When Constantine Stavropoulos opens a restaurant, he aims to
fulfill a neighborhood need. When he brought Tryst to Adams Morgan in
1998, the cafe culture that blossomed around its saggy, mismatched couches
belied the cliché that DC was an uncool city of transients. Then came the
Diner two doors down, filling the 24-hour breakfast gap. With Open City in
Woodley Park, he satisfied latte-starved locals.
His new endeavor, the Coupe—which takes up nearly a full block
on Columbia Heights’ suddenly crowded 11th Street—comprises a diner,
coffee shop, and low-lit cocktail lounge. Each claims its own area of the
restaurant, whose clever design makes the most of exposed-brick columns
and window-lined walls.
Stavropoulos has tapped Florida transplant Rob Theriot to
oversee the kitchens at his four restaurants. Here Theriot puts upscale
spins on greasy-spoon classics. Buffalo-style frog’s legs—paired with a
crunchy apple-and-celery salad—are a delicious riff on chicken wings. A
freeform lasagna expertly mingles veal shank, Italian sausage, and beef
brisket. Toad-in-the-hole, a highlight on the all-day breakfast menu, tops
sweet brioche with eggs and chipped-beef gravy.
As good as some of Theriot’s ideas are, execution can be a
problem. An open-faced eggplant sandwich arrived on a baguette so rubbery
we couldn’t slice it with a knife. A take on poutine with short-rib
“debris” and jalapeños was undone by frigid French fries. And the Coupe’s
macaroni and cheese was the sort of one-note bore you’d expect on a kids’
menu at a less ambitious place.
More suited to an adult palate are bar manager David Fritzler’s
sodas. The pleasingly acerbic strawberry-lemon shrub recalls the popular
“drinking vinegars” at Andy Ricker’s Pok Pok restaurants in New York City
and Portland, Oregon, and a coffee-infused concoction proves a great
counterpart to the Coupe’s fudgy “birthday” cake.
Cocktails, too, are bold and distinctive. Try the bourbon-based
Georgia Comforter, with peach bitters, or Grandma’s Pink Lemonade (vodka,
Madeira, and the aforementioned shrub). The Coupe may still be working out
its kinks, but the drinks seem poised to become stars.
This article appears in the January 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.