Alexandria, Food and Drink, The Features

A Look at the New Menu and New Chef at Evening Star Cafe

Photo courtesy of bonappetitfoodie
Shrimp & Grits at Evening Star Cafe
courtesy of bonappetitfoodie

Anytime a long-standing restaurant with an already stellar reputation “revamps,” I have to hold my breath a little and scrunch my face waiting to see what the outcome is. That’s not to say I don’t trust the judgment of the fine folks over at Neighborhood Restaurant Group, because I do. But there are so many variables that go into renovating a space and renovating a menu. The result at the new and improved Evening Star Cafe? Fantastic.

For starters the newly decorated digs are eclectic, funky and inviting. The warm yellow, textured wallpaper make this neighborhood gem feel cozy, while remaining completely cool. And I’ve already mentioned the mason jar light fixture in the back bar at the Majestic Lounge that I’ve fallen in love with. If you’ve been to other NRG restaurants, you’ll feel right at home in the new Evening Star Cafe.

Under the direction of executive chef Jim Jeffords, the Del Ray restaurant has definitely augmented its southern feel with dishes such as boiled peanuts, shrimp and grits and of course, a buttermilk fried chicken. I’d describe Jeffords’ menu as elegant southern with a twist–the portions are southern-sized, but the presentation is beautiful and nothing falls into the stereotype of southern food being oppressively heavy and over-fried. The menu is organized so there are a few snacks (think kind of like bar bites), small plates (appetizers), entrees and then there are sides available to share if you’re really craving more grits or sunchoke mash.

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Alexandria, Food and Drink, The Daily Feed

Evening Star Cafe Remodels and Reopens with New Chef

Photo courtesy of Chris Rief aka Spodie Odie
Evening Star #1
courtesy of Chris Rief aka Spodie Odie

The first restaurant in the Neighborhood Restaurant Group got a major facelift over the last few months and officially reopened last night on December 8th. Evening Star Cafe now has a newly redesigned and refurbished dining room and bar which was led by Hailey Designs, LLC. The same company also designed Rustico and Buzz Bakery, two other NRG establishments.

The remodeled space combines retro furniture, such as chrome-accented tables, along with a double-sided banquet for a little bit of a 1950s diner feel. In the neighboring Majestic Lounge attached to the restaurant, staff and neighbors in Del Ray have donated trophies which line a case from the floor almost to the ceiling. When you go, also check out the cool lighting fixture made out of about 180 mason jars. Washingtonian has a slideshow with pictures of the newly renovated space.

In addition to a new space, the restaurant is now being led by executive chef Jim Jeffords who is incorporating a stronger southern flavor on the menu. Jeffords recently came from CityZen in Washington, DC. Some highlights on his new menu include a moultrie sausage dish, a risotto with housemade tasso ham, mustard greens, black eyed peas and parmesan, as well as a classic buttermilk fried chicken.

There’s no word yet on where the previous executive chef, Will Artley, has decided to go, though Twitter confirms he’s staying in the area.

Looking ahead to the new year, the restaurant plans to offer brunch as well as open a 2,000 square-foot rooftop garden where Jeffords will grow herbs and other produce for his menu with the help of Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food & Agriculture.

Capital Chefs, Food and Drink, The Features

Capital Chefs: Will Artley of Evening Star Cafe (Part 2)

Photo courtesy of
‘Chopping tomatoes’
courtesy of ‘bonappetitfoodie’

It’s summertime and if you look around, you’ll notice that tomatoes are ripe and abundant. They’re in salads, they’re on sandwiches, they’re in your gazpacho. They’re everywhere! So here’s a recipe for something a little different from Will Artley: a tomato jam. The chef suggests serving it on scallops, on toast, and I think it would even go quite well on some roasted chicken. Plus, if you are a little more advanced, you can can the jam and have it last for months. Click through to find the full recipe.

