Charlie Palmer Steak alum Nadine Brown is back helping customers pick the very best wines possible. But this time, she’s doing it alongside her chef husband Dan Fisher at Eat Good Food Group’s (EGFG) suburban food hall, Society Fair.
Brown left the glitzy Capitol Hill steakhouse last fall after working there for over a decade. She started as a server and later moved up to wine director. The restaurant was awarded “best wine program of the year” in 2017 by the local restaurant association, thanks in large part to Brown’s tireless pursuit of interesting pours. She is excited about moving beyond the domestic producers favored by her former boss and showcasing the global finds now at her fingertips at the six-year-old bistro, market, and demonstration kitchen she is managing in Alexandria, Virginia.
Although working in a new location, Brown now sees one very familiar face more than ever: her husband of 17 years is also Society Fair’s head chef. Brown tells Eater the two first met in 1998 while working at Bistro Bis: she was a host, he was a junior sous chef, and EGFG co-founder Cathal Armstrong was calling the shots in that kitchen. Fisher stuck with Armstrong, working first at the his flagship restaurant, Restaurant Eve, and at former EGFG eatery Majestic, before becoming a partner at Society Fair.
With their attention fully focused on newly opened Wharf restaurant Kaliwa, EGFG co-founder Meshelle Armstrong says it only made sense to entrust Society Fair to fellow hospitality professionals who truly get it.
“We thought it best to hand over the reins of one of our most complex concepts to chef Dan and Nadine,” Meshelle Armstrong tells Eater. “Forged from a mom-and-pop shop ourselves we wanted to give our longtime friends the opportunity to grow the concept as a couple and also as professionals in their own right.”
Brown is thankful for the opportunity — though the workload is intense.
“This place is such a beast with so many moving parts, so we communicate via email and texts or in short bursts as we hustle past each other,” she says of the back-and-forth she and Fisher engage in at the bustling shop.
Some of the immediate changes she’s made involve adding modern conveniences including a communal charging station for mobile devices, and changing tables with toiletries (Brown is a mother of two). Brown says she has also expanded the in-house reading materials, seeding Society Fair’s “library” with cookbooks, wine books, and other selections from her private collection.
She also wants to do more in terms of community engagement. Brown mentioned partnering with local schools and arts organizations on reading-related events for children, hosting pet adoptions, and “playing tons of ska music in the summer.”
“You might ask what does any of those have to do with food and wine. Nothing really, but it wins hearts and minds and gets folks into our space,” Brown says. “People don’t always remember what they ate or drank, but remember how you made them feel.”
In the meantime, Brown says that she, Fisher, and Society Fair sous chef Larry Blevins have already begun collaborating on menu changes. A croque madame sandwich covered in sausage gravy is now featured during brunch. There’s a flight of wines paired with gourmet chocolates. And more updates are in the works. “We will have both fried chicken and Champagne, as well chicken livers and onions,” Brown tells Eater.
She says she is currently exploring the wine options available to her by virtue of Society Fair’s dual nature (restaurant and retail), and has already made at one life-changing discovery. “I have fallen hard for vermouth and want to buy them all,” she says of her current obsession. Brown also says she is working on establishing an in-house wine club.
As for decamping from the District, Brown has noticed one major difference.
“I see less members of Congress — which right now I am ok with,” she says.