Friday, September 4, 2015

Blackwall Hitch Food Review

Braised Short Rib

For years decades, Old Town's Waterfront felt and looked underutilized, especially when it came to fine dining. Either spend big bucks at Chart House, or "grin and bear it" at the former Food Pavilion. The latter closed its doors for good, back in 2011; and with it, bid adieu to one of Alexandria's most interesting (majestic?) spaces. What a shame. Surely someone would come in, and take advantage of a golden opportunity. Enter Blackwall Hitch to the rescue, which opened last month after an extensive renovation. Seriously... it's worth a visit, just to see what they did with the place. Lucky for you, there's good food (and music) to be had as well. Welcome back Waterfront!

Old Town has no shortage of restaurants; but few (if any) match the sheer size and subsequent coziness of Blackwall Hitch. They have four bars, three outdoor patios (with requisite jaw-dropping views) and 300+ seats to bedazzle even the oldest of Old Town's elite. But don't get me wrong... This isn't a reincarnation of Gadsby's Tavern, although I'm sure the likes of Washington, Adams and Jefferson would have loved the chance to shuck a few oysters with Executive Chef Michael Wagner. Blackwall Hitch is a place to have fun, soak in the view and chow down on contemporary American cuisine (with an emphasis on seafood.)

What better way to start, than Blackwall's Maryland Crab house-made soup? Served with a pack of Westminster Bakers oyster crackers, odds are you're going to love this hearty blend of crab and minestrone. It's loaded (seriously, loaded) with fresh vegetables and a rich tomato broth. Shredded crab is sprinkled throughout; but it's a little hard to taste, given the sheer myriad of other flavors in the cup. That's fine by me; but diehard crab-lovers might want to hold off, and order jumbo lump crab cakes instead. As far as soups go however, it earns a strong B+ in my book.

Maryland Crab House-Made Soup

Back in the day, I purchased many a slice of pizza at the Food Pavilion; so I simply had to try one of Blackwall's five different fire-roasted flatbreads. The Filet ($16) is literally jam-packed with caramelized onions, gorgonzola cheese and filet mignon (take that sausage and pepperoni!) The crust is crispy and delectable; and I'm still shaking my head in disbelief at the seemingly endless amount of (expensive) meat on top. Chef Wagner promises to make frequent changes to the menu (new items next month, in fact) and I can't wait to see what he comes up with next (although The Popper sounds pretty darn amazing already.) P.S. Please keep "The Filet" too.

The Filet Hand-Roasted Flatbread

Unlike other restaurants, which struggle to attract customers the week before Labor Day, Blackwall was quite busy (for lunch, no less.) That provided extra time between apps & our main entrees... enough to allow careful inspection of the premises. Music (Smokey Robinson & The Miracles' "The Tears of a Clown," etc.) plays at a comfortable level; and there's even a stage under The Crow's Nest with live music, five nights a week. All kinds of music (click here for the full schedule.) If comfort is "your thing," head upstairs or the front of house, which features a long, very comfortable sofa. Of course, hardly anything tops the euphoria of sitting on Blackwell's front or more spacious back deck. The former is great for people watching, while the latter provides a cozier, more romantic atmosphere. Perhaps not for lunch (Wednesday was hot and humid) but at night... fuhgeddaboudit.

Scallops & Risotto

On to the mains, which are a tad pricey; but in some cases (my Braised Short Rib, for example) worth double the price. My friend's Scallops & Risotto featured a nice, creamy mushroom-parmesan risotto; but $26 seems a bit steep for four small scallops and some balsamic glaze... no matter how well-cooked the risotto is. On the other hand, the aforementioned Braised Short Rib is a dish best fit for a king... a hungry king (like myself.) Identically priced, my plate held tons of savory, tender meat with tasty assorted vegetables atop a bed of creamy redskin mashed potatoes and finished off with a generous sprinkling of crunchy onion straws. The whole lot is tossed in another rich broth (where most of the flavor comes from) and each bite (even the root vegetables) are succulently soft. It's also mighty filling, and deserving of previous positive reviews. It's not seafood; but for a first visit, you couldn't ask for anything better.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

Ordering dessert was ambitious... perhaps too ambitious, given the amount of food already consumed. Lovingly labeled as "Happy Endings," you get six choices, but none sounded (or looked) as good as the $9 Pineapple Upside Down Cake. It's half sweet, half show. It comes "hidden" in an upside down cast-iron skillet, unveiled, then finished off with a slow drizzle of caramel sauce. Said sauce is warm and delicious, but the spongey cake was a little dry for me. Not so for the juicy pineapples on top, which beg for a second try. I'm more than happy to oblige.

Return trips are a no-brainer, given Chef Michael's extensive (and ever-changing) menu, and a nighttime atmosphere that's sure to turn normally reserved Old Town on its ear. The Times They Are a-Changin', and Blackwall Hitch is leading the charge. Enjoy the ride.