You may be familiar with a few tried and true bars surrounding the Marine Barracks in SE that cater to young officers and people in search of a cheap brew. Last week, however, marked the grand opening of Valor Brewpub, which brings not only a vast selection of veteran-owned spirits, but also a staff consisting of predominantly past patriots.
Owner Gaynor Jablonski brought in local Chef Ryan Hackney to serve as executive chef after Hackney made a name for himself in DC at The Bird and Lucky Buns (to name a few). Pub fare is nothing new to Hackney, but he aims to add Asian-inspired twists to a few all-American menu classics.
A friend joined me to once again see Hackney tackle an inspiring menu. Upon arrival, we sat at the long, copper bar and looked at the placemat-style menu. Things that immediately jumped off the page:
- KFC: Korean Fried Chicken Wings, Sweet & Tangy Black Vinegar, Crushed Peanuts, Thai Basil
- Duck Fat Roasted Baby Carrots: Old Bay Breadcrumbs
- DC Half-Smoke Fried Rice: Pork & Beef Smoked Sausage, Carry-Out Style Fried Rice, Griddled Egg, Curly Scallions
- Pollo a la Brasa: Peruvian Style Chicken, Jalapeno Crema, Chipotle Crema, Red Cabbage Slaw
- Rotisserie Chicken Cubano: Rotisserie Chicken, Spicy Ham, Dill Pickles, Chinese Mustard, Crispy Shallots, Toasted Sourdough
I wanted to order all of these menu items, but allowed the chef to make suggestions. I was also informed that the rotisserie options were already gone. Disappointing for an opening weekend at 6pm. I was eager to try the over-the-top deliciousness of a “better than Costco” rotisserie chicken.
What we got:
- Duck Fat Roasted Baby Carrots
- DC Half-Smoke Fried Rice
- AVO Toast: Smashed Avocado, Grilled Garlic Bread, Pico de Gallo, Ninja Radish, Crunchy Shallots
- Valor Burger: Halpern Farm Ground Beef Blend, Smoked Cheddar, Local Tomato, Arugula, Smoked Bacon, Mushroom, Griddled Onion
I was giddy to receive the duck fat carrots and fried rice. The avocado toast, however, seemed a bit basic, and a Hackney burger is to be expected. I figured there was a reason these items were being showcased, so I dug in.
The duck fat carrots were hot fire flames. How can anything cooked in duck fat not be delicious? Get two orders when you are there. They were tender, but toothsome, unctuous and vegetal – a great introduction into the fall season.
Ah, the avocado toast; the millennial equivalent of a waffle-smelling vape. A punitive criticism is that the toast was deconstructed. I get the whimsy of interactive dining, but I don’t want to build my own toast. The ingredients were fresh and the radishes added a nice crunch, but overall the dish yearned for some pizazz or bolder flavors to set it apart from the basic bunch.
Now, my review of the DC Half-Smoke Fried Rice is where I am afraid I am going to get some hate. I felt like I made it myself at 3 a.m. The “carry-out” style rice tasted exactly as if I took some fried rice out of the fridge and warmed it up with cut up hotdogs and some mustard. (There is mustard in the dish, and a side packet of mustard.) The whole concept confused me.
Next came the Valor Burger. After trying Chef Hackney’s burgers and sandwiches at Lucky Buns, I knew I was in for a consistently delicious stack of meat. Are his burgers delicious? Yes. The beef was cooked perfectly, and the smoked cheddar and grilled onion sent it over the edge. So if you’re addicted to Lucky Buns, Valor is another spot to indulge in the cult following.
Brian Marvel introduced himself as the Beverage Director, and gave us an overview of their featured cocktails and spirits. Valor offers French press cocktails, which serve one, two, or four people, similar to Provision 14. We decide to get the Plum Basil Gin Fizz which “serves two” for $30 — a little steep in comparison to Provision’s prices. The cocktail is flavorful and delicious without being overly sweet. I was pleasantly surprised by this offering.
Next Marvel informed us of the veteran-owned spirit lines Valor carries and makes a suggestion for Bravo Bourbon created by Hotel Tango. He serves it in a rocks glass with only a few ice cubes. It is smooth with hints of caramel and is exactly what I came for.
Overall, the concept, location, and backbone of the menu at Valor Brewpub are all spot-on. The patriotic theme mixed with local distilleries, a native chef, and prime military location make for a unique combination in the district. I regret not getting the chance to try some of Hackney’s more distinctive dishes on the menu —and am not even sure I can give a full review without much more than a burger to go on — but I’m anxious to go back. My main suggestion would be to find a way to add unique menu twists without losing that all-American greatness of flawless pub fare. I’ll be back for some rotisserie options and more Hotel Tango soon!
Written by Hailie Duenkel