Here’s another feature where WeLoveDC authors Donna (greenie) and Katie (foodie) have paired up to tell you about local area restaurants that take on the challenge of being green. Donna explains the restaurant’s environmentally friendly efforts and Katie tells you if the food tastes any good. It’s a rough life, but someone has to do it, right?
Donna: I don’t want to go overboard about how much I liked AGAINN, but let’s just say that three days after my first visit, I dragged a friend from out of town over there to try AGAINN again. The restaurant’s said to be a modern twist on traditional British Isles pub cuisine, but that makes me think of greasy fish ‘n’ chips, not the savory ham and apple cider pie steaming under a delicate puff pastry crust that I had for dinner.
Katie: I haven’t exactly been subtle about my enthusiasm for DC’s newest gastropub, either. I love the space, the details are impeccable, the drinks, the food, everything. So when I visited and found out that Chef Wesley Morton had constructed a VERY local menu and put a ton of thought into his sourcing, it made me love AGAINN that much more.
Donna: Executive Chef Wesley Morton is from Louisiana, and he grew up on a farm surrounded by cows, figs, oranges, and all sorts of goodness. His family didn’t buy meat at the store; they raised their own food. He’s now continuing that tradition, using food that’s grown and processed locally and animals that are treated humanely. An example is the smoked country ham, cured in Allan Benton’s small family shop in Tennessee. You can order it as a charcuterie, or get a taste of its salty deliciousness atop the soft russet potato dumplings as they melt in your mouth.
Katie: Donna and I started out the meal with the Carmelized Endive Salad and also got the potato dumplings, which were virtually gnocchi. The gnocchi ahem I mean dumplings were cheesy, fluffy and virtually perfect. Topped with salty lovely Prosciutto, the cured meat balances out nicely with the potato puffs. They could make a small meal in themselves if ordered at the bar, with a beer.
Donna: One thing that is pub-like is the beer list, which goes way beyond the usual suspects. I especially liked the Kostritzer Schwarzbier, a black beer from Germany, and the spicy Belgian Corsendonk Christmas Ale. The rich Founder’s Porter from Michigan was already a favorite. But wait — I’m here to tell you how the restaurant’s green. Indeed, it focuses on sustainable seafood and organic meats and produce. And they are fabulous.
Katie: Right. The cocktails also utilize some local herbs and ingredients, and thoughtfully selected bitters. The Pimm’s Cup is such a trendy drink right now, but AGAINN does it correctly. Jenn is poised to do a We Love Drinks feature on AGAINN next month, though, so I’ll leave the drink waxing poetic to her. She’ll really dive deep into the cocktail menu and drinks program. In the meantime, trust Donna and I when we say it’s good.
Donna: You can tell a restaurant sources a lot of food locally when it’s easiest for the chef to go down the menu and point out the few things he didn’t get from nearby. The night we were there, the non-native proteins were pretty much the salmon and trout. The chicken came from Virginia, the ham from Tennessee, the beef from Pennsylvania, and so on. And the grits have just the pedigree you’d like grits to have — they hail from South Carolina.
Katie: Donna isn’t joking about the grits – as a southern girl I claim there is a right and a wrong when it comes to grits. Right is Anson Mills. Wrong is everything else. Chef Morton knows right from wrong. For dinner, I got the bangers and mash, and saved half of it for lunch the next day. I think this is a pitch-perfect dish. The mustard mashed potatoes are great, and the bangers (sausage) really shine. I love the concept of snout to tail butchering, and Chef Morton has it down pat. It really shows through in the flavor of the proteins, too.
Donna: How does a new restaurant choose its farmers? Chef Morton did plenty of research to find his purveyors, driving to the country to see the farms for himself and talking to people who knew the lay of the land, so to speak. For example, he spent an entire day in Pennsylvania visiting with the lamb farmer. That kind of exploration gives him confidence in how the meats and produce will taste, and assures him that the food is produced sustainably and in line with his values.
Donna: I don’t know if local butter and eggs are what make the sticky toffee pudding so tasty, but everything wonderful Katie says about it is absolutely true. The pudding is great, the sauce is great, and you just can’t go wrong with stout-flavored ice cream. In fact, it filled my open position for Best Dessert in Town, left vacant after a restaurant changed hands and a certain warm, rich, gooey chocolate pot de crème disappeared from my life forever. And for me to call a dessert without chocolate my favorite? Well, that’s really going some. Try this pudding; you’ll love it.
Katie: I’ve done enough swooning about the toffee pudding to last for a while, but it’s good. Okay? It just is. What the team at AGAINN does so elegantly is work with well-selected ingredients to turn out pitch-perfect well-constructed dishes. And I would argue that ingredients are more than half the battle with a restaurant. Having a chef behind the wheel that can take those ingredients and let them shine is what makes for a great restaurant with staying power. That’s what you’ll find at AGAINN.
AGAINN is located at 1099 New York Avenue, NW, a few blocks away from the 11th street exit at Metro Center. The entrance on 11th Street between K Street and New York Avenue, NW. They serve Sunday brunch and regular lunch and dinner. AGAINN also serves “Pub Grub” til midnight most nights.