HalfSmoke Opens Tuesday in Shaw
HalfSmoke, 651 Florida Ave. NW, opens at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 4, in the former Popeyes Chicken & Biscuits location at the intersection of Georgia and Florida Avenues just a few blocks down from Ben’s Chili Bowl, which is famous for its half-smokes.
But unlike Ben’s, the “fine casual” sausage restaurant from Andre McCain, a D.C. native and Morehouse College graduate who previously worked in real estate and finance in D.C. and New York, was conceived as part of Mess Hall food incubator’s Launch Pad competition.
“I grew up in D.C. eating half-smokes all my life,” McCain told DC on Heels. “It felt like there was a void in the high-quality sausage market. Combining sausage with the assembly line really made a lot of sense.”
The restaurant will feature D.C.’s beloved half-smoke on a bun, flatbread, rice or quinoa bowl or salad along with tater tots, sweet potato fries, mac-n-cheese pops, regular and boozy milkshakes, mini funnel cakes and alcohol. It also offers five big-screen televisions to watch sports, two gas-fired fireplaces, a foosball table, free photo booth and childhood games like Jenga, Connect Four, Trouble, Simon and Operation.
D+K architects of Chicago combined modern design with the comfort of a nostalgic neighborhood diner. The restaurant includes several intimate spaces like a home — the open style kitchen, a library with fireplace and game room along with the side yard patio.
Inside, reeded wood and cadet blue tiles accentuate the modern Carrara bar top while eclectic lighting illuminate the existing brick walls. Floor-to-ceiling windows along Florida and Georgia Avenues allow abundant natural light into the space along with activity from the sidewalk. There are wrought iron and dark wood stools at the bar with padded stools along a window counter overlooking Florida Avenue. Tables are iron with dark butcher block tops while chairs are dark wood with gray sofas and stuffed chairs as well. There is also free WiFi.
James Beard Award winning D.C. chef Bob Kinkead consulted on the menu. Grilled sausages are the main focus cooked on hickory- and oak-burning parilla grill from Grillworks, which is primarily used in more upscale restaurants like Jose Garces’ Rural Society. There’s also a Marra Forni brick oven for cooking the flatbreads.
Diners will choose their protein from nine beef, pork, chicken and veggie links priced from $6-$7 including the traditional half-smoke, classic bratwurst, Italian sausage, smoked kielbasa, bourbon steak, habanero and rosemary apple chicken, falafel or vegan herb links. There will also be three seasonal sausages priced from $9-$11, such as rabbit, turducken, garam masala lamb, foie gras and duck, elk, bison and wild boar.
McCain said he spent three years working with farmers and sausage makers to come up with sustainably-sourced links that are preservative-, antibiotic- and hormone-free. Many are locally sourced. The restaurant also makes its own flatbread dough and sauces in house and serves organic produce whenever possible.
Using the assembly line style like Chipotle or Cava Mezze, diners will choose their toppings. Most are free like one cheese, tomatoes, roasted mushrooms, caramelized onions, pineapple salsa, sautéed peppers, kimchi and sauerkraut, while chili and bacon are an extra $1. There are six kinds of ketchup and mustard that can be added free. McCain said diners can create 50,000 variations or choose one of 10 signature combinations for $7.50.
Sides, priced from $3-$4, include house-made tater tots, fresh-cut sweet potato fries, truffle mac-n-cheese pops and grilled Brussels sprouts. Dessert includes $5 milkshakes including one with cotton candy ice cream and real cotton candy on top and a birthday cake shake with birthday cake ice cream, a frosting rim, sprinkles, a Sara Lee cake and a marshmallow-filled mini ice cream cone or the mini funnel cakes for $3 in honey, glazed or red velvet with a toppings bar that include powdered sugar, strawberry compote, diced bananas, warm caramel, blueberries, candied apples and maple syrup. Soda, spring water, and house-made teas and lemonades are $3. The 16-seat bar will serve four wines and four cocktails on tap along with craft beer for $7. Beer and wine flights will also be available.
HalfSmoke will start by serving dinner from 4-11 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays. After about two weeks, the restaurant will open daily at 11 a.m.
Editor-in-Chief Mark Heckathorn is a journalist, movie buff and foodie. He oversees DC on Heels editorial operations as well as strategic planning and staff development. Reach him with story ideas or suggestions at dcoheditor (at) gmail (dot) com.