Maple Ave Restaurant, Vienna, VA

Maple Ave Restaurant is extremely important. It fills the proverbial “sweet spot” between everyday casual and fine dining, and pretty much defines what a really good, neighborhood mom-n-pop has the potential to be.

My young dining companion enjoyed a Dominion Root Beer ($2.50) while I nursed a Ludovicus Garnacha/Tempranillo/Syrah blend ($10).

I still haven’t had the heart to tell Matt about the special of Grilled Sweetbreads ($16) which I selfishly ordered for us to split as an appetizer, served with a finger-dabbing good caramel (yes, caramel) onion sauce over stone-ground grits, and a peppy, slaw-like apple-lime salad on the side.

“You’ve had sweetbreads before,” I told him.

“Yes, once,” he remembered. “Aren’t they … umm … kind of like … heart?”

“Nah … it’s more like veal cheeks,” I lied said.

While we both enjoyed them, the custardy texture was a bit … custardy for him, and so I made sure to give him the bulk of the wonderful cheese roll that came, hot and sliced, before the meal (see, I’m not all bad).

For the main course, I switched over to the superior Anciano Tempranillo ($9) which is the best red by the glass on their current list. And it paired so well with the Dr. Pepper Short Ribs ($26), Pineland Farms braised (oven-braised!) short ribs, also atop stone-ground grits, brunoise, and braise sauce. Without nitrates, you cannot get a pink color in oven-braised short ribs, and you don’t want one, either – why would you? While the portion size was very small, the quality of this dish (both in terms of ingredients (Dr. Pepper notwithstanding; how dare they not use Mr. Pibb) and execution) was excellent.

And another daily special which was on the printed menu the last time, a Pulled Pork BBQ Sandwich ($14) and fries. This pork must surely be smoked in-house, and combined with the elegant application of sweet sauce, it was a great combination of flavors – chef Tim Ma has a knack for working sweetness into his savory dishes without it being the least bit condescending or cloying.

If I had one knock against Maple Ave Restaurant (and I do), it’s that it’s a bit expensive for 1) its building, which is simply decrepit from the outside, with the most challenging parking lot I’ve come across in quite some time, and 2) the portion sizes which tend to be on the small side. But for this type of quality, smack-dab in the middle of Vienna? I’m more than happy to give them a couple extra dollars of my money anytime.

I never realized there was a second dining area until shortly before we left – how could there be any room back there for anything other than a kitchen?

Well, I got my answers:

1) There are only four burners for the whole restaurant, so I assume we’re dealing with a fairly small kitchen here.

And the really funny one:

2) “Is there a bar?” I asked.

“Yes, but I think someone is sitting there right now,” replied GM Joey Hernandez.

Curious, we walked into the impossibly hidden side entrance, and poked our heads in. Sure enough, there’s a back dining area with several tables … and a bar with two – two! – barstools.

Demand is outstripping supply at Maple Ave Restaurant, and deservedly so. Will they expand? Well, they sort of did: congratulations to Tim and Joey – two of the proudest new parents you could ever want to meet!

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