Photos By Shauna Alexander, Words By Logan Hollers
Since opening, Sally’s Middle Name has been one of D.C.’s vanguards for hyper-local, hyper-sustainable cuisine. Their ethos of staying true to local and sustainable sourcing practices, while still pumping out stellar modern American comfort food, has won them the devotion of fans up and down H St. NE and around D.C.
According to owners Sam and Aphra Adkins, that focus leads to near constant menu turnover. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. Why bad, you ask? Let Sam explain: “In listening to our customers, we got a lot of feedback indicating that people wanted more of a neighborhood hangout – to us, that means making the change to having at least some consistent menu items, while still concentrating on what’s fresh, local, and in season.”
We recently attended a media preview of the new menu format (as well as a coming-out party for the new dining space upstairs, formerly a design studio), and early results are more than promising.
Rather than changing daily the menu based on what they find from local purveyors, the restaurant has pared down its new menu to 15 items: 10 constant, and five that rotate based on product availability and the whims of Chef de Cuisine Mandy Rosenfelt. This is, of course, in addition to the two rotating desserts and one ice cream that will always be available.
The current menu definitely puts one in mind of winter, featuring lots of roasting and braising, heavier meat dishes, and fats that help combat cold weather.
A duck liver pâté is an ideal start, silky smooth and deliciously rich. Mustard, cornichons, and a bright herb salad help refresh the palate, but the fowl’s the star on this plate. Even better are the braised collard greens, simmered in the drippings from pork shoulders the restaurant gets and roasts each week. A thin mole sauce demands extra bread for sopping up the remains.
Duck poutine with foie gras is another clear winner. Obviously. It’s french fries smothered in a thin gravy with lumps of mozzarella, huge chunks of seared foie, and fried herbs. Elevated drunk food.
Vegetarians can eat particularly well at Sally’s. A kale salad dressed in an anchovy and mustard vinaigrette with thinly sliced red onions, toasted almonds, and pickled green beans; bright green parsley pappardalle noodles with a veggie Bolognese; and a gorgeous plate of rainbow carrots, roasted and placed atop a spicy harissa paste and showered with herbs and pickled shallots.
Oh, also, easily the dish of the night / menu: roasted butternut squash (though the specific squash changes on what’s in season) bathed in a perfect green curry and served with aromatic Jasmine rice. Stunner.
Mains hit land, air, and sea, offering a beer-battered blue catfish (eating invasive species ftw) with a tart homemade tartar sauce, one of the best chicken breasts I’ve ever eaten (impossibly juicy and chicken-y thanks to its lengthy herb brine) with a pan sauce and braised shitake mushrooms, and an enormous grass-fed NY strip steak, served perfectly medium-rare, with sautéed royal trumpet mushrooms and a spicy basil balsamic sauce.
Desserts looked good, even for this non-dessert guy. Tablemates loved the olive oil cake with a spicy squash compote (using Thai chili and amaro as ingredients in a dessert definitely helps in my book) and yogurt sauce, and the mint lemongrass ice cream was certainly refreshing, strongly mint-forward with lingering lemongrass notes.
Also, mad props to the beverage team at Sally’s. A small, tight, and concise cocktail list features a heavy focus on underutilized booze: we counted two mezcal cocktails, one tequila cocktail, one cachaca cocktail, one rum cocktail, and one bourbon cocktail, all concocted with house-made shrubs, syrups, and bitters. Can’t miss picks include the Black Pearl (combining mezcal and grape shrub) and the U-571 (a mix of aged rum, ginger, and habanero bitters).
Change is never easy. In the case of Sally’s Middle Name’s new menu change, it’s for the better. Get here now.