What's Brewing??
[from January 2001 issue]

On your way to the MCI Center? You might consider a minor detour and end up about a half a block away at the District Chop House &Brewery. This is as good a place as any in DC for a few brews handsome burgers--rare, and yes, with fries to enjoy pre- or post-game.

Near the perimeter of Chinatown, which has become more Western and gentrified in the past two years, the Chop House fits in with the move to up-scaling the area, charging downtown prices and attracting a sort-of dressed-up crowd. If folks here don't look exactly like the hockey fans you'd expect, at least they know a thing or two about serious beer drinking.

For the name of the game here is brewing: Just look above at the giant steel vats overhead--you can even sit upstairs near them, if that's your preference. Management pours its own brews (plus other libations, of course), including light or amber ales and an oatmeal stout. (For more information about the in-house brews, check their website at www.districtchophouse.com.) In fact, the Chop House Brown Ale is the basis for the chef's onion soup with flavors that come right up and punch you in the nose. It's so forceful that it takes a little getting used to, for the intensity of the ale overwhelms the sweetness of the onions, leaving behind a "burnt toast" taste that can be slightly bitter and unpleasant at first.

But the sweet corn bread, served hot in its own mini cast-iron skillet with a ramekin of softened butter offsets the soup. Trouble is, the skillet is small, and one person, maybe two people, can easily polish off the bread in a blink of an eye.

If you are planning to pick up some game tickets but don't want to break the bank, then you'd better eat here before the magic dinner hour, at which time menu prices climb dramatically. Take the luncheon top sirloin with a side of mashed potatoes, a good (and rare) bargain at $11.95. At dinner, that same piece of meat--well, it's probably a whole lot bigger at dinner--fetches $19.95. That goes for every dish that makes it onto both the lunch and dinner menu. Even the Chop House Burger, which friends rave about, costs one dollar more at night.

But at lunchtime, even steak becomes affordable, and their sirloin is well above average. It's tender, juicy, and bears the requisite grill marks branding it as cooked over grill. However, if you crave big, hunky red meat, know that the dinner menu showcases beef, with steaks such as filet mignon, Delmonico, Porterhouse, the sirloin, and a New York strip, plus gives you the choice of an herb-crusted rack of lamb.

You might also consider desserts, too--a medley of all-American sweets that sound tempting enough: chocolate mousse pie, Key lime pie, cheesecake, a mountain berry flan, and, said the waitstaff, apiece of chocolate cake large enough to feed 500. It probably serves two.

With its dark, heavy woods and obvious emphasis on brews, the District Chop House might run as a candidate for a good, old boys' place--except that it's really not a hard-drinking place, even with the steel vats overhead. Instead, it's a place that appeals to ladies out for lunch as much as to macho dudes on the way to the MCI Center. And the food, while not sensational, represents the best sort of casual American cooking that goes down well with casual America. All that needs polishing up here is the service, which tends to be slow.

*District Chop House & Brewery, 509-7th St.; 347-3434. Open: Lunch, Mon.-Fri.; Dinner nightly. Dinner entrées: $16.95-$27.95.Major credit cards accepted.

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