomatoes with pickled-scallion-pimiento cheese and hot honey. (Brunch is coming soon.)

Harvey also has two kids menus—one for younger kids with easy-pleasers like chicken fingers and mac-and-cheese, and another for older kids who might want smaller portions of entrees like steak or salmon. Both come with housemade applesauce, honey-glazed carrots, or French fries. Kids and adults will appreciate the “magical sundae,” with an array of toppings to choose from.

Magical sundae at Charlie Prime Foods. Photograph by Deb Lindsey.

The cocktail menu will eventually span nearly 50 drinks. “We’re looking to do the same kind of cocktails and raise the bar for what kind of cocktails are happening out here,” Banks says. The list includes a dozen cocktails on draft (nitro negronis); retro riffs (cosmos with “whiffs of Carrie Bradshaw”; variations on mules and old-fashioneds; and original creations (“Holy Shishito” with blistered-shishito tequila and yuzu). They’ve also built up a collection of tiki mugs for mai tais, pina coladas, and other tropical drinks.

The 90-seat dining room channels the dark and cozy vibes of semi-subterranean Bar Charley but with floral wall paper, deep green booths, and black-and-white checkered floors. Did you know Greenbaum is painter? Her work—along with art that was previously hanging in her own home—line the walls. Her goal is to paint portraits of her business partners and their families to add to the collection.

Greenbaum says she’d been sold on the location for its boardwalk traffic, but she hadn’t fully realized how pleasant it would be to sit on the 100-seat patio overlooking the lake. The restaurant build-out had been a long headache full of pandemic equipment delays. But recently the construction fences came down, and she finally had a chance to take it all in: “We suddenly look up and go, ‘Oh my God, this place is beautiful.'”

Jessica Sidman
Food Editor

Jessica Sidman covers the people and trends behind D.C.’s food and drink scene. Before joining Washingtonian in July 2016, she was Food Editor and Young & Hungry columnist at Washington City Paper. She is a Colorado native and University of Pennsylvania grad.