My wife and I have been to Optimism many times over the years and have seen how the owner, Jesse Brown, a longtime Brookland resident, has steadily changed the place for the better since taking it over about three years ago. It’s a great place to enjoy a happy hour drink along with their amazing chicken wings, or catch the game on their TVs. Now, Jesse has added yet another improvement. About six weeks ago Optimism started Sunday brunch, and we figured enough time had passed to give it a review. So we grabbed and friend and headed over.
We were greeted with Optimism’s usual super friendly service, and decided to test drive the bloody mary. Zippy, tasty, and very good, ordered a second by mid-meal. The menu 0ffers classic brunch items at affordable prices (listed below). So, we decided to dive in and order a bunch of dishes to get a feel of the overall menu. By far the best item was the Blue Fish and Grits, which my friend ordered and I stole bites of. It was simply outstanding. The grits were so delicious and had a real depth of flavor. The fish was grilled and seasoned to perfection. I can’t wait to go back have a whole portion for myself! I ordered the pancakes, a generous stack of large, super- fluffy goodness. The only item that was a slight disappointment was my wife’s salmon cakes. While the flavor was good, we found them a little bit dry. For sides we sampled the home fries, eggs , toast , and bacon. All very good. The home fries were tender with a nice caramelization and seasoned nicely. The bacon was thick cut and good and crispy. The bread was whole wheat and a very good quality. All around it was a great meal and I am excited to have another brunch option in the neighborhood. Here is a rundown of the menu :
Blue Fish and Grits – $9
French Toast – $6
Pancakes – $5
Salmon Cakes – $6
Bacon – $4
Turkey Sausage – $4
Two Eggs – $3
Grits – $3
There are the usual brunch beverages like coffee, tea and orange juice, along with adult beverage like mimosas, bloody maries and bellinis, which range in price from $5 – $7. For thirsty folks, there is a bottomless mimosa for $15. Optimism is located at 3301 12th Street, NE at the intersection with Kearny. Sunday brunch is served from 11:00 a m – 3:00 pm.
There has been a lot of excitement building in the neighborhood about a new restaurant coming to the intersection of 12th and Jackson Streets, NE. We got a tour of the proposed location and spoke with two of the Brooklanders behind the project – Scott Evans, who owns the building, and will build out the space, and Tony Tomelden, a Managing Member.
Many neighbors know Tony already as the owner of the popular H Street NE watering hole, The Pug. Tony has teamed up with two other owners of successful DC restaurants – John Solomon of Solly’s U Street Tavern and Frank Hankins of Sova, a coffee house. Together, this trifecta of restaurant expertise wants to bring a “neighborhood friendly, casual dining, and community bar atmosphere in Brookland”. I asked how this restaurant will compare to The Pug and Solly’s, which are known for their “dive bar” atmosphere and cheap beer. Tony, who has lived in Brookland for 10 years, just one block from the future restaurant location, and has young children, emphasized that this will be a family friendly restaurant. In deed, one of the first things we noted was that the restaurant will have a real Kid’s Menu complete with Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches. (See sample menus in the slide show.) He added that their beer concept will be entirely different from the other locations, centered on craft microbrews at higher price points and – my favorite part – will only have local DC beers on tap. He envisions the clientelle as the Brookland resident who will walk to the restaurant to start the day with a great cup of coffee and wind down the work day over a beer with neighbors.
Tony wanted to clarify that “Brookland’s Finest” is the name of the restaurant’s company, and that the name of the actual restaurant may be something entirely different. He noted that friends are helping research the history of the property to hopefully tie in a historical aspect to the name. Tony spoke at length about how important Brookland’s history and neighborhood character is to him – his father and grandfather both made Brookland their home. Whatever the name, this place will fill many of the voids we have in the Brookland dining scene. For example, Frank Hankins will be pulling from his Sova experiences to establish a strong coffee program, something we are in dire need of. For now, Tony plans to serve breakfast, lunch and dinner all week long. This is a welcome development for those of us who work in Brookland and have extremely limited breakfast and lunch options, especially Monday through Wednesday.
