Up and Out(side)


Brixton’s rooftop is made for sunsets and shandies before going downstairs for British and post-colonial pub fare.

My husband Jason and I have a problem. I like, no, love eating outside. For that pleasure I’ll gladly bundle up in a sweater to brave one last late fall meal, or sweat my way through a still summer night. Al fresco, at the charming sidewalk tables of DC, is a non-starter for Jason. My urban charm is his noise and pollution. Enter the rooftop deck. Once limited to rare discoveries like Local 16, rooftop dining has been proliferating in the past few years. With spring’s (late) arrival I’ve been itching to get outside.

Mussels at Marvin

Last week our good friend Marianne, who had brought over a couple of pounds of marrow bones for roasting (she’s a really, really good friend), suggested we check out the rooftop at Marvin (2007 14th St. NW, www.marvindc.com). Jason and I met there the next night after work. Still warm from the late afternoon sun, Marvin’s rooftop, replete with two bars, is hidden away from noisy 14th and U, between the surrounding buildings, leaving us to enjoy the jazz, funk, and soul soundtrack from Thievery Corporation’s Eric Hilton.

Fairly priced at $12, the Delerium Tremens ain’t cheap, but Jason’s happy-hour priced $4 Stella draft balanced out our bar bill. The mussels and frites were awesome, some of the sweetest mussels I’ve had in the city. We took our beautiful bartender’s advice (thanks Raab!) and ordered the Dijonnaise preparation, with dry white wine, crème fraîche, and sharp mustard. The wasabi and old bay mayos accompanying the fries were good, but they didn’t compare to the mussel broth, which is where we ended up dumping our fries to soak up all the rich goodness.

The cheese croquettes, filled with goat and ricotta cheeses, were almost impossibly crisp with a creamy, moist, rich center. Happy hour is 5:00-7:30 during the week, and we’ll be back.

Ascending Tabaq

We left Marvin and crossed U Street to Tabaq (1336 U St. NW, www.tabaqdc.com). Our friend Raymond had recommended both the rooftop and the menu. Of the three children in my family, two of us have completed Iron Man triathlons. I won’t tell you who, but I will say that the three flights of stairs felt uncomfortably like a workout. Fortunately the climb was worth it. (My brother-in-law has also summited Mt. Everest.)

The view from the rooftop dining room is stunning, stretching out past the Capitol dome and the Washington Monument. The seasonal craft cocktail menu made drinking far too easy. My Allston balanced the bitter herbal notes of gin, St. Germain, and Campari with fresh lemon juice and vermouth. Jason, in his ongoing quest to find the perfect sorority-girl drink, ordered a bright pink Tavi, whose grapefruit vodka, bitters, and lemon juice effectively balanced the sweet blood-orange liqueur.

Turning to the Mediterranean small plates menu we ordered goat cheese and pastirma stuffed dates (delicious) and wild mushroom-filled crepes (delicious). Jason has ordered fried calamari at every restaurant in DC, and I have been there to taste each order. Tabaq’s was a surprising twist, pairing perfectly cooked, lightly breaded, crisp calamari with hot cherry peppers. A wonderful combination. We’ll certainly make the ascent again.

Cider and Samosas at the Brixton

Last Saturday night kicked off with a visit to the Brixton (901 U St. NW, www.brixtondc.com) rooftop. Sipping pints of cider while watching the sunset brought back a strange memory mix of my college semester in London and summers on Nantucket. Sitting quietly above Florida Ave. we drank until the sun set and we aged out of the increasingly young, hipster crowd. Which was fine, we were hungry.

Brixton offers their anything-but-classic pub fare menu only downstairs in the dining room, but the rooftop is the perfect place to kick back with a pint before grabbing a plate of grilled fish tacos topped with a light, crisp jicama slaw and spicy, sweet honey chipotle aioli. Jason and I often start post-colonial with Brixton’s crisp samosas filled with richly spiced potatoes and peas. Then back to the roof to enjoy DC’s perfect warm spring nights and a few shandies – lemonade or ginger ale mixed with beer. Conveniently that counts as half a drink so you can order twice as many.

Fry Up at DC-9

After leaving Brixton we crossed the street to DC-9 (1940 9th St. NW, www.dcnine.com) for dinner. At first glance the menu conjured images of scary bar food cooked in a small, smoky kitchen containing only a fryer and a griddle. I was dead wrong on the scary count. Now, I love local, farm-fresh food as much as the next conscientious, eco-aware diner, but I have a real weakness for perfectly crisp, lightly fried fare, and DC-9 delivered. Salty, sharp pickle slices balanced beautifully with the hot, rich, paper-thin fried coating.

The Havana from Savannah was everything you love about a Cuban sandwich: sharp mustard and cheese atop salty ham and rich, sweet pulled pork. The garlic fries are, well, really good garlic fries. They are moist inside, crisp outside, thinly cut, salty and bright with raw garlic. The meal tasted even better when we learned our bartending (and also beautiful) friend Jackie was filling a shift in the kitchen that night.

The downstairs bar is dark and just the right amount of seedy for a late night dinner or nightcap. DC-9’s rooftop, unlike Brixton’s, looks out over bustling U Street. It’s nestled at the top of two flights of stairs, tucked behind Nellie’s and the tops of surrounding trees. Under the shade of fabric awnings it’s the perfect spot for lazy summer-day drinking.

Margaritas at Masa 14

Where to next? Our friend Ed invited us to join him for happy hour on the roof at Masa 14 (1825 14th St. NW, www.masa14.com). We’re always happy to return for more of executive chef Adam Goldman’s small plates. I was last there in February and am excited to try the spring menu. Their wood-oven flatbreads are always good, and the summery country ham with goat cheese, cantaloupe, truffle, and lime sounds amazing! So does the cornmeal crusted oysters with togarashi chili and lemon aioli with green papaya slaw. 

Masa 14 nails Latin drinks, and their margaritas and mojitos are always a safe bet, but the spicy cucumber margarita and lemon juice, strawberry purée, and vodka strawberry lemonade will keep us well hydrated as DC nights heat up. Happy hour with $4 Coronas and small-plate specials is available on the rooftop daily, 5:00-7:00 p.m.

I’m Available

Thanks to DC’s rooftops our marriage is safe, although my love affair with DC’s outdoor, street-level dining will go on. If you’re heading over to Big Bear Cafe’s garden patio in Bloomingdale or reserving a shaded table at Eastern Market’s Montmartre, give me a call. We can leave Jason at home.

Jonathan Bardzik is a storyteller, demo chef, and food writer in Washington DC. You can find him outside Eastern Market each Saturday morning, cooking with local fresh produce. Find out what Jonathan is cooking by reading his blog, www.whatihaventcookedyet.com, or his Facebook page of the same name.

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