Almost overnight, Star Restaurant Group made Daingerfield Island a destination for local diners with Indigo Landing. But now, less than two years after Star joined forces with Guest Services Inc. to launch the restaurant, the group is pulling out of the deal, leaving the operation’s fortunes with its former partner, a hospitality-industry behemoth. For the record, said behemoth enjoyed far less critical success with Indigo’s predecessor, Potowmack Landing.
Star president Dan Mesches says the decision boils down to priorities, and his include opening two new downtown projects, notably a still-unnamed Italian restaurant and bakery set to open this fall in the Woodward Building at 15th and H Streets NW. Mesches says it makes more sense to focus on businesses that he owns rather than on Indigo, which Guest Services operates on National Park Service land. “It really is as simple as that,” says Mesches, whose group also runs Zola and Spy City Café in Penn Quarter.
Maybe it’s that simple. But in its short existence, Indigo Landing has proven to be a problem child, as Star and Guest Services all but admitted in September when they decided to temporarily close the Low Country restaurant on the Potomac. Said Mesches in a release: “[W]e have determined that the restaurant is a seasonal destination and less people are inclined to visit when the weather turns cold and wet during the winter months…”
Aside from its isolated dockside location, Indigo Landing is a union shop, with higher labor costs than a typical restaurant. What’s more, boaters view the place as an interloper, if a July 2006 letter to the Washington Post is any indication. Wrote Marcia B. Green: “As a slip holder and marina visitor since 1972, I resent competing with diners for parking so I can get to my slip. I resent paying more than $2,000 yearly for the ‘privilege’ of entertaining diners as I sail by.”
When I begin to rattle off some of Indigo’s issues, starting with the location, Mesches politely reiterates his matter-of-priorities statement. Star’s contract with Guest Services had an “out” option, he notes, and the company exercised it. There’s “nothing acrimonious,” he emphasizes.
No matter the reason, Indigo Landing will not be the same restaurant without Star. The company helped to lure Bryan Moscatello from Denver, where the toque earned national recognition, including a nod as one of Food & Wine magazine’s 10 best new chefs of 2003. Moscatello’s presence, along with a massive renovation of the old Potowmack location, helped earn the restaurant two stars from the Post as well as a spot on the Washingtonian’s Best 100 Restaurants list in 2007.
With Star out of the picture—and Moscatello now the restaurant group’s executive chef—Indigo Landing falls back into the hands of Guest Services, which manages this spit of land for the Park Service. Allison Metzger, director of marketing for Guest Services, can’t provide many details until an official announcement this week, but she says that Indigo Landing’s name will stay, even if its cuisine won’t. Guest Services’ corporate chefs, along with Moscatello’s old chef de cuisine, are apparently ditching the menu in favor of something even more casual.
Metzger says the company is excited about Indigo’s new direction, which should begin in late March. Hopefully, diners will find it more inspiring than a Post critic who wrote one of the last published opinions on Potowmack Landing in April 2005: “The food rarely rises to exciting, but it’s sturdy and dependable.”
Before Whole Foods came along in 2000, it seemed the only way to get your hands on a hunk of good cheese in Silver Spring was to carjack somebody who’d just made a trip to Eastern Market. And you could forget about finding a decent bottle of beer or wine there—unless, of course, you broke state law and smuggled in some quality stuff from D.C.
Jackie Greenbaum, co-owner of that industrial love-in known as Jackie’s and the historic Quarry House, appreciates the unique headaches of buying a bag of good groceries in this culinary backwater. She’s not only a businesswoman in Silver Spring; she’s a resident. She says she likes shopping at Whole Paycheck but doesn’t exactly like playing chicken with some super sasquatch SUV for one of the precious few parking spaces at the grocery store.
Her solution? She opened Jackie’s a Go-Go in the former Decade Hair Design space next to Greenbaum’s namesake restaurant. The shop will be part takeout, part bakery, part meat market, part package store, part chocolate shop, part housewares department, and part tchotchke dealer. It just won’t be all those things immediately. “It’s going to start small,” Greenbaum says. “Then we’ll build up over time.”
When the store opens in late March, Greenbaum expects to be hawking a haphazard assortment of cakes, chocolates, cheeses, frozen meats, and charcuterie, mostly produced in-house or locally by the likes of Eco-Friendly Foods in Virginia. Refrigerated cases will be stocked with baked goods by Greenbaum’s part-time pastry chef, Beth Christianson, or with cured meats by her full-time toque Sam Adkins. But Greenbaum is looking farther afield for a source for her smaller confections, namely the well-regarded Chocolate Bar in New York City.
Greenbaum’s will violate her local-only mantra for some cured meats, too. Adkins plans to import the “best prosciutto di Parma that I’ve ever had.” He has slightly lower expectations for his own charcuterie. “I’m learning,” Adkins says. “Right now, I’m mostly just concentrating on things like bacon and pancetta and our own sausages.”
Yet, once the off-premise liquor license is secured—ETA is about 30 days after opening—Jackie’s a Go-Go will no doubt become Silver Spring’s go-to place for beer and wine. It will stock virtually everything available on the “beericulum vitae” at the Quarry House, a list so loaded with American and imported ales, stouts, and lagers that I sometimes begin to hyperventilate just trying to pick one. Jackie’s co-owner Patrick Higgins will select the 40 to 50 wines for sale, which will range from lower-end bottles to “really fine higher-end” ones, Greenbaum says.
The wild card, of course, is the Montgomery County’s Department of Liquor Control, which distributes every drop of alcohol in the county and is notorious for long delays in delivering special-order wines (“Pain in the Glass,” 2/8/2007). How will the owners maintain a steady supply? “We can wait two weeks to three months to get our stuff in,” says Greenbaum, who has a large subterranean storage area for alcohol. “We’re not relying upon the delivery of the county to make sure [wine is] on the shelves. We’ll store it in the basement.”
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