Scott Evans is a friend of ours, and a stand-up guy. He lives a stone’s throw from the restaurant location and told us he “will work his heart out” to make the restaurant something his fellow Brooklanders will be proud of. The restaurant, once complete, will have about 2,500 square feet of indoor space. There will be 45 -50 dining room seats, including booths along one wall. There will be 16 – 18 indoor bar seats. Then – ready for this? There will be a sweet garage door opening to the patio where diners can belly up to about 6 outdoor bar seats and 25 outdoor dining seats. So what kind of decor can we expect? Lots of natural light from the large windows, skylights, and garage door, and lots of exposed brick. We happen to know that Scott is a fan of cool repurposed elements, so don’t be surprised to see some upcycled design features. For a good example of Scott’s handiwork, check out the work he did for The Pig restaurant on 14th Street NW. So far the only work Scott has done on this shell of a building is to make it stable, safe and secure, and as you can see, a lot of work needs to be done. I know it seems like the building has sat for a long time in disrepair, but we give Scott a lot of credit for waiting for the right tenant to do the build out. Without going into details, for months he has taken the longer, harder road by turning away proposals from businesses that would not improve the neighborhood. We are glad he held out for Brookland’s Finest! We will track the progress of the restaurant and bring you updates as they are available.
Many readers have reached out to us asking how they can support the Brookland’s Finest team and make this restaurant a reality. A member of the community created a Yahoo! Group in the support of the restaurant – you can join here. Really though, to be profitable, a restaurant like this needs a liquor license. The Brookland’s Finest team has applied to DC’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) for a “Tavern” license. One of the most important things you can do is contact your ANC Commissioner and let them know you support this restaurant and their liquor license application. Most of Brookland is divided into 5 Single Member Districts (SMDs), each represented by a Commissioner. As a whole, it is called ANC 5B. The ANC 5B Commissioners will vote at an upcoming meeting about whether they recommend the restaurant be allowed to have their liquor license. ABRA will take the ANC 5B vote result into consideration, along with other factors. You may also write to ABRA directly expressing your support. The ANC 5B Commissioners are as follows and the mailing address of ANC 5B is: ANC 5B Office, 1322 Irving Street, NE Washington DC 20017.
(5B-01) Shirley Rivens-Smith – email@example.com
(5B-02) Ursula Higgins – firstname.lastname@example.org
(5B-03) Tiffany Bridge – email@example.com
(5B-04) Carolyn C. Steptoe – firstname.lastname@example.org
(5B-05) Jenese L. Jones – email@example.com
Here is a map of ANC 5B so you can figure out who is your ANC Commissioner. ABRA can be contacted at: 2000 14th Street, NW, Suite 400S Washington, DC 20009. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Phone: (202) 442-4423.
About 10 days ago, we posted about this Saturday’s Single Member District 5B-04 Meeting, where it was announced that the managers/owners of a new restaurant, Brookland’s Finest, would present their case for a liquor license. Yesterday, we learned through an updated meeting agenda that quite a bit a more is in store. In addition to the new restaurant, the liquor license renewal for the super-popular Menomale is up for discussion as well as an update on the 901 Monroe Development project. This should be a very interesting meeting and we encourage those that are interested in development in the neighborhood to show up and voice your opinion. Here is an image of the meeting’s updated flyer:
There are have been rumblings that “something is coming” at the South West corner of 12th and Jackson Streets NE for some time now. We noted last summer that the space was on the market for sale or lease as a build to suit property, and that some preliminary construction was underway. We have recently learned that this space may become a restaurant called “Brookland’s Finest Bar and Kitchen”, serving American comfort food. Many Brooklanders, like me, who live near this intersection couldn’t be happier that finally something is happening with the eye-sore of a building. Some quick history – the property was originally split down the middle; one side was a church that met sporadically, the other half was being used as storage space for some type of backhoe company. Needless to say, this corner generated no foot traffic and just looked sad, so much so, that my wife and I convinced the previous owner to let us plant two trees on the property.
