A Profile of One Chef & Three Owners Doing Everything Right at Beuchert’s
How they’re locally sourcing, scratch making everything, preserving DC’s history, and proving Tom Sietsema was completely wrong.
Welcoming, warm, and comfortable; old made new again; timeless in a place surrounded by the constant movement of people carrying ideas to shape and mold the world.
The place is Beuchert’s Saloon, the wood is worn and bares the imprints of footsteps from the family whom called this place home in the 1800s. Rich with history; the colors deep, dark, telling stories – if you know to ask – of a DC gone, but never forgotten. The atmosphere is fantastically original, yet reminds you of your favorite bar in Alphabet City, the ski lodge where you had the best cider of your life in Jackson Hole, that old saloon in Austin that made the best burger you’ve ever had, or a memory of family and friends – Beuchert’s is truly a bar that everyone can, and should, call home.
When owners Nathan Berger, Brendan McMahon, and August Paro decided to return to their roots in the tri-State area to open their own establishment a few months ago after several successful individual efforts, they had one goal in mind according to this author: honesty.
Honesty in terms of the service they provide: noting that just because they hand craft all of their own bitters, mixers, and sodas; crush their own ice for Mint Juleps; and locally source the herbs used in their cocktails, does not justify an over 300% drink mark-up like some other establishments in DC provide.
Honesty in locally sourcing everything they can, whenever possible, from their farm, East Oaks Organics Farm, in Poolesville, MD. From raising their own chickens, to growing their own vegetables and herbs, to making all of their own charteurerie in house (sausages made and cased by hand on site, and a prosciutto that will be ready in six months), and more – this is as honest as the culinary world gets.
Honesty in admitting that while they hand grind their own beef for their amazing burgers, that the bread and cheese accompanying it is purchased locally, and not made in house. Why? “Because bread ovens take up a lot of space, and frankly, good ones are really expensive,” says Chef Markert. However they do hope to expand to cheese making and on-site bread making in the future.
I sat down with Chef Andrew Markert and owners Nathan, Brendan, and August to find out more about Beuchert’s. Why the SE section of the Hill? Why now? How the name is correctly pronounced, and what are their future plans?
The first thing I wanted to know, is how in the hell do you correctly pronounce it? I’ve heard everything from a hard “e”, to a “ch” combo that sounds more like an “s,” to overhearing a staffer in Longworth say, “Yeah, that place called ‘Bitches’ on the Hill that is like, all old timey and stuff.” Sigh. I weep for humanity. The correct way, is to pronounce the “Beu” to rhyme with moo, like the cow noise, and then the “-chert’s” should sound like the name Kurt. Put it together. Good job class.
Now that we cleared that up, the why the name and the history is far more intriguing. Turns out, the location was actually home to the Beuchert family. According to Beuchert’s website:
The original Beuchert’s Saloon was founded in this same location in 1880 by John Ignatius Beuchert, a German immigrant and prominent Capitol Hill businessman. Legend has it that throughout Prohibition, Beuchert’s operated as a speakeasy, behind such fronts as a Singer sewing machine store and a gramophone shop.
In resurrecting this neighborhood mainstay, the new owners have gone to great lengths to maintain the incredible history of the building, handling most of the build-out themselves. Partner and designer August Paro meticulously recreated period-appropriate fixtures and finishes, inspired by the amazing history of this long-standing Capitol Hill establishment.
The owners fell in love with the spot, prior to learning of its history. However, once they did, they embraced it fully as evident from the period décor, the exposed brick, and the menu. “After we signed on and were committed to the space, we just embraced the aesthetic when we found out about the history,” says August. “We did know what kind of restaurant we wanted to open,” Nathan added, “yeah, but we didn’t have a name,” Brendan joked. So once they found out the history of the restaurant, they couldn’t say no to the name.
The historic nature the menu embraces is not in period dishes; rather it’s the simplistic approach to preparing fresh ingredients, giving them the spotlight and honor they deserve. Fresh, locally sourced bone marrow is a favorite among the owners, and the Chef. Prepared differently than the famed Blue Duck Tavern marrow which is split down the middle; these bones are whole, standing upright, and allow for the guest to play with their food – in the best way possible digging out all of the unctuous, salty, intensely beefy and savory marrow before spreading it on perfectly toasted bread. “The food is regional, fresh, local, and showcases the purity of the food,” says Nathan.
Their vegetable preparations are among the Chef and owner’s favorite, as they showcase them as their own dish – not simply a side accompaniment. “All of the ingredients are farm-to-table, well, 90 percent of them at least. I always recommend the bone marrow, but one of the main things we do that not a lot of other places do, are the vegetable presentations. We are making the vegetables their own composted dishes, with the menu focused just as much on the vegetables as the proteins.” – The owners echo this sentiment with Nathan saying, “The vegetable session is the vegetable section, it’s not relegated to the side of the plate, or covered up.”
When not painstakingly tending to their restaurant, the owners enjoy Rasika, Room 11, and Toki Underground, as some of their favorite haunts in DC for food. Cocktails, they keep it simple. Chef Markert says, “I usually just have someone here make me a drink” he says and laughs.
DC is a great food scene.
All in all, outside of their locally sourced kingdom on Penn SE, they have high hopes for the DC food scene. Chef Markert comments, “I think people want to get the most bang for their buck, so you have good food at a decent price. But I think DC has a lot of repeat places; every other day there’s another cupcake shop opening. But DC is a great food scene.” Co-owner Nathan adds, “DC is poised to be one of the next great food cities,” and Brendan points out, “timing wise, dozens of restaurants closed last year. This Spring, I think 50 are opening,” adds Brendan.
Wrapping up, and overstaying my welcome, I end with the Feasting Famously Fast Five, where I ask both the owners, and the Chef (separately indicated below) for their first reaction on a rapid fire word association game.
Nathan Berger, Brendan McMahon, and August Paro
Whiskey – bourbon
Farms – East Oaks
Hipsters – skinny jeans
Star wars – awesome
Vegetarians – sure
Beer – whiskey
Whiskey – beer
Star Trek – Star Wars
Congress – ew
Hill interns – eh? (with a smile)
On a personal note about a subject, and question, I never broached with the owners or the Chef, famed Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema, whom I have met, and like personally, got it completely wrong in his review of Beuchert’s. He remarked, “Every dish has something to like about it, but also something that keeps you from giving the kitchen a high-five.” Name another place that hand grinds their own locally sourced meat for burgers and sells them under $15 in DC? Who else makes all of their own sausages in house and doesn’t even advertise this fact on the menu because it’s just simply how it should always be done? Where else in DC can you find a cocktail that takes ten minutes to make using local gin, fresh herbs from the restaurants farm plot, and hand chipped ice done in front of the customer, for around ten bucks in DC? All of these factors come together to make for a very righteous, and deserved, kitchen high-five.
The fact remains, which is undisputable, the folks at Beuchert’s take pride in the atmosphere they have created, the DC history they have honored, they locally sourced product they have prepared, and are doing so in a neighborhood – no – a community in which they love and are happy to be a part of.
So when you check out Beuchert’s, and order The Beltway Boy cocktail and clams stewed in herbs and small beans, and order a mid-rare burger, tell the guys “thank you” for honoring your city’s history, for taking this much time to produce a product and environment that you enjoy, and for doing so at a very reasonable price.
Oh, and tell them The Hungry Lobbyist sent you, because I totally want in on that prosciutto that will be ready in about six months! JK, sort of, okay, not really.
PS – Their outside back patio is expected to open sometime this year!