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Caramelized onion & cheese flatbread, with béchamel, nutmeg, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Gruyere

Bully for Teddy

by David Hagedorn | DC magazine | August 29, 2013

When he built Lincoln, the wildly popular eatery on Vermont Avenue, veteran restaurateur Alan Popovsky turned pennies into gold with a winning concept and design (thousands of pennies artistically arrayed in the floor). The second venture of Popovsky’s Presidential Restaurant Group, Teddy & the Bully Bar, opened in June, taking over the space formerly occupied by Sam & Harry’s on 19th Street. Popovsky wisely eschewed the steakhouse’s dreariness and ushered in the light with clear floor-to-ceiling picture windows that invite passersby and diners alike to check each other out.

To ensure a steady hand in the new resto’s kitchen, Popovsky hired a talented executive chef: 38-year-old Michael Hartzer, late of Jack Rose; Food, Wine & Co.; and Citronelle. Servers inform diners upon arrival that Teddy’s menu lists small plates meant to share that are served from a “flowing kitchen.” Of course, in small-plate settings, this means plates are delivered when they’re ready. The good news is that much of Hartzer’s food is quite excellent, so, if you order appropriately, you’ll enjoy a graceful pacing and congruence of the meal’s many plates. The secret is to work with your server to order complementary dishes and essential pairings. Absent not sharing at all (the horror), offer your companion tiny tastes of your dishes, or order two of everything, especially if you’re a table of four.

The first impression of Teddy is visual. The front of the 235-seat restaurant is divided in half by a dining room on one side and a bar/lounge on the other. Behind them are the Elkhorn and Sagamore rooms, used for regular dining or private parties of up to 80 guests for a seated function.

Beyond the long, two-deep bar is a sea of well-spaced high-top dining tables, all usually full by 6:30 on weeknights. Briefcases dotting the floor indicate that the Bully Bar attracts the work-to-table set.

Maggie O’Neill, who designed Lincoln, is the local artist behind Teddy’s decor. The space feels like a cozy amalgam of a Progressive-era man cave and the expressive—and, yes, colorful—sensibilities of a modern artist. O’Neill employs a bounty of Roosevelt-era curios, art pieces and lighting fixtures. Details such a bas-relief wall of plastic miniature Mount Rushmore replicas, a chandelier hung with monocle “crystals,” sculptures mimicking mounted game taxidermy and a wall prettily lined with birch logs (“big sticks” in the Roosevelt vernacular) drive home the theme.

The Roosevelt-era theme extends to the menu’s unconventional categories, including Docks (seafood starters), Hearth (flatbreads), Heartland (side dishes) and Plains (meats). Cocktails fall in line with the theme, too; I recommend a Sheeney’s Rickey (gin, bourbon reduction, seltzer and lime foam) or the Safari Sangria, brimming with fruit that’s laced with Chinese spices.

The breads at Teddy, served from a bakery in the middle of the dining room, excel. Large shards of sesame-laced semolina crackers, buttermilk biscuits and fougasse come with salted butter, tomato jam and an engaging smoked butter.

From there, winners abound: The cheese-and-onion flatbread that tastes like French onion soup pizza, the Peekytoe crab fritters (like doughnut holes), and pickled shrimp and fennel go great with cocktails. After that, indulge in the salads. An interpretation of grilled Caesar salad succeeds here; the Romaine lettuce is lightly charred, but still retains its crunch. Beautifully dressed heirloom tomatoes come with cunning rounds of tofu that mirror a caprese salad’s mozzarella. A salad of compressed watermelon, honeydew and cantaloupe with mint and pine syrup refreshes and tantalizes. Also, a flat, deep-fried, breaded medallion, when pricked, reveals a lemony filling for al dente asparagus—very clever.

For entree-esque plates, order the lobster Wenberg-style. Chunks of poached lobster tail and an intact, shelled claw rest atop a light sherry cream sauce dotted with peas, mushrooms and brioche crumbs. Braised veal rib comes with buttery kale and rich brown gravy I’d happily drink as a beverage. Fried chicken with white gravy and roasted rockfish with black-eyed peas imply country simplicity but are, in fact, prepared with the utmost refinement. The farro side dish is a delectably buttery pilaf. (There are a few dishes that aren’t as strong, including cold-smoked oysters, housemade pâté and New York strip and its potato fritter accompaniment.) Other hiccups pop up—from small plates that are too diminutive to a lack of scallops in the fritters—which I’m hoping Popovsky and his team will iron out this fall. Still, these are small prices to pay for the satisfaction you reap.

The word from my sources is the restaurateur’s next venture may be based on the Kennedys. That there will be others to follow is certain… it’s called manifest destiny.

Teddy & the Bully Bar
1200 19th St. NW, 202.872.8700

Small Plates: $5-$19; desserts: $6

Dinner: Mon.-Thu., 11am-Midnight or later; Fri., 11am-1am or later; Sat., 5-11pm, Sun., 5-10pm
Brunch: Sat. and Sun., 11am-4pm

Mixologist John Hogan employs the Teddy Roosevelt theme with sips such as the Rough Rider (rum, maraschino liqueur, grapefruit bitters, lime oil); the Trust Buster (bourbon, sweet vermouth, cynar, Thomas bitters), an old-fashioned with whiskey that has been barrel-aged for 26 days; and Roosevelt Island punch (pisco, pineapple gomme, jasmine-lime tea and Amargo bitters).

Privacy, Please
Two large rooms adjacent to the resto’s lounge can be reserved for private dining. Fine aesthetics abound, including a fireplace and a diorama of Aspens. For intimate parties, smaller lounge areas have been set aside with a communal dining table.