Back to the restaurant. We learned via a series of communications from Single Member District 5B-04 Commissioner Caroline Steptoe that Brookland’s Finest Bar and Kitchen has applied for a liquor licence. As to be expected, Commissioner Steptoe is very interested in the community’s “thoughts, issues, concerns and/or compliments about this proposed establishment.” Neighbors that live closest to the proposed restaurant received a flyer at their home indicating that she especially wants to hear directly from them. A different, more generic, flyer has been posted throughout the blocks surrounding 12th and Jackson, on the Brookland listserv, and yet another message went out to Steptoe’s email list of constituents. All communications indicate that there will be a meeting where the community can give their input and hear a presentation from the restaurant owners and the owner of the property. We applaud Commissioner Steptoe for so thoroughly getting the word out through various modes of delivery. The following was taken from her email to her constituents:
Excerpts from Executive Summary: “The goal of Brookland’s Finest Bar & Kitchen (Brookland’s) is to provide a neighborhood friendly casual dining and community bar atmosphere in the Brookland neighborhood…The business itself sits at 3126-3128 12th Street, NE . . . The lot area is approximately 5,000 sq. ft., and the restaurant, once complete, will have over 2,500 sq. ft of indoor space. Brookland’s mission is to establish a quality food, bar and coffee program. . . The restaurant will have approximately 90 total seats combines. This includes 45-50 dining room seats, 16-18 bar seats, approximately 6 outdoor bar seats, and approximately 25 outdoor dining seats. . . Brookland’s aim is to provide a casual dining and drinking atmosphere that’s conducive to social and business networking as well as being family friendly.”
The meeting will be held on Saturday, April 27 at the office of ANC 5B, demountable trailer at 1322 Irving Street NE, from 12:00 – 3:00 pm. The presenters will be the restaurant’s Managing Members Tony Tomelden, Frank Hankins and John Solomon and the building owner Scott Evans. It should be noted that Tony and Scott both live in Brookland, near the restaurant location, and are great neighbors. For me, this is a very important factor in my support for the restaurant. We will be following this one closely and will post any updates as we have them.
We thought our readers would like to know that the Washington Post recently reviewed Little Ricky’s, our neighborhood’s newest and most upscale restaurant. The review has high praises for the decor and service of this popular Cuban restaurant, while calling the rest of 12th St. “bereft of art and vision”. Ouch. But after reading a Little Ricky’s Yelp! reviewer from Arlington call Brookland “sketch”, I guess we all have our opinions. (Speaking of which, the restaurant fetches 4.5 out of 5 stars by Yelp! standards.) The Post’s review of Little Ricky’s food was less glowing, essentially saying that some menu options are bland and that the kitchen can be hit or miss. Again, we all have our opinions. Having dined there pretty much weekly since they opened in November, and being Latina, I am pretty biased towards this menu full of my comfort foods. I happen to think their food is always very tasty and has gotten more consistent over time. So, there. Hey, at least we have a second restaurant worthy of being reviewed by the Post, which is a lot more than I could have said a couple of years ago! Little Ricky’s is located at 3522 12th St. NE. Their website is here. They are open Thurs – Sat from 11: 30 – 3:00, 5:00 – 10:00 and Sunday for brunch from 10:00 – 5:00.
UPDATE: Thanks to the readers who passed along this update. It has been confirmed that the location referred to in the Washington Post story is indeed the Monroe Street Market/Catholic U Development. Here is a promising quote from Andy Shallal, via an article in the Washington Business Journal. “It’s possible that the Monroe Street one will be ready sooner, (than the Takoma location) if the deal is made.”
The Washington Post is reporting that the restaurant chain Busboys and Poets may be coming to our neighborhood soon. After signing a lease for a location in Takoma Park, owner Andy Shallal has his sights set on Brookland, and is “negotiating a lease” on a space. The article did not give an indication of where in Brookland Shallal is looking, however, if you have ever been in one of the 4 current restaurant locations, they are all very sizable, so I don’t see this happening on 12th St. The Takoma Park location will be 6,500 square feet. So, my guess is that it will be in one of the new developments around the neighborhood. We have eaten at Busboys and Poets many times, and if we are to get a chain restaurant, I think this is a great choice. The restaurants offer more than just dining, they incorporate a bookstore, live music, spoken word and film. I think this formula will fit in very well with the “artsy” vibe the Monroe Street Market development is bringing and I suspect would be popular with the college crowd in our neighborhood. Overall, very exciting news! From Busboys and Poets website:
Busboys and Poets is a community gathering place. First established in 2005, Busboys and Poets was created by owner Anas “Andy” Shallal, an Iraqi-American artist, activist and restaurateur. After opening the flagship location at 14th and V Streets, NW (Washington, DC), the neighboring residents and the progressive community embraced Busboys, especially activists opposed to the Iraq War. Busboys and Poets is now located in four distinctive neighborhoods in the Washington Metropolitan area and is a community resource for artists, activists, writers, thinkers and dreamers.
