City Paper is not for tourists
A periodic feature in which we check up on an established restaurant.
The Restaurant: Addie’s, 11120 Rockville Pike, Rockville, (301) 881-0081
The Meal: Grilled quesadilla, risotto, fried oyster po’ boy, BBQ pork sandwich, grilled “Black Pearl” salmon, and toffee pecan cake
The Diagnosis: Once a pioneer in the then-hinterlands of Rockville—-a nonchain restaurant dealing in a highly personalized take on American cuisine—-Addie’s tends to be treated like an ugly stepsister these days, criticized and ignored for not showing enough leg or wearing the latest fashions. Frankly, I don’t get it. Addie’s has never shown any interest in tarting itself up into some molecular, small-plate, foie-gras foamatorium. It’s the friend you call when you’re feeling down.
The old bungalow on Rockville Pike is undergoing some changes—-new recessed lighting in the dining room, refurbished floors, even expanded patio space for diners to sup on small plates underneath a mature Japanese maple. The menu, on the other hand, remains steady as a rock. Addie’s strength lies not in innovation, but in the kitchen’s ability to let quality ingredients speak for themselves.
There’s also a quiet expertise here that’s too easily overlooked. Take the grilled quesadilla. Yes, the lunch plate is merely a half-moon tortilla stuffed with an ultra-thin layer of pepper Jack, smoked red onions, and slices of yellow squash and zucchini. But the fact that the flatbread’s not bloated with cheese, like so many quesadillas, is important, because the art of this appetizer lies in how it pairs with a loose haystack of sliced tomatoes, red onions, and peppers, a sort of matchstick version of pico de gallo. The cool, spicy vegetable threads provide the perfect textural and temperature counterpoint to the creamy, bready mouthfeel of the tortilla. Too much cheese and the fat will suffocate the condiment. Hard to believe, but there is such a thing as too much cheese.
The same precision goes into the salmon lunch entree, a thick square of superb Black Pearl organic fish that’s lightly seasoned and grilled to a flaky, buttery consistency. The salmon’s accents—-cremini mushrooms, wilted spinach, frisee, and a Beltway-like loop of truffled, highly reduced balsamic vinaigrette around the plate—-each provide little bursts of flavor, from bitter to sweet, that play against the oily fish. Chef de cuisine Andre Cavallaro‘s daily special of risotto tends to perform the same trick: mixing together ingredients that, individually, can showboat like an NBA shooting guard, while still working collectively like some hippy-dippy co-op. The version I sampled married wilted arugula, tomatoes, thick pieces of prosciutto, garlic, and other ingredients in the surprisingly tart, not-so-creamy mound of fattened rice. It’s listed as an entree, but I split it as an appetizer, which works just fine.
Where there are problems, they tend to pop up on Addie’s sandwich menu. The cornmeal-battered Chincoteague oysters are fried to a light golden crisp and nestled inside a crunchy hoagie roll, but the sandwich maker tends to scrimp on the chipotle remoulade, which is needed to provide bite and moisture to a dish that can be with dry and bready without it. A similar moisture issue affects the BBQ pork sandwich, whose shredded meat is rather bland without healthy wallop of the molasses-spiked sauce. But both problems are easily fixed with an extra application of sauce or remoulade. Nothing, however, needs to be applied to the battered shoestring potatoes, which are flash-fried in peanut oil, served hot, and among the best fries in the city. It matters not a lick that they’re not cut in-house.
Barbara Black‘s toffee pecan cake has been on the menu at Addie’s, my server says, since day one. It’s easy to understand why: A round of moist cake is studded with chocolate, topped with a scoop of vanilla-bean ice cream, drizzled with crème anglaise, and encircled in toffee bits and blueberries. At a restaurant literally built into an old house, you’d be hard-pressed to find flavors that say “home” any better.