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Capital Chefs, Food and Drink, The Features

Capital Chefs: Will Artley of Evening Star Cafe (Part 1)

Photo courtesy of
‘Will Artley of Evening Star Cafe’
courtesy of ‘bonappetitfoodie’

Will Artley greets me with a bear-claw handshake, wearing bright Nantucket red pants and a matching hat that succinctly and accurately states, “No Farms, No Food.” After a quick cup of coffee, the executive chef of the Evening Star Cafe suggests we head out to the restaurant’s small “farm,” a gorgeous and overflowing vegetable patch about a mile away. “I put the doors on my Jeep since I knew you were coming,” he laughs. “I figured you wouldn’t want to ride on the motorcycle!” Will takes the opportunity to educate me on the “Jeep wave,” which has different protocol depending on the varying degrees of Jeep-ness.

I had met Will before at a few food events, but it quickly became clear that Will is a character in the best sense of the word. He’s incredibly friendly, but if you saw his serious face, you probably wouldn’t want to mess with him. “I like the instant gratification of cooking,” he says. “You can change people’s mood with food. They can have sat in traffic and be in a bad mood. But if you give them one taste and it changes their attitude, that’s rewarding.” Will adds that he also volunteers time each Monday at the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority teaching low-income families how to cook and eat healthy. “Cooking can change lives. If you’re in this business, you should be in it to make people happy,” he says.

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Food and Drink, Foodie Roundup, The Features

We Love Food: Where to Eat Memorial Weekend

Photo courtesy of
‘happy for the flag’
courtesy of ‘philliefan99′

A human being can only eat so many hot dogs and hamburgers around the grill with family and friends. So here’s a helpful roundup of some food events that will get you out the door and give you something to do other than wondering if the steaks are done with Uncle Barry manning the grill.

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Eat Like Me, Food and Drink, The Features

Eat Like Me: March’s Best Dishes

Photo courtesy of
‘galbi’
courtesy of ‘aliciagriffin’

Spring is a lovely time in Washington – this isn’t a revelation. But it’s a perfectly pleasing time to be eating out in our city. Chefs are getting excited about spring farm produce, and menus are waking up from their brussel-sprout-and-short-rib trance. Fish makes it’s way to a more prominent place on the menu, and cherry cocktails celebrate the turn of the season. The arrival of Zaytinya’s Easter festival makes me think of sundresses, and the announcement of RAMMY nominations makes me want to strip off my tights and thrown on some open-toed heels. These events that make DC the perfect place to eat in spring, and I’m oh-so-happy to be back here again! Continue reading

Farm Fresh, The Features

Farm Fresh: Evening Star Cafe

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Here’s another feature where WeLoveDC authors Donna (greenie) and Katie (foodie) have paired up to tell you about local restaurants that take on the challenge of being green. Donna will explain the logic behind the environmentally friendly trends, and Katie will tell you if the food tastes any good. It’s a rough life, but someone has to do it, right?

Katie: Evening Star Cafe is nestled on Mount Vernon Avenue in the heart of Alexandria’s bohemian neighborhood, Del Ray. Lanterns twinkle above. Seated at the window, Donna and I watched neighbors pass by walking dogs, running errands and grabbing frozen custard from Dairy Godmother. Evening Star has this wonderful homey feel, so it’s not hard as hard to imagine the farm-to-table concept in practice there, as it is at a super-polished place like Charlie Palmer Steak. Chef Will Artley jokes around with us like we’ve known him forever, and describes walking through the farmer’s market picking up the food for our meal and it just makes sense. We were happy to accept an invitation to learn all about Evening Star Cafe (and Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s) approach to green dining.

Donna: Evening Star is just one of the eateries in the Neighborhood Restaurant Group (NRG), and co-owner Michael Babin talked to us about the philosophy that guides them all. NRG supports mindful growing, with no pesticides or hormones, as well as humane treatment of animals. The restaurants use biodegradable take-home containers, compost scraps, and soon their used cooking oil will be turned into biodiesel fuel.

Katie: We kicked off our meal with a light melon soup. Chef Artley laughed, telling us how he’s allergic to melons, but got so excited when he spotted these that he forgot and sampled some. It was that kind of meal – perfectly accessible, friendly, and so exciting that you forget things like food allergies. Continue reading