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Reservations Recommended

Restaurant Review ~ Firefly / 1310 New Hampshire Ave., NW

Is it imagination or fact? Somehow Firefly’s dining space in the Hotel Madera seems to have shrunk. Or perhaps that diminished sense comes from crowds grabbing bar seats and tables at a recent Sunday brunch. But without a reservation, chances are great that couples or even a solitary patron, may have to wait, or come again another day.

In the past, the draw for this woodsy-decorated restaurant (yes, tree trunks divide part of the dining room from the bar area and limb paneling covers one wall) was the robust and decidedly kosher-inspired menu of former chef, Daniel Bortnick. His mom’s matzoh ball soup was the star of the appetizer selection, and wisely, at least some rendition remains listed.

But there’s a new chef in town, Matt Hagan, who has made some distinctive menu changes, turning it from a New Yorkish kind of restaurant to one that incorporates numerous American faves, plus some vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free fare. Hagan, who has worked at various other DC restaurants, brings with him a creative palate, one that shines with the brunch menu.

The range of dishes goes from typical breakfast eats, such as pancakes (the pumpkin ones are likely seasonal and topped with a bourbon-pecan-caramel sauce), omelets, and eggs Benedict to a half-pound burger, steak and eggs, and a Croque Madame sandwich layered with cheese and a sunnyside-up duck egg. But hard to beat are the breakfast tacos.

Sure, many trendy places offer breakfast burritos or some taco version, but Hagan’s kitchen turns out three tacos stuffed with scrambled eggs and crumbled chorizo, that spicy Mexican sausage that perks up any dish. Topped with salsa and grated cheese, the tacos make a snappy beginning to a day, or a fill-you-up midday meal.

Of course, you should plan on an appetizer or two, perhaps a serving of fresh fruit and a blueberry muffin, but hands down, Hagan’s deviled egg with a spicy beet mousse topping kick off any meal with a distinctive bite. Problem is, overeating here is a real hazard, so plan to make this brunch your meal of the day.

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus carry over the theme of Americana foods, from roasted pork loin with grits and Eastern shore crab cakes as dinner entrées to luncheon main course fish tacos, shrimp and grits, and a Cobb salad.

At lunch and dinner — though probably not breakfast — choices range from a sour cream pound cake to a chocolate mousse brûlée and a caramelized banana split. Missing and missed: Bortnick’s Nutella cheesecake, a killer dessert that ramped up calorie counts with its smooth and delicate chocolate flavors.

But Hagan can conquer your inner foodie with his all-American menu. And the woodsy atmosphere here adds a touch of whimsy. And so do the staff tee shirts that read “tree hugger.”

Firefly / breakfast, Mon.-Fri. 7am-10am; lunch, Mon.-Fri. 11:30am-2pm; dinner, Sun.-Thu. 5:30pm-10pm, Fri. & Sat. 5:30-10:30pm; brunch, Sat. 9am-2pm & Sun. to 2:30pm. Lunch entrée prices, $9-$22. (202) 861-1310; www.firefly-dc.com.

Alexandra Greeley is a food writer, editor, and restaurant reviewer. She has authored books on Asian and Mexican cuisines published by Simon & Schuster, Doubleday, and Macmillan. Other credits include restaurant reviews and food articles for national and regional publications, as well as former editor of the Vegetarian Times and former food editor/writer for the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. Click here to visit her website.