Laura Hayes

When Chef Jay Caputo stepped in to lead the kitchen at The Riggsby this month he was irked that menu didn’t match the messaging on the restaurant’s website. “I forget exactly how it’s worded—classic D.C. restaurant with a sense of whimsy,” he says. “But when I got here there was nothing whimsical about it. It was sort of stale.”

The Dupont Circle eatery inside the Carlyle Hotel from restaurateur Michael Schlow aims to have a retro feel and a menu of throwback classics. Caputo’s on board, but he wants to have a little more fun. “The idea for me is to keep one eye on the classics and one eye on the future,” he explains.

One of his first orders of business was debuting a testa corn dog served with a creamy horseradish dipper ($6). “Originally I thought of a lobster corn dog, but that’s been done a lot, so we decided to go with pig face.”

Caputo braises a whole pig’s head for 12 hours with spices like caraway, coriander, and garlic to make the souped up bar snack. “Then we squish it together and press it overnight so it has a good texture when it’s fried,” he explains. The result is a textural playground of fatty finesse that manages to retain its nostalgic status.

The chef has also made his mark with other dishes, including Parker House rolls with foie gras butter ($7), surf & turf soup with braised short rib and spicy Maine lobster broth ($11), and a broken paella with chorizo, chicken, clams, mussels, and a crispy rice cake ($32). He’s also experimenting with innovative dishes like veal neck porchetta and a “tricked out” chicken marsala.

Hiring Caputo was a reunion of sorts because the chef formerly worked for Schlow at his acclaimed Boston restaurant Radius. While Caputo was there as a sous chef, Schlow was awarded the James Beard Award for “Best Chef Northeast” and Radius was named “Best New Restaurant” by Food & Wine.

He has also worked for other big names like Stephen Starr, Mark Franz,and Bradley Ogden and is no stranger to James Beard attention himself. Caputo is a five-time, James Beard semi-finalist for “Best Chef Mid-Atlantic.”

Immediately before accepting the chef de cuisine job at The Riggsby, Caputo was in Rehoboth Beach where he owned Espuma Restaurant and Martini Bar, CABO Modern Mexican Tequila Bar, and Rose & Crown British Pub.He sold them all when he moved to Reston with his family. 

Caputo calls reuniting with Schlow “really seamless,” even though he says the two hadn’t touched base since 2001. 

1731 New Hampshire Ave. NW; (202) 787-1500; theriggsby.com