Beuchert’s Saloon proprietors Nathan Berger, Brendan McMahon, August Paro and chef Andrew Markert have a hit on their hands. DuJour spoke with the restaurant’s team as they settle into their new digs on Pennsylvania Avenue and look ahead.
How did you come up with the concept for the restaurant?
When we acquired the lease to our space and started researching the location, we discovered its deep roots in DC and restaurant history and felt the need to incorporate that. We learned the building was originally the home of John Ignatius Beuchert, and then it was Beuchert’s Saloon from 1880-1934 where it served as a neighborhood watering hole for the residents of Jenkins Hill (which is what it was before it became Capitol Hill). Our decor and ambience were a direct result of that history. Beuchert’s is farm American with a seasonal rotating menu, served in an early 20th-century style environment. It’s simple, casual, elegant and delicious.
Farm-to-table is ubiquitous these days, but you actually source much of your ingredients from your farm. How has that helped or made things easier for the restaurant?
In our best months, we’re getting 60-70 percent of the produce and protein from our own farm, called East Oaks Organics, in Poolesvlle, Maryland. We’re extraordinarily proud of this relationship, although it has not made anything easier. It would be much easier to order all our food from a catalog and have it delivered. Instead, our model requires us to project food trends far in the future, plan at least six months in advance and operate two of the most time- and labor-intensive businesses. Add to this the challenges of running businesses that are weather-dependent in a time of climate shifts and change.
But the quality of the ingredients is well worth the effort, and the work we are doing makes us poised in the future to have an incredible diversity and variety of produce and protein at our disposal long before most establishments. Our first seasons have produced ingredients of which we’re proud, like herbs, radishes, arugula, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, garlic, tomatoes, chickens and eggs, which have allowed us to play significantly with processes like pickling, preserving and making jam or marmalade. We also look forward to increasing the diversity of the poultry we raise and hope to add rabbits soon.
What sort of feedback have you gotten?
The response to Beuchert’s has been immediate and resounding, which has been galvanizing and heartwarming. Not a night goes by that patrons don’t compliment us the uniqueness of our establishment and its sense of newness. The decor, service and menu are exactly what we wanted them to be, and to be known for what we create and provide to our customers instead of being known for who we are is what we always hoped for. We make everything in the restaurant from scratch, except the bread and the cheese. We’re also very proud of the Chef’s Table Tasting Menu experience. It’s completely personalized for each reservation, and once a dish is made, it isn’t repeated for another party.
How did you find this location? What were your inspirations for the decor?
We found it through a months-long process of looking all around the city. We’re on an east-west line and have windows that let sunlight stream in all day. That natural light coupled with the exposed brick and anachronistic details, like century-old window weights and period brickwork, made us fall in love. Most people saw a long, narrow space full of obstacles and problems, but we saw our restaurant there right away. In terms of decor, we were influenced by post-Prohibition American dining saloons, 1920s Paris, the New Orleans sense of laissez-faire, and, of course, a huge desire to respect and pay homage to the original incarnation of Beuchert’s Saloon.
What’s your favorite dish on your current menu? Favorite cocktail?
We all love the bone marrow, our vegetables, the house-made charcuterie and our East Oaks chickens. The drinks we love most—and some of these have become very popular—are the Beltway Boy (our play on a Sazerac), the Beuchert’s 75 (our play on a French 75 made with a seasonal herbal syrup made from herbs from the farm), the Seelbach, our house-made sodas and prosecco on tap.
Who’s your ideal customer?
We want to be a great neighborhood watering hole. We are open late, serve a true brunch on Saturday and Sunday, and we’re open seven days a week for dinner, so we can really be here for area residents. Our food is creative, elegant and refined, but it also has a sense of whimsy. Our perfect customer likes to try new things and isn’t afraid to treat dining as an adventure from time to time.
We’re about to open our patio. It’s a true garden behind the restaurant, not on the sidewalk, with pear trees, fig trees, cherry tree, root vegetables, herbs, tomatoes etc. We can seat a good number of people there, but we took more than half of the space to create a garden to help pull our patrons out of DC and into an oasis. Also, we’re excited about increasing our farm output, and, of course, we’re hoping to eventually open a second location.
When you’re not at your own restaurant, where do you like to eat?
Nathan Berger, co-proprietor: “Rasika, or my parents’ house.”
Brendan McMahon, co-proprietor: “My back porch.”
August Paro, co-proprietor: “Toki Underground.”
Andrew Markers, chef: “Anywhere with great steamed crabs.”
623 Pennsylvania Ave SE
Washington, DC 20003