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More so than at most eateries, the environment at
Rhodeside Grill changes from day to day. Early in the week it’s an unpretentious restaurant with breathing room between the tables, amiable if casually amateur service (and art), and adventurous specialsred pepper bisque festooned with squiggles of sour cream and sprinkles of parsley, walnut-crusted rockfish, chicken-and-wild-mushroom strudel covered in stroganoff sauce.
By midweek the televisions silently showing sports above the bar attract more attention, the crowd as thick with drinkers as diners. Come the weekend, if you start your meal too late dessert will be served during the live band’s opening numbers. You’ll notice that in the far corner, to the left of the bass player, a statue of a thin man, posing as if on a cross, towers over a throng of smoking weekend warriors who have no
asking for a menu.
The atmospheric split personality is more typical of a nightclub than a restaurant; the line between the two is a famously blurry one, even though any one person’s favorite places to drink and eat rarely overlap. But what makes Rhodeside so fresh is that it shamelessly aspires to attract both fine diners and beer drinkers, doesn’t apologize for either, and is relatively successful at catering to both.
Credit for Rhodeside’s stylistic coup goes to head chef Jeff Heineman. His résumé includes stints in the kitchens of Cashion’s and Kinkead’s, and he generally resists stooping to the standards of a bar even though you could argue that he’s working for one.
The menu is concise, just one plastic-armored page, but the dishes offered can be expansive. Our favorite appetizer is comprised of four Cajun-spiced shrimp arranged around a mound of grits; it’s covered with a forceful tasso gravy dotted with bits of smoked ham. Generous bowls of steamed mussels are seasoned with thyme and clumps of whole-grain mustardan excellent companion to the dense and chewy white bread that is similar to Cashion’s. The buffalo wings and three-onion soup gratinée (better known as French onion soup) are decent but run-of-the-mill. For a funkier take on typical pub chow, order the grilled portobello quesadilla with goat cheese and crème fraîche. “It’s a stretch to call this Mexican,” says a friend.
Rhodeside quit serving lunch in December; according to a waiter, the sparse noontime crowds were due to a menu heavy on entrees best suited for dinner. (There’s a Sunday brunch I never tried.) Nonetheless, there are several simple and inexpensive sandwiches and salads. Admittedly, I’d just as soon have a bun instead of a tortilla, but the grilled chicken muffuletta sandwich is tasty, distinguished by a spread of olive relish. It’s a testament to the kitchen’s quality control that the crawfish in Kate’s crawdad po’ boy taste fresh, not fishy, even though they are used in nothing else on the menu.
The best salads are the most involveda spirited grilled tuna and ratatouille salad with balsamic vinegar and new potatoes, or the oriental chicken with ginger soy vinaigrette. Avoid the Caesar. It’s bland, not fully tossed, and for some reason covered with bits of hard-boiled egg.
With the exception of the fish ‘n’ chips, Rhodeside’s entrees aspire to the quality Heineman is used to. There are some misfires: The roast pork medallions I order are impenetrably tough; the accompanying apple-cider vinegar sauce just beads up on top of the meat like rain on the hood of a car. The Thai chicken is tender and savory, but its sides, a soba noodle salad and some mushy zucchini, are hardly worthy of the company.
For the most part, evidence of the kitchen’s excellence is found in the main courses. A simply fixed piece of tuna is invigorating and light, buttressed by a colorful vegetable sauté. The monkfish, pan roasted and doused in pancetta tomato sauce, is more elaborate but no less gratifying. Restaurants twice as pricey botch cassoulet, but here
it’s almost perfect, with duck confit, garlic sausage, and calypso beans. The New York strip, prepared with little regard for the purity of fine beef, is an orgy of
peppercorns moistened by a sauce chunky with
bacon and garlic. (At $13.95, it’s the most
A waiter eventually approaches and asks, “Do you like it?” Thinking he’s talking about the steak, I note what’s on it and respond, “How can
I not?” He says I misunderstood. He was asking about the restaurant. I note the contrast between the business done at the beer taps and the dining room. I concede that if the food were less impressive, the place might not be my bag. As it is, there aren’t many places I’d rather casually nurse a beer waiting for my hunger to kick in. I respond, again, “How can I not?”
Rhodeside Grill, 1836 Wilson Blvd., Arlington. (703) 243-0145.
I’ll fess up to having eaten my share of meals from a can and say nothing more of what I thought the first time I drove by Weenie Beenie. But when I stop in for a bite, it turns out the only direct interaction between beans and weenies is on a gloriously sloppy chili half-smoke. WB is a kitchen with a walk-up window, like a small-town Dairy Queen. It opens at 6 a.m., when you can choose sausage, ham, bacon, or bologna to conspire with eggs in the making of a breakfast sub. During the lunch hour, a line of neighborhood teens and area workers, mostly male and in denim, spills onto the parking lot. I recommend trying one of two hefty wondersthe hamburger royal, which a worker assures me predates Pulp Fiction, or the vinegar-tart North Carolina Bar-b-que pork sandwich. If you want something more subdued, take some of the warm northern-white-bean soup away in a coffee cup.
Weenie Beenie Sandwich Shop, 2680 S. Shirlington Rd., Arlington. (703) 671-6661.Brett Anderson
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