Bayou Bakery Chef Aims to Open the McLean Restaurant His Neighbors Have Been Begging For

Neutral Ground from David Guas will feature wood-fired cooking—and probably some pimento cheese

Bayou Bakery chef/owner David Guas. Photograph by Johnny Autry.

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Neutral Ground Bar + Kitchen. 6641 Old Dominion Dr, McLean.

For years, Bayou Bakery owner David Guas says his McLean neighbors have been coming up to him at his kids’ baseball games or community functions to complain that there aren’t more great dining options in downtown McLean. “You have all these people that are well-traveled, well-educated wanting something different and more sophisticated—but at the same time, just an uncomplicated, unpretentious, neighborhood spot,” he says. Finally, Guas is hoping to give it to them: He’ll open his first full-service restaurant, Neutral Ground, in McLean early 2024.

Neutral Ground refers to the New Orleans name for the grassy medians running through the streets and historical gathering places—but also nods to elusive bipartisanship in the nation’s capital. The restaurant will not, however, center around New Orleans cuisine like Bayou Bakery: “The idea is that you would walk into it and you would never know it’s the same owner,” Guas says.

Wood-fired double-cut pork chops will be on the menu of Neutral Ground. Photograph by Johnny Autry.

The restaurant will instead focus on seasonal American cuisine with wood-fired cooking, thanks to a Marra Forni oven left from the previous tenant, Italian restaurant Assaggi Osteria. Dishes will showcase local farms, fisherman, and heritage growers, like a double-cut pork chop from chef-favorite Autumn Olive Farms in Shenandoah Valley. Guas says other highlights will include fire-roasted oysters with garlic butter and parm, as well as a classic smash burger with double patties, American cheese, and shaved sweet onions. Other plates come from his home repertoire: anchovy pasta is a family favorite that Guas made for his now-wife, Simone Rathlé, when they were dating. “I don’t know if she started crying; I’ll just say it put a tear in her eye,” he says.

At the same time, Guas can’t totally neglect the culinary influences of his native New Orleans: “If I open Neutral Ground without pimento cheese somewhere, I’ve already been threatened…We sell so much of it now out of Bayou, it’s not even funny.” Also, how can he not have a classic New Orleans cocktail like a Sazerac? He says most people don’t even realize Bayou Bakery serves booze, but the new space gives him a chance to better showcase the bar. The drink menu will feature a concise list of old- and new-world wines, draft beers, frozen cocktails, and non-alcoholic options.

Meanwhile, Rathlé, also a restaurant publicist, is working with design firm //3877 on the aesthetics. Think saw palmetto, striped grass cloth walls, and rattan textured shades that aim to give the open dining room that “uncomplicated, unpretentious” feel Guas says his neighbors are after.

“It’s going to be a typical opening of a restaurant where the chef’s been doing this for a while,” Guas says. “My point is keeping it real simple to start.”

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.