Good news Little Ricky’s fans! On a recent night, owner Lola told us that they will be expanding their hours in January to include lunch on Thursdays and Fridays, and brunch (yes in deed!) service on the weekends. Since their soft opening in early November, they have continued to draw steady business every weekend. Owners Chase and Lola have remarked on several occasions about how excited they are about the outpouring of support from Brooklanders. December has been an especially good month for them with lots of private holiday parties filling up the calendar. As with any new restaurant, there have been a few bumps in the road, but anyone who has eaten there a few times acknowledges that the restaurant continues to improve. I, for one, am looking forward to washing down delicious Cuban fare with a mimosa!
Seems like our amazing little neighborhood pizza joint is getting more and more positive exposure across the city all the time. On Friday camera crews from NBC 4 were at Menomale to film this short spot narrated by Washington Post restaurant critic Tom Sietsema. According to Menomale’s Facebook page, it ran on Friday night’s NBC 4 broadcast of Nonstop Foodies: DC. Awesome! Click here to view the video. (Menomale is located at 2711 12th St. NE.)
The long anticipated opening of Little Ricky’s, Brookland’s new Cuban sit-down restaurant occurred the weekend of Friday Nov 9 – Sunday Nov 11th. For now, they will be open weekly Friday though Sunday; and as part of their soft opening, will be serving up different 4-course fixed priced menus each night. The idea is to refine the items that they plan to offer on their full, regular menu in December. The price for these meals is $24.50. We stopped by on Friday, and again on Sunday to check it out.
I’ll start with the vibrant ambiance. From the salsa music lilting through the air, to the fine artwork by Cuban artist Ahmed Gomez , the owners have clearly taken a lot of time and effort to create a wonderful atmosphere that is a step above anything we have seen in the immediate area. The beautiful craftsmanship of the hand-made shelving behind the bar is an example of the investment the owners Chase and Lola have made.
On to the food and service. The first night they were open, Friday, the food was very good, but the service was a bit disjointed. Having worked in the restaurant industry for a number of years, I knew to expect that the first night would have a few bumps. I decided to return Sunday night for another go-round. This time the pace of the service was much more smooth, and I already noticed improvements, for example, the portions were tweaked for the better and the side dishes were much more consistent. The management bounced around from table to table, making sure everyone was taken care of. I spoke with roughly 20 guests between the two nights, and to a person everyone raved about how delicious the food was, and how happy they were with the experience.
Standouts on the menu were:
Croquettas – delicious little appetizers, crunchy on the outside and soft yummy fillings on the inside, like ham or fish.
Gambas al Ajillo – perfectly sautéed shrimp with a garlic sauce, a classic tapa and perfect way to start a meal
Sopa de Mariscos – a flavorful tomato based soup chock full of seafood and potatoes
Lechon Asado – slow roasted pork, oh-so-tender and de-lish
Grilled Fish (I think it was tilapia) – perfectly cooked with a hint of lime & garlic
Masa de Puerco – fork tender sautéed pork chucks with a nice caramelized seer with onions
Mango Ice Cream – soooo soooo good,
(To see the full menus that were served over the weekend, check out our earlier post here.)
A head’s up – I would strongly recommend making a reservation. They have been flooded with walk-in customers, eager to get a taste of the Cuban fare. So, you want to be sure you get a seat. Brooklanders, having lived in a culinary no-man’s land for years are beyond eager to support this new business. (Those of us who stood in line at Menomale in their first few days know what I mean.) I spoke with Chase about that and he appreciates the outpouring of support. We expect that with each passing week, things will continue to get better and better – so far off to a great start. Welcome to the neighborhood Little Ricky’s!
Little Ricky’s is located at 3522 12th St. NE. Click here for their website.
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