It has come to my attention that the world does not know the goodness that is ANXO’s Base Layer cocktail. My friends if you thought ANXO was just ciders and small plates, you are sadly mistaken. There are other non-apple based drinks like vermouth, beers (meh- I don’t like beer), wines, and lovely cocktails like the Base Layer.
In the past decade I’ve come to love a drink called the Old Fashioned which is bourbon or rye whiskey, a sugar cube or simple syrup, 2 dashes Angostura bitters, and maybe soda water, maybe an orange peel, and maybe a cherry, over ice. ANXO has something close, their Base Layer, which is El Dorado 8-year Rum, Laphroaig a scotch, Pemartín Amontillado a sherry, spiced simple syrup, Angostura & orange bitters, and an orange peel. Tastewise, it seems like a very smokey Old Fashioned, even though the ingredients aren’t the same.
Today, because it’s Friday and because we came up with lame excuses not to go to work, the Help and I are having a day date. We decided to start it off by having breakfast at Big Bear. It was great. I had french toast and a pot of English Breakfast tea as we sat inside with the Washington Post and the ambiance of the place.
I observed a family, where the father saw two separate friends/ acquaintances. He chatted with one, who came over and joked with the man’s elementary aged kids who were out of school for a thing.
Outside there were people. Some sat alone, tapping away at their laptops. Others gathered with a friend or two. And there were two workers fixing the paving thingamabobs.
About twelve years ago I stood in almost the exact space I was sitting at with my spouse. Big Bear in April 2007 was a possibility. I have a couple of pictures from an open house they held back then. The owners invited neighbors in to take a look at the place and nosh. Then, it was just going to be a coffee shop.
While I sat, I was comparing the feel of the place, then and now. Now it has a rhythm and a rep. It has a certain neighborhood vibe. I noticed parents, besides the one I mentioned earlier, with their kids on the way to school, pop in for a coffee. It just felt comfortable. It wasn’t full of promise or possible failure. It was, what it was.
The physical building and space has also changed. The patio is like part of the building, where people can sit (and battle bugs) under a canopy of grape vines behind walls of plants. The walls have art and shelves of booze (they make a good Old Fashioned) that weren’t there before. Oh, and there is a very tiny functional kitchen. The kitchen was very tiny in 2007, but not as functional.
Dammit. I really had hoped this would be better. Maybe they’ll change things up or find their audience or something, because I was mildly disappointed with the new Spark restaurant that took the place of the old Engine 12 Firehouse restaurant.
I had high, maybe too high, hopes for the new restaurant in the old space, when I saw bone marrow on the menu. The last time I had bone marrow was at Eat the Rich (RIP) paired with some jam. It was soooo good. I had those same expectations when coming to Spark.
Okay, let me start off with what I liked. It was bone marrow. There was nice crusty bread. There was a little of a pickle side to cut the fat of the marrow. There was a nice funky tool which to use to scoop out the marrow. There was salt at the table so I could season bland tasting marrow. Yeah, that’s my one complaint, it was bland tasting. Maybe it was because the marrow was ‘smoked’ and not braised or whatever the heck Eat the Rich did. It lacked a richness, and just tasted like fat. I’m fine with paying $16 for a plate of bones and bread, if it is yummy bones and bread.
My main reason for getting a sitter and making Spark 12 our date night outing were the bones. Ignoring the bone marrow, everything else was meh, ‘alright’. The people at the next table were loud and even after they left, we still had to speak with a raised voice to hear each other. The service seemed a little slow, but since they’d only been open about a week, that was forgivable. The Old Fashioned I ordered was fair tastewise but packed one hell of a boozy punch. The Help ordered a chocolate atomic fireball non-alcoholic drink. It was like a chocolate manhattan with the cinnamon spice candy along the rim and at the bottom of the drink. I thought the chocolate tasted watery and the strong cinnamon was a little overwhelming. If I hadn’t had a big lunch I might have been hungry for more, and if I were, we would have left to check out Big Bear or ANXO.
The experience left us a little sad. We really want the space to succeed. The previous restaurant had mediocre food. This, although they just opened and there is a ton of room for improvement, is also mediocre. This would be a great restaurant if they could just get the food right and in this neighborhood we expect more out of a sit down restaurant. A friend pointed out that if they wanted Caribbean, (Spark has some island dishes) they would go to Jam Doung down the block. This neighborhood also hosts Red Hen, Bacio, and DCity Smokehouse, places known for their great tasting food.
Maybe the problem is that I just got a super mediocre meal. The Help, my date, seemed content with his beef patties, but he’s easy to please. I haven’t written Spark off, I’ll try them again and hope for better. But next time we’re bringing the kid and skipping the sitter.
So for lunch I ventured out and was hankering for a Halfsmoke dog but they were closed on Tuesday for lunch, so I walked back in the direction of Truxton Circle to fix myself lunch when I was drawn into Fishscale at 637 Florida Ave NW.
See that salad. That sure is one pretty salad. I did not order that salad. I ordered a fish burger with the sunflower slaw. It was good. Was it $15 worth of good (incl tax)? Unsure, but it was good. I liked it. I may come back to check out the salad to see if it tastes as good as it looks.