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Who could have guessed that one day Chef Bob Kinkead would have his hands in a restaurant that offers guests the opportunity to play childhood games like Operation, Trouble, Simon, and Jenga. Kinkead, who would be in D.C.’s culinary hall of fame if there was such a thing, is a consulting chef at a new assembly-line eatery named after the District’s signature snack. Opening next Tuesday in Shaw (651 Florida Ave. NW), HalfSmoke puts itself in a category called “fine casual” and features foods you might find on a kid’s menu like tater tots, funnel cakes, milkshakes, and mac-n-cheese pops.
While these sides ($3-$5) are tempting, sausages are the star of the menu. Priced at $8-$11, flavors include classic bratwurst, rosemary apple chicken sausage, half smoke, and falafel (vegetarian). After choosing a sausage, select a set-up: bun, rice bowl, flatbread, or salad. Then pile on toppings like chili, cheese, roasted mushrooms, kimchi, corn salsa, and variations of ketchup and mustard. Some toppings are free and unlimited, others cost extra. Given the variety in toppings and sausages, owner Andre McCain has calculated that diners can create more than 50,000 custom variations.
McCain, a first time restaurateur who joins the food industry from real estate and investment banking in New York, is operating his restaurant with a heavy emphasis on ethos.”We’re doing hard things the hard way,” he says, explaining that all of the meat used in the sausages is free from preservatives and hormones and comes from local farms whenever possible. They also make their own flatbread dough and sauces in house and try to use organic produce. HalfSmoke also offers wine, beer, and cocktails on draft to cut down on waste.
Affordability is also top of mind. McCain says the Shaw neighborhood is unique in that it has people from all parts of the city traversing through and there is a wide mix of residents and businesses. “There are quite a bit of restaurants that have opened in D.C. and in Shaw, but they aren’t always affordable to a mass audience, so we’re trying to create a product that is consistent with a high-end restaurant but is priced affordably for anyone to take advantage of,” he says.
For dessert, you can order funnel cake in three flavors and then dress it at a toppings bar. Milkshakes reminiscent of the frozen behemoth concoctions at New York’s Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer are also available.
The 100-seat restaurant that seems to have mixed modern and retro design in one of its blenders is cozy enough to encourage diners to stay a while. Distractions like the board games, five televisions for watching sports, and a free photo booth make it as much a hang as a restaurant, just be prepared to have your clothes smell like a campfire thanks to HalfSmoke’s enormous parrilla-style wood-fired grill. A 50-seat patio is also planned.
HalfSmoke will start by serving dinner Sundays through Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. After a few weeks, the restaurant will open daily at 11 a.m.
HalfSmoke, 651 Florida Ave. NW; (202) 330-6395; halfsmoke.com