Toure Stoney belongs to a unique class of chefs: those who have alienated diners by introducing fresh, quality ingredients. That’s exactly what happened late last year when he took over the kitchen at the Quarry House in Silver Spring, the subterranean tavern once known for slinging greasy grub mostly thawed from a freezer. A number of QH loyalists acted as if Stoney had ground up purloined kitties for his organic, hormone-free burgers.
The stubborn loyalists, if they haven’t already been converted by now, won’t have Stoney to kick around anymore. Last month, he left the house that Jackie Greenbaum rebuilt. The chef went back home to California for “personal reasons,” says Greenbaum, co-owner of QH and another Silver Spring haunt, Jackie’s.
Replacing Stoney as on-site chef is…well, technically nobody. A pair of cooks from Jackie’s will split time between the two restaurants. They have their work cut out for them. Greenbaum, manager Gordon Banks, and Sam Adkins (executive chef for both QH and Jackie’s) have just installed a two-page menu that nearly doubles the old one. It includes a chipotle chicken burrito, an expanded selection of specialty burgers, and hot sandwiches, including one with house-roasted beef.
First impressions of the new-look QH? Needs more grease—elbow grease. The bacon-cheddar burger was overcooked and missing Stoney’s trademark blast of black peppercorns; the “chipotle” burrito was a tortilla log of black beans, cheese, and zipless chicken; and, most puzzling, the Old Bay tater tots came with the seasoning served in a little plastic cup on the side, not incorporated into the cylinders.
I tell Greenbaum about the tots sitting by the crock of the Old Bay. She relays my message to Banks, who’s standing nearby as she talks on the phone. “That’s what I was afraid of,” Greenbaum relates. “He said the new staff in the kitchen is still learning all of the menu items, so it may be a little bit of time before everything comes out [as it should].”
Soft, buttery pretzels, the kind with salt crystals the size of diamonds sprinkled on them, are the stuff of big tops, ballparks, and hot-dog carts run by surly cusses who never, ever break a dollar so you can feed the meter. These jumbo twists are not the kind of fare you expect to find at David Greggory.
And yet chef Greggory Hill has earned a reputation for twisting Americana foods into strange and tasty shapes—lobster corn dog, anyone?—so it seems only natural that he’d untangle the pretzel and repackage the dough into a few golden takeout sandwiches targeted at lunchtime diners on a budget. “I see a lot of people going to Subway,” says Hill, whose operation is two doors down from one of the sandwich shops. “I don’t know if it’s the commercials that make people go…or the food that makes them go.”
Whatever the reason, Hill hopes to tap into that market with his pretzel sammies (veggie, paprika chicken, and ham-and-cheese), which, if consumed daily, would have Jared looking like Michael Moore again in no time. Take the ham-and-cheese: It features Wisconsin bacon and Westphalian ham as well as three kinds of cheese, including Vermont white cheddar. The filling is baked into folded pretzel dough and brushed with bacon fat. The soft, salty, and slightly chewy dough serves as a far better foil to the savory stuffing than, say, a croissant.
Hill plans to pair the sandwiches with house-made chips for $8.75. It’ll be available for carryout this week. While Subway, with its multimillion-dollar marketing budget, won’t be breaking a sweat over Hill’s invention, what about the hot-dog vendors who hawk jumbo pretzels on the street? “Trust me, all the businesses around here…they don’t affect my business. Never,” says Mohamed Abadlziz, whose cart is a block from David Greggory on 20th and M Streets NW.
Pie in the Sky
Sette Osteria, that whiff of Naples in Dupont Circle, has practically trained its patrons to sniff out Italian-style pizza. The trendy eatery offers 11 different wood-fired ’zas, plus a lengthy list of toppings for those who like to pile it on. The menu even gives up prime real estate to explain the “History of Pizza” (in about 200 words). But for six weeks this fall, Sette customers were completely pieless.
The reason? The restaurant’s wood-burning pizza oven went up in smoke—almost literally—in late September when a faulty flue caused smoke to billow into the pizza-prep area. The problem turned out to be a 3-foot custom-made pipe located behind the bathrooms. “The duct system actually winds around the interior of the restaurant, like behind the walls, then it goes straight up,” says spokesperson Jan Staihar about Sette’s seven-story flue system. “It took five weeks to get the one piece that was needed.”
Once the system was repaired, cleaned, and inspected, it was finally ready for operation at 11 a.m. on Nov. 2. “Because the system was down for so long…it [took] seven hours to heat up the oven and the system up to 550 degrees,” Staihar says. “So they had the first pizza—hurrah, hurrah—at approximately at 6 o’clock.”
It couldn’t come soon enough for lead partner Franco Nuschese, who also co-owns Café Milano. On weekdays when the oven was down, Sette Osteria’s sales declined by “two to three thousand dollars a day,” Staihar says. “Friday and Saturday, it was easily five thousand dollars a day.”—Tim Carman
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