WORLD ON A PLATE — Red Dog Café on Grubb Road has served as an essential community space over the past decade. It’s been the perfect neighborhood spot for a Sunday brunch date. Or a place to share a bottle of good, dry wine with friends after a hard day of pushing the mouse around. With any luck, local vibraphonist Chuck Redd would be installed in the corner, softly adding to the bistro ambience.
In the past few years, the Red Dog changed hands twice. First Kirsten Poole, of Kirsten’s Café, took it over. Then, last year, boutique caterer Jerry Hollinger and food writer Zena Polin decided to take a chance during a recession and became the new owners, rechristening the popular spot, The Daily Dish.
Hollinger and Polin had been running a catering company, focusing on whole, carefully-prepared dishes–and they decided to put that philosophy to the test in a restaurant. Thus far, Hollinger and Polin have succeeded in paying tribute to the community spirit of Red Dog, while making their own mark as culinary enthusiasts (I’m not a fan of the term “foodie”).
“The Daily Dish reflects our passion for food,” explained Polin when I asked about why she and Hollinger decided to start the Daily Dish. “As a neighborhood restaurant, we really believe in serving delicious food made with quality ingredients. We serve comfort food with a twist — food that is seasonally inspired and locally sourced whenever possible.”
Some regulars may not have taken note of the new ownership. many of the same menu items remain. For example The Daily Dish continues to serve a variety of ripieghi–creative, folded flatbread sandwiches filled with pork, chicken or salmon and appropriate tasty sauces. And Hollinger and Polin have kept the one popular item on the menu that I would have banished long ago: macaroni pizza (too much comfort for a body to bear).
But they have slowly introduced elements to make the space their own–such as the fun “Make your own Bloody Mary bar” that they offer with brunch. Or their current contest to see which patron can dream up the best combination of ingredients for pizza.
“We have really worked hard to revamp our wine, beer and liquor selections,” added Polin, when I asked her about changes. “Our Sunday Supper & Classic Cocktails night will focus on drinks like Manhattans, Perfect Martinis, Whiskey Sours. Our Sunday bartender plans on serving Lychee Martinis, Premium Cosmos and other fun drinks.”
The most notable change has been the introduction of Executive Chef Michael Chretien, a graduate from L’Academie de Cuisine’s Culinary Arts Program. By my observation during several visits, Chretien hovers over each dish as if it were his child heading off to the first day of school.
On a recent Saturday, Voice Photo Editor Julie Wiatt and I visited the Daily Dish to experience the brunch. As always, the establishment was sparkling clean. We were greeted by a friendly hostess.
I take the position that the mark of a good restaurant is how well it prepares the simplest of dishes. Therefore, I ordered the steel-cut oatmeal.
Julie was intrigued by the Eggs Benedict, with honey-cured gravlax (salmon).
When the oatmeal arrives, I was reminded that the right ingredients, cooked properly satisfies without encouraging overindulgence. Instead of the soggy mess that often passes for oatmeal — well deserving a good drowning in brown sugar and milk–the Daily Dish oatmeal was pert and chewy, a perfect dish “al dente.” The taste was so wholesome and fresh that I declined to add any sweet condiment–although natural brown sugar and syrup were available.
As for my companion, she said that they might have been the best Eggs Benedict that she had ever eaten. The sauce was creamy and tangy. The muffin and egg were “perfectly done.” And the gravlax gave it a distinct third taste, with overtones of fennel.
The eggs came with with roasted potatoes, which were, likewise, perfection — with carmelized edges and chewy centers. Julie also commented on how artfully the food was presented, a departure frommost local brunch fare.
Zena stopped by our table to show us a bottle of syrup that co-owner Jerry Hollinger had brought back from Amish country where he was raised. That touch provides an example of the care that the two of them take to find quality, tasteful ingredients–no grabbing bulk supplies off the shelf at Costco.
Several evenings later I returned for dinner, ordering the roasted salmon on creamy polenta. Similar to the oatmeal, the salmon was cooked perfectly. I indicated that I prefer my salmon cooked thoroughly, so I was pleased to see that it was not too dry. The polenta, again reminded me of how important it is to get the simple things right. Polenta is one of the easiest dishes to make: boil water, add cornmeal. But this polenta avoided the overly grainy or bland jelly-like consistency that I have had elsewhere. When Chef Chretien passed by our table, I asked him how he made the ploenta so creamy. “Cream,” he responded with a laugh. We had a brief discussion in which he told me about how he plans to some further experiments with polenta. I look forward to trying out his future
Besides banishing the macaroni pizza, my only complaint was that service is not as quick as many of us have come to expect in the hustle of postmodern living. But, as Julie pointed out, when someone takes the care to make sure that your dish is served precisely, you don’t complain about the slightly extra time that it took to create. The Daily Dish is anything but a fast-food restaurant.
The Daily Dish
8301 A Grubb Road
Silver Spring, MD 20910
— photos by Eric Bond