Adams Morgan | Capitol Hill | Chinatown
Downtown | Dupont Circle | Foggy Bottom | Georgetown
Midtown | U Street | Uptown
|Beers on tap:
Allagash White, Chimay , Delirium Noel, Dogfish Head, Jever,
Maredsous, Newcastle Brown Ale, Rogue Brew, Turbo Dog, Windermere,
|4:00pm - 7:00pm:
|4:00pm - 7:00pm:
|4:00pm - 7:00pm:
|4:00pm - 7:00pm:
|4:00pm - 7:00pm:
This pre- and post- MCI Center establishment is great for just
that, pre- and post-. The problem arises when one wished to have
only drinks. It's not very user-friendly towards the mere drinker.
It is layed out to sit and enjoy the delicious brick oven style
Upon first arrival, you think you've been air-lifted into one
of the many chic bars in Soho or the upper West Side in NYC
-- a trend for DC bars lately. But once you get a taste of the
service (slow that it is), you realize you are stll in the nation's
There are two full dining areas upstairs, which again, is great
if you are there for a meal. But the long and narrow stretch
parallel to the bar is not condusive to the drinker not afforded
one of the ten or twleve seats at the bar.
It doesn't take a CIA operative to figure out how the owners
of Matchbox came up with the name for their new restaurant in
- Big Pappa
One obvious clue is that each of the tables is inset with several
matchboxes collected from restaurants around the world. Tip
No. 2: The three skinny dining areas, stacked up in three stories,
have the proportions of, well, matchboxes. Finally, the big
brick oven on the ground floor, visible from the bar, burns
a nonstop orange, fueled by a forest of hickory, oak, cherry
and other woods.
All that heat is needed to turn soft circles of raw dough into
crackling rounds of pizza, the restaurant's primary lure. Not
just any pizza, the owners want you to know, but New York-style
pizza, which is distinguished by a thin, crisp crust and a nice
char from a blazing fire. It's a trick that the handlers here
manage pretty well, fairly frequently.
To help knock back a pie, there are a dozen draft beers, running
from the plebeian (Budweiser) to the polished (Chimay from Belgium),
and a wine list that nicely suits this uncomplicated cooking.
Kudos to Matchbox for pouring respectable labels and keeping
the markups modest.
Burger enthusiasts should also plan a research trip to Matchbox,
which features bite-size versions -- take your pick from three,
six or nine, priced at $6, $9 or $12 -- among its short list
of appetizers. Seasoned with crushed red pepper for some bite,
the scaled-down hamburgers are also plump and juicy, slipped
inside toasted brioche. Are the scrumptious onion strings, heaped
in the center of the plate, trying to upstage the main event?
They certainly appear to be. Light and lacy, dusted with parsley,
oregano and Romano cheese, they do a Houdini, and vanish, as
soon as you've tasted one.
Burgers to launch a meal? Why not? They are better bets than
the fried calamari teamed with frisee lettuce, red peppers and
way too much balsamic vinegar, or the steamed mussels, smothered
in a thick white wine sauce and paired with a clump of dill-flecked
shaved fennel. Spinach salad is overdressed, with so much bacon
and chopped egg that the greens get lost -- and dinner ends
up tasting more like breakfast. A lighter option brings together
peppery arugula, slivers of pear and walnuts, everything bound
with a tangy apricot dressing. Nice.
The area around Matchbox, in the shadow of MCI Center, is a
sea of familiar brand names, most of which do little to raise
local dining standards (and some of which, like Hooters, probably
raise eyebrows). So even with its flaws, I welcome this pizzeria.
It's got spunk. It's got personality. The service is genial,
the tunes are fun, and a double-header -- good pizza and good
burgers -- is a great way to slide into summer.
Matchbox is a good name for this sparely decorated and always-crowded
Chinatown restaurant. The wait for a table can be 45 minutes in
the evenings, but the crowd of young professionals who make up
most of Matchbox's clientele doesn't mind. They get seats at the
bar or crowd into the narrow space between the bar and the tables
along one wall and enjoy selections from the martini menu and
the great collection of draft beers. If you have a choice of where
to sit, the booths on the third level, away from the crowd and
noise downstairs, are the most comfortable.
Aside from the cocktail-party atmosphere, what makes Matchbox
appealing is very good casual food. Among the most popular items
are the platters of mini-hamburgers--three, six, or nine of them.
These are not the soft little hamburgers you might remember from
White Castle. The beef is hand-packed and grilled to a nice medium
rare. They're served on a crisply toasted brioche bun. There's
a slice of not-too-sour pickle. And the platter is topped with
a pile of addictively crisp onion rings. Ketchup is served with
the burgers, and there's mustard for the asking. The only other
thing this Southerner could ask for is a little mayonnaise. A
platter of these little burgers makes a great shared appetizer
or even a light meal.
Other good appetizers include a nicely done version of mozzarella
in carrozza--fried mozzarella with a spicy tomato sauce--and
a terrific pepperoni-and-prosciutto roll--big enough for two
to share--cooked to a crisp-and-gooey brown in the wood-burning
oven and served with that spicy tomato sauce. The only disappointment
has been the fried calamari, served on a bed of greens with
a too-sweet dressing that makes them soggy.
The main attraction is what Matchbox calls "vintage brick-oven
pizza." The pizza oven takes up most of the space on the
ground floor that the bar doesn't. Chef Graig Glufling is aiming
for a classic thin, crisp-crusted, New York-style pizza, and
though I never close my eyes and think I'm at the original John's
in Greenwich Village, the results are impressive. House-recommended
combinations range from the Fire & Smoke with roasted red
peppers and chipotle-spiked tomato sauce to a Q Special with
chicken and marinated mushrooms. The most satisfying pizzas
I've sampled have been those with the sparest toppings--heavy
toppings tend to make for a soggy crust. The crust of a classic
Margherita or Matchbox's Prosciutto White, lightly topped with
prosciutto, olives, garlic, cheeses, and a sprinkling of good
olive oil, can cook to the proper crispness.
There's plenty more to like on Matchbox's menu. Crisp-skinned
rockfish is served atop a tasty hash of rock shrimp, potatoes,
and pancetta. Grilled pork loin, beautifully moist, is topped
with a bourbon cream sauce and accompanied by sautéed
rapini and crisp-fried polenta. A chicken breast is coated with
a spicy pecan crust and served with mashed potatoes and gravy.
Salmon was nicely grilled but accompanied by a too-sweet citrus
Even though I've sometimes felt that just by walking into Matchbox
I've raised the median age by several years, I like the place
a lot. May Graig Glufling's success be an inspiration to other
downtown watering holes--good drinks and a good time are not
incompatible with good cooking.
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