Kitchen to Grow: With the new Ray?s, Landrum can show more range.
Kitchen to Grow: With the new Ray?s, Landrum can show more range. Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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Michael Landrum wasn’t so sure he wanted his pictured taken at the still-under-construction Ray’s the Steaks in the Navy League Building at 2300 Wilson Blvd., just a few blocks west of the steakhouse’s current location in Arlington. The chef/owner’s sudden attack of shyness had something to do with his facial stubble and his plaid thermal outerwear, which my wife later described as the “Hot Lumberjack” look. But I think it also had something to do with the impromptu tour that Landrum had just given me.

As we were walking out the door, Landrum casually mentioned that our interview wasn’t part of his official rollout plans for Ray’s the Steaks. It seems that the clinically talkative toque (“To Beef or Not to Beef?” 9/27/07) just couldn’t contain himself.

Once you get a glimpse of the new 5,000-square-foot space, you can understand Landrum’s excitement. The restaurant has two main eating areas: The front section has been built to resemble the no-frills, white-washed, just-the-fats-ma’am dining room of the original Ray’s the Steaks, while the back room, with its white tablecloths and cool cream colors, has been constructed to resemble Ray’s the Steaks’s glamorous Jazz Age cousin, Ray’s the Classics in Silver Spring.

The new spot has been more than two years in the making, delayed by the usual assortment of mind-warping bureaucratic crap: permits, inspections, architectural plans, contractor bids, you name it. But Landrum is near completion, just waiting for his liquor license and a health certificate. He’s aiming for a January open date. “But if you would have talked to me a month ago, I would have told you the first of December,” he says. “It’s whatever date I say and add nine months.”

Landrum’s being tongue in cheek—but maybe not completely.

The menu at the new Ray’s the Steaks will likely incorporate, eventually anyway, a number of dishes from the wider-ranging Ray’s the Classics. That very idea makes Landrum giddy over the irony. People may be expecting the next generation of Ray’s the Steaks, he says, but the place may turn out to be closer in culinary spirit to “Ray’s the Classics II.”

However the new Ray’s the Steaks turns out, one thing will be for certain, Landrum says. He won’t serve his widely praised Ray’s Hell Burger at the new location. The Navy League building also houses a Five Guys, “so I can’t do burgers,” the chef says. “Well, I could, but I don’t want to.”

The two main dining rooms will also mirror Ray’s the Steaks and Ray’s the Classics in another important way: The more informal front room, with space for about 75 diners, will seat folks on a first-come, first-served basis, just like at Ray’s the Steaks. The back room, with about 40 seats, will accept reservations, just like at Ray’s the Classics. There is also a third room for private parties.

Perhaps the most intriguing thing about the forthcoming Ray’s the Steaks is that, as part of the deal, Landrum has also leased out the location next door. It’s a 2,000-square-foot space. He wouldn’t tell me what plans he has for it. Perhaps that long-promised charcuterie project (which was supposed to include the services of meat-master Jamie Stachowski, who, by the way, is looking for work)? Or perhaps a second Hell Burger outlet to run that nearby Five Guys out of business?

Don’t you know that Landrum would love to drive a steak knife through my heart for speculating wildly like this?

Once Ray’s the Steaks does officially move, Landrum plans to open Ray’s the Net in the old location. It’ll be, as the chef says, a “seafood version of Ray’s the Steaks.” Tuna and salmon entrees, which routinely cross the $20 threshold at many restaurants, will run in the $13 and $14 range, he says.

So what happened to Landrum’s A Place at the Table concept, in which he’d serve a meat and three sides for $18 and roll the profits into scholarships for disadvantaged students? “What I’m doing in NE satisfies my mission much better,” Landrum says about his future project, Rays’ the Heat in Ward 7. “It’d be a stretch [to do the concept in Arlington]. I’d be forcing the concept into this neighborhood.”

CLARK’s burgeoning empire

All the dead-tree food media got chopped down to size last week by the blogger Prince of Petworth, who broke the news that former Colorado Kitchen chef/owner Gillian Clark had signed a letter of intent to open a new restaurant at Park Place, a mixed-use development at the corner of Georgia and New Hampshire avenues. I have just one small correction, my liege: Clark tells me that the name of her nearly 4,000-square-foot establishment will be the Georgia Avenue Meeting House, not the Meeting House.

Clark also says that the Georgia Avenue Meeting House will be, by 2011 or so, the third of hopefully five or more restaurants in her budding empire, co-owned by Clark and business partner Robin Smith. “We’re going to be the next new restaurant group of D.C.,” Clark says. The partners plan to open restaurants in “spots where nobody wants to open” restaurants, including the Benning neighborhood and other areas east of the Anacostia.

The two partners will likely be working with investors and/or developers to realize their plans, Clark says. “It’ll be harder to do with just the two of us,” the famously blunt chef (“Colorado Rocky,” 12/5/2007) patiently explains when I ask her why.

In the meantime, the opening of their General Store and Post Office Tavern in the Forest Glen neighborhood of Silver Spring has run into another snag: Montgomery County, Clark says, requires at least 30 parking spaces for the casual, twin-concept operation. “We’re short 23 spaces,” she says. “We had no idea that this was a requirement.”

Clark and Smith have applied for a parking waiver. If that fails, Clark says, there is an office next door that has agreed to let the restaurant use its lot. The chef is confident the General Store and Post Office Tavern will open in early January.

The dance of salami

Come to think of it, Jamie Stachowski may not be interested in working with Michael Landrum after all. With his unceremonious departure last month at Thirsty Bernie Sports Bar & Grill (“Pierogi Berra,” 9/10/08), the chef has been working to launch his own name-brand charcuterie company. Well, maybe not a name-brand company. It seems the chef’s partner in this venture, Mitch Berliner, is afraid nobody can pronounce Stachowski.

Stachowski’s not buying that argument. To him, a number of commercial makers of cured meats and pates, companies like D’Artagnan’s to Les Trois Petits Cochons (which incidentally is just “three little pigs,” folks), have “difficult names that are hard to pronounce.”

Whatever the final name, Stachowski and Berliner, owner of Berliner Specialty Distributors, are currently searching for a USDA-approved processing-and-packaging facility. The chef hopes to launch the company early next year.

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