Virtue Feed & Grain, Alexandria, VA

It was 6:20 PM on June 10, 2011, and Virtue Feed and Grain had just opened its doors to the public for the very first time fifty minutes earlier. Both the upstairs and downstairs bars in this cavernous space were full, save for one seat which I nabbed (I always have Bar Karma like this).

Appropriately (and wisely), Virtue was only serving its bar menu on this evening, trying to ease out of the starting blocks rather than pulling a muscle. They were so aware of opening-day difficulties that there was even a little note on the side of the menu which said, “We’ve just opened – if you’re gonna blog – be nice. Spread good love, we’ll only get better.”

Fair enough!

If you’re used to paying double-digit prices for drinks at Eve, PX, or The Majestic, you’re in for a treat: nominally the same drinks (albeit not executed with the same exquisite detail) are more gently priced here. For a refreshing summer aperitif, I can recommend the Lemony Laurel ($8.50) made with roasted lemons, bay leaves, Galiano, and citrus vodka. Also Majestic’s Hemingway Daquiri ($8.50) with rum, grapefruit, and maraschino.

If it’s wine you seek, you can get the same 2009 Ken Forrester Petit Chenin Blanc here that they serve(d) at Eve for only $7.50 per tumbler (no stemware here). I voice this in the past tense because Todd Thrasher told me they’re switching to the Chenin Blanc at Eve, and leaving the Petit Chenin Blanc for us ruffians by the water. For reds, they’re pouring the 2009 Ponga Pinot Noir ($7.50) from New Zealand by the glass. And for our beer drinkers, Virtue is carrying the Port City Optimal Wit ($5.00, 5% ABV).

I was sitting next to an affable gentleman who was as curious about the menu as I was, and we ended up sharing a large number of dishes. Between the two of us, we managed to try:

Chopped Salad ($8.50, could use milled pepper, less red onions, beautifully dressed), Chili Cheese Dawg ($8.00, hot dog purchased, chili made in house), Stuffed Potato Skins ($8.00, great with the bacon, unknown yellow cheese, green onion, sour cream), Corned Beef Sandwich ($9.25, house made, no nitrates so blessedly not pink), Buffalo Wings ($12.00, good, spicy, expensive for eight wings), Fried Calamari ($9.00, great, but batter too salty), and Garlic Mushrooms ($9.50, deep-fried, burning hot, great dipping sauce, could use less breading, highly recommended in tandem with the hot dog).

Once the public gets used to the reality that not everything at Virtue can be house made at these prices, this is going to be a giant love affair, especially with folks staying at National Harbor and taking the water taxi (which would be a no-brainer given the restaurants they have there). There are also some genuinely bad tourist traps on King Street near the water – I even saw one or two I’d never heard of before – and Virtue Feed & Grain is going to raise the bar in that immediate vicinity. Maybe there’s enough tourist business to go around, but some of the places teetering on the brink are either going to have to get better, or else throw in the towel, because there’s a new 800-pound gorilla that just moved in.

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