When Brookland Pint opened its doors on Monroe St. NE in August 2014, it was one of the only full-service restaurants in the neighborhood. Now, the Meridian Pint and Smoke and Barrel sister restaurant is serving up craft beers and elevated bar fare, all while looking to become a bigger part of the community.
Eater DC recently caught up with owner John Andrade and beverage director Jace Gonnerman to talk about the ups and downs of the first year in business in this growing part of D.C and the one seasonal dish that enjoyed crazy success on the menu.
What attracted you to open this space?
John: I've always believed that Brookland had the potential to turn into something really big, especially with the metro right there. I live in Arlington, so I see what the impact is of metro stops. It's created, from nothing, the Clarendon and Courthouse areas in Ballston. I've always liked that about Brookland.
There's no doubt that, after opening here, and seeing all the potential that we have here with the Monroe Street Market and the new buildings...this is a great little community now. Even after being here for one year, there's a realization that it still has a long way to go.
What has the neighborhood response been like?
John: Being one of the first places in the first year of the revitalization of Brookland to bring full-service [dining] to this community has been a challenge. There are a lot of people that look at this area, while living in this area, and think, "This isn't where I would go to dine out."
So it's been an uphill challenge, but the challenge has been well-received. Every new person that becomes aware that we're here is enthusiastic and excited. And the response is great. But it's a big community.
What's been most challenging about these past 12 months?
John: The first year here was riddled with a lack of understanding of the sort of general flow of the community – the business flow. Everywhere else in the city you're functioning on certain trends. You've got winter, you've got spring, you've got summer, you've got fall, you've got Congress, you've got school in, you've got school out. You've got all these factors that just completely threw us for a loop here.
Honestly, I feel like I'm functioning on resort time here. We've got spring and we've got fall and everything else is a little bit lower and a little bit slower. And that doesn't happen on that level at Meridian Pint or Smoke and Barrel. The peaks and valleys are greater here than they are over there.
Why do you think that is?
John: There was a big expectation that the Basilica traffic was going to really drive Sunday brunches and we've come to realize that the folks that come to the Basilica, they go straight at it and then they go straight back. So the connection between that and this market area has yet to be fully connected.
But the bigger challenge that we've overcome is really just getting our name out to the community. Putting ourselves out there as a really great gathering place that's available for the community for so much.
Did your experience and reputation with your other restaurants help?
Absolutely. Absolutely. I think without that we would have struggled quite a bit more.
Have you made a special effort to cater to families?
John: With respect to Meridian Pint and here, we've always been family-friendly and it's been a big part of what we do. There's definitely a feeling of doubling down on that here because there seems to be a very solid demographic that's really yearning for that here. So there's no doubt that we're kind of putting an extra emphasis on that.
The menu includes some familiar items from your other two restaurants. Has the menu as it looks today changed since day one?
John: Yeah, it has. Absolutely. We certainly still have the staples that we do, but [Executive Chef Rebecca Hassell] really had an opportunity to adapt and get to know the community. She's tried out a lot of things that the community has loved and certain things that they haven't.
Have there been any menu surprises?
John: When we opened here, I would say 90 percent of it took off really well. The mofongo, which was a mind-blower to me, was a Puerto Rican vegetarian dish that I though for sure there was no way that it would succeed on our menu. And it was a sellout every single night.
And you still focus on vegetarian and vegan dishes?
John: We've catered to the vegan and vegetarian community since the mid-1990s in the Asylum days, my first rock and roll bar. And somewhere along the way we got hooked on it, despite me not being either. But it has become so much a part of who we are and how we do things that we've really become known for it. And Rebecca has done really great with it. The best example of it is the mole tofu tower.
Is there anything you've noticed about the bar preferences?
Jace: So the cider and mead side of the beverage industry is a rapidly growing and, frankly really cool, side of the industry that we certainly want to make sure that we're ahead of the curve on. But I was at first surprised to the extent to which people really embraced it here. Just on a day-to-day basis we sell ciders and meads exceptionally well.
What are your plans for year two?
Jace: We just last week released batch four of our house beer here, No Sleep Til Brookland, which we actually brew with Franklin's Restaurant. I would expect to see much more of that beer in year two.
There are at least five breweries that I known for a fact that we're going to try and collaborate with in the next year.
John: As far as new restaurants, I have absolutely nothing in the works. In the best case scenario, we're two to three years out. The big focus for me for these next 12 months is Brookland Pint, specifically the patio. I envision really big things for the patio and that's really what my focus is.
I love this community and I feel like this community has embraced us so well and so much and we've had such a great impact on that that I want to bring more to it. It's transforming it more into an exciting gathering place instead of a nice seating environment. I'm shooting for spring.