Feasting Famously with Chef Eric Brannon
The Culinary Helm & Heart behind Capitol Hill Staple Ted’s BULLETIN
Ted’s BULLETIN: never heard of it, go now. Worried they won’t have something you like? Stop it, just go now. You don’t like leaving downtown for the Hill for lunch? Shut up already, will you please just go now!
It’s not just the 1950s diner/malt-shop inspired motif that makes you feel comfortable. In fact, more often than not this border line “cliché” feeling can turn off some diners. But not here, not at Ted’s BULLETIN, and not with Chef Eric Brannon manning the helm. Overseeing the culinary aspect of Ted’s since its opening, Chef Eric believes in quality product – as evidenced by the housemade pop-tarts, pastries, burgers, and malts they are known for – but also quality service. Treating the lobbyist in a suit ordering a grilled rib-eye the exact same as the Eastern Market-dwelling mom and her two kids (stroller in tote and all) ordering milkshakes and sugar-coma inducing homemade pop-tarts, Chef Eric believes everyone should feel comfortable here. Ted’s BULLETIN is proof that one can pull off a theme-inspired restaurant if there is heart behind the meatloaf and black and white movies broadcast in the back room.
Thankfully Chef Eric was able to make time in his schedule to pull up a chair and chat about why he loves Ted’s, what his food philosophy is, and an exclusive, sneak peak at what’s next in store for the popular matchboxfoodgroup.
Originally from Pittsburg, PA and starting out with the hope of being a rock-star, Chef Eric admits that thankfully he had a second passion – cooking. Following in the footsteps of his father, who he says was always a good cook, cooking at home led to culinary school to help pay the bills, when he realized, “I started having a big passion for it, and not just passion, but skill.” After cooking at several high-end establishments in Pennsylvania, he landed his first sous-chef gig at a large chain restaurant in one of their DC locations. Shortly after, he met the folks at Matchbox when they only had one restaurant in DC, and the…match was lit. Too cheesy? Eh, whatever, it works. Moving on.
Not liking the corporate mentality, the hands-on approach the matchboxfoodgroup took was a perfect fit and they asked Chef Eric to open Ted’s BULLETIN two years ago. At Ted’s, he not only leads the back of the house, but is now acting as the General Manager in taking over the front of the house as well.
I ask Chef Eric what he thinks is so special about Ted’s BULLETIN. “It took me a while to kind of find the true Ted’s – you can do all you want and put all you want on paper about buying antique stuff from the old Philly convention center – setting it up for success was a huge part of it. But once you get into it, it becomes its own kind of beast. What we realized is the nostalgic menu is all good, but [becomes lost] without an atmosphere and warmth from your first three steps in the door to your last three steps out; the importance of hospitality is something this group has focused on.” He continues to say, “Ted’s BULLETIN can take you back to your home town. People feel at home here. Bryce Harper [outfielder for the Washington Nationals] comes here all the time because he feels like he is at home.” If you want to eat like Bryce Harper, get the blueberry cheesecake pop-tarts and chocolate chip pancakes.
The hospitality and the atmosphere inside Ted’s don’t feel forced, and that’s what is so important – it’s real. “You can come in and get a bottle of wine and a steak, or come in at 9:00pm and get biscuits and gravy,” he adds. He mentions the notion of “third place” which references back to a time long past where people had three places they felt comfortable and like they could be themselves – church, home and their “third place.“We want to be people’s third place,” he says, “their home away from home.”
We want to be people’s third place, their home away from home.
I ask Chef Eric what he thinks of the DC food scene and of the potential for growth. “I think there could easily be a Michelin starred restaurant in DC,” he says, “but I don’t think that has any relevance to what makes DC a great food scene in my opinion.”
“What’s most impressed me is that there is a good trendy food scene here in DC.” Chef Eric explains, “I say good trendy as in people are going to these restaurants that are old and getting pho soup, that ten years ago were dead are now slammed, because people now are appreciating good, simple food with good, simple ingredients.”
He mentions Chef Erik Bruner-Lang with Toki Underground and how he used to be a bartender in town. Now he has opened a restaurant and is serving ramen to Ferran Adrià, the mastermind behind the now closed three Michelin starred el Buli. Chef Eric says of his pal Chef Erik, “He’s taken the arrogance away from food” – and that’s pretty much the DC food scene to him, and he says, “that’s good trendy.”
Being known for their pop-tarts, I ask Chef Eric if he is a cookie, cake, or pie person. “Definitely not cake, more on the cookie side,” and he says, fluffernutter cookies are his favorite. “They have to be warm, right out of the oven.”
Wrapping things up as we always do, I ask him the Feasting Famously Fast Five word association questions, where he says the first thing that comes to mind with the following words:
Congress – sucks
Interns – good for business
Fried chicken – delicious
Bourbon – more delicious
Chocolate – could go without…unless it has bacon in it
Chef Eric Brannon is truly one of the nicest chefs I’ve ever spoken with; a very down-to-earth kind of guy who truly has a passion for his work. He says he’ll be moving to the soon to open Ted’s on 14th Street where the bakery program and bar will be double what he has now on Barracks Row. I ask what’s in store next for the wildly popular Ted’s franchise, and he dances around the question, “there might be a couple more in the works, maybe here in DC, maybe outside of DC, maybe NOVA, maybe Maryland…maybe not.”
Wait…why are you still reading this? Didn’t I say to go to Ted’s immediately? Oh, and have an adult milkshake for me while you’re there. Surely it’s three o’clock somewhere…because this is DC, no one waits until five.