Brabo Tasting Room, Alexandria, VA

I’ve now been to Brabo Tasting Room several times, and have always left happy. One possible reason? Only twenty things on the entire menu, making it easier to do them well.

This casual eatery seems expensive on paper, but the food here can be very rich and filling, and you can order less here than you might think, still walking away sated.

I was worried that Antigoon might have been Brabo’s response to my having turned against Brabo Pils, i.e., I was the goon, but I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw its true origins. Brewed exclusively (still?) for Robert Wiedmaier’s restaurants, a draft is an expensive $10 for a tulip glass, but it’s a rich, full-bodied beer despite its pale color, and you won’t be needing too many of these; my young dining companion’s usual Diet Coke weighed in at a hefty $3.00.

It’s difficult to imagine coming here and not getting either a wood fired tart or a pot of mussels, so we got both. A Braised Pork Belly Tart ($14) was masterful, with thick-cut, fatty pork belly cut with roasted poblanos (acidity) and pickled red onion (sourness) – I’ve never understood why these aren’t mentioned in the same discussions as “best pizza in town” because they deserve to be. Despite its small size (and thin crust), it was extremely filling.

If you’ve never tried the Chorizo Sausage & Fennel Mussels ($15), then you need to put this near the top of your short list – an awesome presentation served in a hot pan, there is so much chorizo in the deceptively light-looking, thick, reddish broth (put the bread in as soon as the mussels arrive, and let it soak) that this sensational mussel dish is a bargain at the price.

Although this doesn’t sound like a lot of food for two hungry guys, there were still a few mussels left at the end, and we walked back to the car stuffed like two boudins blancs. Another fine performance by this underrated restaurant.

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