As a resident of Adams Morgan for the past 3 Â½ years, I await the opening of each new bar and restaurant with eager anticipation. Walking by a new bar under construction, one canâ€™t help but wonder: â€œwill it have more to offer my neighborhood than the average bar?â€ For The Black Squirrel, the answer is a resounding yes. The Black Squirrel stands out from the crowd for its extensive beer selection, exceptional food and comfortable, neighborhood friendly atmosphere.
The renovations being done prior to the opening of The Black Squirrel, as well as their official launch, barely elicited a passing glance from me. Perhaps this was because the last bar to occupy their location on 18th St. was the decidedly unappealing T.S. Muttneys. However, after it had been open a week or two, I felt it was time to make a visit for dinner and drinks. I entered The Black Squirrel with one question top of mind: â€œwhat will it bring to the neighborhood?â€ Having eaten there several times now, I think the answer is â€œmuch more than I could have imagined.â€
The beer list, the baby of bartender and co-owner, Paul Uppole, is extensive. With over 50 beers, including 11 on tap, The Black Squirrel offers one of the largest and most diverse selections of beers in the neighborhood. Paul is the kind of bartender you donâ€™t encounter often enough: friendly, helpful and eager to introduce you to beers you may not have encountered before. Not sure which beer will satisfy your palate the best? Paul will gladly provide a suggestion, helpfully steering me towards a refreshing Latvian lager called Zelta.
While the beer selection is terrific, it is the food at The Black Squirrel that really shines. To call this â€œbar foodâ€ would hardly do it justice. Head chef Gene Sohn, a finance major in college, learned to cook while working in a restaurant as a teenager. A former line cook at Marcelâ€™s, he has always been more interested in running his own kitchen and designing his own menu. Sohn has put together a menu that he hopes is â€œeasy to readâ€ and will provide, â€œgood value to those in the neighborhood.â€
Sohn says the goal of The Black Squirrel is not fine dining, but â€œcomfort food with a clean, appetizing presentation.â€ The use of individual sized cast iron skillets to cook and serve many of the dishes makes for a fun and appealing presentation. One dish served in this manner is the Cheesy Mac. Made with parmesan, gruyere, brie, bleu and goat cheese, it is smooth but rich in flavor, with just the right crustiness of cheddar on top.
Other standouts on the appetizer list include the popular Duck Confit Spring Rolls with Ginger Honey sauce. Light & crispy with a moderate, but not overpowering, duck flavor, they are a highlight of the appetizer list. Both calamari and hot wings are staples of most bar menus, and it is clear that at The Black Squirrel there is a focus on making sure that even these basic bar foods are presented in a fresh and clean manner. The chicken wings, coated in a homemade hot sauce, are mild in spice yet still flavorful, able to satisfy both spicy food lovers and haters alike.
The list of entrÃ©eâ€™s includes such bar staples as burgers & fries, but with a gourmet twist. The bacon cheeseburger, stuffed with brie and served with fresh cut fries, jumps off the menu for many customers, and has been a top seller so far. One of Sohnâ€™s favorite dishes is the baby back ribs. He loves the wonderful flavor they take on after 24 hours of slow cooking. I tried the ribs, and the slow cooking definitely made a difference. The meat just slides right off the bones if you try and pick them up.Â Unfortunately, the port wine BBQ was too sweet and not vinegary enough for my tastes, making the ribs a dish I wouldn’t opt for a second time.
I’ve also had a chance to try the Angus ribeye steak, which was perfectly cooked. Served with a red wine sauce which, rather than overpowering the flavor of the meat (as is the concern for many sauces paired with steak), complemented and accentuated its flavor perfectly. While the side of lumpy mashed potatoes was a bit smaller of a portion than I would have liked, the mix of spinach, bacon & mushrooms that topped the steak provided additional flavor and texture.
Co-owner Amy Bowman describes The Black Squirrel as a bar that aims to do everything â€œa little above the ordinary.â€ Bowman hopes the interesting and extensive beer list can serve to make the establishment a bit of a â€œmini-Brickskellarâ€ in Adams Morgan, although the quality of the food will certainly make it much more of a dinner destination than the Brickskellar has ever been. The restaurant also offers half-price food for their entire menu on Tuesday nights.
Bowman makes clear that The Black Squirrel is catering first and foremost to the locals, attempting to bridge the divide between bars and restaurants, while presenting a festive and friendly atmosphere with high quality food. After 3 Â½ years in Adams Morgan I still have not found a spot I would deem to be â€œmy spotâ€ or â€œmy neighborhood bar.â€ The Black Squirrel is quickly establishing itself as a worthy contender for that honor.
The next time you are out and about in Adams Morgan, forego your usual dinner spot, forget those $3 Miller Liteâ€™s at your usual watering hole, and stop in to Black Squirrel to enjoy a comfortable, relaxed atmosphere, an extensive beer selection and a delicious meal. You will not be disappointed. Plus, as an added bonus, you might even get the opportunity to strike up conversation with a certain affable and witty food blogger, who will no doubt be sitting at the bar more and more often.
The Black Squirrel is located at 2427 18th St. NW in the heart of Adams Morgan. It is open Tuesday through Saturday from 5:30 PM until last call.