Sliders and wings are no longer the only food options at The Blaguard. For the past month, the Irish pub at 18th and U streets NW has been serving Korean food every Wednesday.
The special menu comes from the Pyongyang Gang, a pop-up concept co-founded by ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen employees Mike Thompson and James Jang.
Thompson tells Y&H he previously spent three years working for the U.S. Department of Energy. “I got really bored, so I decided to pull a 180 and pursue becoming a chef,” he says.
Last spring, Thompson started e-mailing restaurants, volunteering to work for free. Korean eatery Mandu offered to take him on. He previously had no other experience in Korean cuisine. Thompson went on to cook Vietnamese for the Phonomenon food truck, which shuttered in August, then was hired by Vietnamese restaurant BaBay two days before it closed. Now, he’s a kitchen manager at ShopHouse.
It’s there that he teamed up with Jang, who also has dreams of eventually opening a Korean restaurant. Thompson was already a regular at The Blaguard and knew its kitchen was underutilized. The pop-up idea was a way for the bar to draw in new customers, while helping Pyongyang Gang get its name out there.
Don’t expect to be transported to an Annandale mom-and-pop shop on Wednesday evenings. The food is not authentic Korean fare, but rather American pub food with Korean flavors. Regardless, it’s a welcome alternative to mozzarella sticks, and it’s particularly satisfying drunk food. Best of all: You can order the entire menu (and stuff yourself and a friend silly) for $21 total.
The menu includes just four items: a burger, a pork belly sandwich, fried chicken wings, and fries with a ssamjang aoli.
The burger, nicknamed “The Seoul,” comes marinated in soy, sugar, garlic, ginger, scallion, and sesame oil with white kimchi, carmelized onion jam, and ssamjang aoli. The greasy pork belly sandwich—”The Pyongyang”—is marinated in similar ingredients and topped with kimchi. (Thompson has alternatively served pulled pork.) Both are $5.
The thin $3 fries are nothing special, but the super crunchy, twice-fried chicken wings are addictive. For $8, you get six giant pieces covered in sweet and spicy sauce reminiscent of General Tso’s chicken. Thompson is also looking at adding a traditional Korean vegetarian dish called japchae, made with sweet potato noodles.
The finger food is served in paper bags which are meant to be ripped apart and used as plates. You’ll also find QR codes on each of the bags, which will lead you to Pyongyang Gang’s Twitter page.
Thompson would like to eventually expand the Korean pop-up another night a week, and maybe add a Vietnamese menu one night too. We hope he does.
Photos by Jessica Sidman