The Northeast corner of 13th and E Street has been several things over recent decades. I first remember it being developed as our city’s second Dean & DeLuca, although instead of being a store, it was just a high-quality, quick-serve lunch spot. Working in the Rios Building nearby, it was the best lunch option in Federal Triangle by far (these were the days when you could park your car in the little parking lot off of Constitution Avenue, right in front of The Washington Monument – that lot is long-since grassed over).
Unfortunately, Dean & DeLuca closed down, and the space eventually became John Harvard’s Brewery & Ale House, a Massachusetts-based rendition of Elephant & Castle, which was remarkable only for being so unremarkable.
Then came Bluepoint, an attempt at Surf & Turf, but the basement location “around the corner” from the action did not serve tourists well, and the cuisine was not special enough to lure the lobbyist crowd up Pennsylvania Avenue.
On July 21, 2014, Boss Shepherd’s opened in this location. To me, the name sounds like something that might be a bar in Petworth, but as soon as I walked down the half-flight of stairs and entered the restaurant, I turned to my companion and said, “Toto, we’re not at Kansas Avenue.” Do you see what I did there?
Boss Shepherd’s is more Woodward Table than it is Drafting Table. The dining room looks wonderful, and you could be at home here in a suit, or a decent pair of jeans. On the far wall, there’s a lovely bar, and that’s where I made my home on this evening. The word is not out about Boss Shepherd’s yet, and so the restaurant and bar were both nearly empty – sitting in front of one of the two flat-screens, I had Roger Federer all to myself in a civilized atmosphere that shows great promise.
I sat down, and began watching the tennis match. In no way do these two flat-screens intrude upon the rest of the restaurant – it’s a large space, and diners won’t even really notice them, but this place will do a brisk happy hour from 4-7 PM, and bar patrons will be glad they’re here. I ordered a draft of Atlas Brew Works District Common ($7), and settled into my bar stool.
Fried Chicken ($24), a delicious, 12-hour-brined half chicken, served with pan-baked buttermilk biscuits cut from a sheet, and fairy-tail eggplant only on paper; they’d probably run out of this heirloom variety of eggplant, but came up with another farmer’s market-quality vegetable. I’d much rather see a restaurant run out of a daily delivery, and be able to replace it with something comparable, than to stick with a rigid menu and serve lesser produce. This dish was served with three ramekins of sauces: honey, for my biscuits; a very neutral, smoked egg-yolk sauce, for my white-meat chicken; and a mild-to-moderate chili-pepper sauce. There are plenty of entrees on this menu that sound enticing, but you will not go wrong in ordering this fried chicken.
On the side, I got Braised Greens with Virginia Ham ($6) because nothing goes better with fried chicken than collard greens, but I was surprised to see just how underseasoned they were – with the ham, I thought they would have more than enough salt, but they didn’t. Texturally, the greens were correct, and all they needed was for me to take that ramekin of chili-pepper sauce, and turn it upside-down, right into the center of the bowl. Now, just a little salt and pepper added to my egg-yolk sauce, and I have a perfect southern dinner.
When I finished my beer, my super-nice, old-school bartender Fitz asked me if I’d like another, but I noticed two barrels of whiskey, and asked about them. Well, don’t lock too much stock into these barrels because you’re not actually getting a barrel pour; because of DC law, the barrels are lined, and individual bottles are poured into them, so it’s more for an effect than anything else. Still, I ordered a glass from one of them – a Catoctin Creek Copper Fox Rye ($14), and Fitz didn’t bother with pretense; he poured it from a bottle. In one motion, I brought the glass to my nose, and took a little whiff just as I took a sip, and just as my eyebrows started going up. “This is water!” I said, in my best David Foster Wallace accent. He looked down at my glass, then back up at me, and for just a split-second, just the tiniest split-second, he bore the countenance of, ‘Okay, I have a crazy bar patron on my hands,’ before I said, “No, really, try it and see. You know what? It’s ice tea!” And as soon as I said that, he knew *exactly* what the situation was, and both he and a barback tried not to laugh (the other gentleman was having an exceptionally difficult time not laughing). Apparently, for decoration, the manager had put some iced tea into the bottles, and kept them near the front door (or something like that), and they had mistakenly brought over one of those decorative bottles to the bar. Also for a split second, I had thought that I was having a stroke, or something of the sort (have you ever been expecting one taste, and got something completely different from it? This was that moment, and it’s invariably confusing whenever it happens.) I was actually *glad* it happened because in the interim, Fitz had given me a taste of something I really liked. Well, I changed my order to a glass of George Dickel 9 Year Barrel Select ($14), and the planets were once again orbiting in the right direction.
The DC area has seen hundreds of new restaurants open in the past year and a half, but how often have we seen brand new restaurant groups form? Creative Eats is a new group formed by several power players: Paul Cohn, Greg Casten, and Bill Jarvis. Founder Paul Cohn was with Capital Restaurant Concepts (J. Paul’s, etc.) for thirty years (!), Partner Greg Casten is an owner of ProFish (which is your seafood pipeline), and Bill Jarvis is an attorney and long-time supporter of the hospitality industry. Partner, GM, and Sommelier Daniel Mahdavian most recently opened B Too, and AGM David Cohn came from Georgia Brown’s. This is a pretty serious lineup of heavy-hitters running Boss Shepherd’s, and you shouldn’t be surprised to see more – perhaps a lot more – of this restaurant group in the future.