Dine in an Igloo at HalfSmoke’s Cool Pop-Up
Igloo dining season is coming to an end as the cherry blossoms prepare to bloom, but you still have a few weeks to visit HalfSmoke’s al fresco Winter Wonderland that has popped up in the vacant lot across from the Howard Theatre at 625 T St. NW.
The 2,500-square-foot parking lot is set to become a rose garden on March 20 for spring. But until then, diners can eat in 12 heated and ventilated igloos or at socially distanced open-air picnic tables. The space can accommodate up to 100 people in the igloos that range from 12 to 15 feet and can seat two to six diners. A $50 booking fee is charged to reserve the igloos Friday through Sunday, otherwise they are free.
The igloos are decorated with lighted greenery, poinsettias and artificial cherry blossom trees, while the lot features inflated snowmen, a gingerbread house and twinkling icicles. Each table has games like Uno, Jenga and Simon Sez.
Inside the igloos, diners can decide how comfortable they are interacting with the staff. Servers ask before entering the igloos or will take orders from outside the plastic sheeting and pass food and drink, which is cooked inside the restaurant up the block, in through the moveable flaps.
HalfSmoke owner Andre McCain pivoted to outdoor dining when D.C. shutdown indoor dining just before Christmas. He also launched a series of virtual menus for delivery during the shutdown that can also be ordered at Winter Wonderland including Butter Me Up, a breakfast sandwich pop-up that is available until 2 p.m. and Get Social Pizza with individual Detroit-style pies in addition to HalfSmoke’s casual American food menu.
During a recent visit, my guest and I sampled food from several of the menus. To keep spirits warm, we ordered handcrafted winter cocktails including the Jack Frost with Malibu rum, blue curacao, coconut water and cream ($14) and the Winter Wonderland Chocolate with white hot chocolate, whipped vodka and butterscotch schnapps ($13). The white hot chocolate was perfect combination of buttery and delicious!
To start, I highly recommend the crab fries, which are topped with Old Bay and rosemary aioli ($11). Skip the deviled eggs with Old Bay shrimp ($8 for four halves). They are bland, except for the overpowering taste of mustard, and you can make them at home for a lot less. The restaurant’s signature Briggs & Co. halfsmoke sausage topped with bacon, mustard slaw, chili, onion crisps and beer cheese ($12) is always a solid choice for your entrée. But he First Lady, an organic lamb sausage topped with roasted red peppers, feta cheese, mint and cucumber yogurt ($12), offers an excellent alternative. Sides aren’t included, but the mac n’ cheese bites with pickled jalapeno pesto ($6) offers a cheesy kick or the arugula & fall harvest salad with apples, cheddar cheese and toasted almonds ($12) is a more traditional choice.
You shouldn’t pass up Get Social’s Detroit-style pizzas, which are made with fermented dough baked in rectangular blue steel pans. Detroit pizzas, which are becoming more popular in the DMV, have a focaccia crust that is crunchy on the outside and soft in the center. Corporate culinary director Bart Hosmer developed the savory pies, which McCain would be wise to make a permanent to HalfSmoke’s menu. The Don’t Fake the Funk pizza with roasted mushrooms, taleggio cheese and crispy rosemary ($15) is an excellent selection with sauce made from crushed Jersey tomatoes.
For dessert, there is ice cream ($7), including hard-to-find brown sugar flavor, and mini-funnel cakes a la mode in red velvet or regular with topping and whipped cream ($7). While the funnel cakes were good, they probably aren’t the best choice for at the Winter Wonderland, since they are made a block away at the restaurant. On the walk to your table, they cool down quickly, loose their crisp outside from soaking in the topping and become soggy. Or maybe order the topping on the side and add it yourself once it arrives.