Bryan Voltaggio's Family Meal, which offers comfort food classics during the holiday season, opens new locations in Ashburn, Virginia, and Baltimore.
Bryan Voltaggio brings elevated—but still recognizable—comfort food dishes, including deviled eggs, to his Family Meal restaurants.
It’s a sunny Friday morning in early October. Bryan Voltaggio is sipping a mug of coffee at the counter of his deluxe diner, Family Meal, in Frederick, Maryland. Plates brimming with bourbon-glazed sticky buns, crab-packed waffles gussied up with Benedict fixin’s, and biscuits drenched in sausage gravy come out of the kitchen regularly. Later in the day, the menu focuses on hearty heartland favorites, such as mama’s-style meatloaf, deviled eggs, and fried chicken. “It’s approachable, recognizable food that you can feel good about feeding your family,” says Voltaggio. “Better yet, you don’t need to do any work at home.”
Dressed in jeans, a plaid shirt, and an insulated vest to ward off the snappy fall air, the 38-year-old chef-restaurateur could be mistaken for a customer fueling up before heading to the office. Though he still spends a lot of time in chef whites at his establishments—including modernist flagship Volt nearby in Frederick, the sweeping European market-style Range in Chevy Chase, and its restaurant-within-a-restaurant Aggio—he is spending a growing amount of time expanding his epicurean empire.
His latest efforts include debuting a bevy of new Family Meal locations, which will all be open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner seven days a week, just like a classic roadside diner. Ashburn, Virginia, and Pier 4 in the Baltimore Harbor are set to open by the end of this year, while an outpost in Richmond, Virginia, is coming in early 2015. There are further plans to open another on DC’s waterfront, but the particulars haven’t been finalized. “Family Meal hits a sweet spot for everyone,” he says. “My goal is to create a chef-driven brand that works in the suburbs and can be an everyday restaurant for a variety of people.”
It’s a concept rich with nostalgia—and not just for the days of slurping milkshakes while listening to Buddy Holly on the jukebox. “The American family is not getting to the dinner table as much as it used to anymore,” explains Voltaggio, “so I’m trying to create a spot where people get to do that again. When [business partner] Hilda [Staples] and I were talking about what we wanted this restaurant to be, we believed we were creating these restaurants for our families, because we are so busy ourselves.”
Menus will contain a set number of standard dishes complemented by regionally and seasonally inspired fare. Voltaggio is quick to say that he isn’t trying to create a chain restaurant, though he fully admits he is trying to compete with them. “I can’t do a three-course dinner for $9.99 like they do,” he says, “but you do know you’ll get a better product when you come here.”
Fried chicken with buttermilk biscuits, pickles, and sides, including braised collard greens.
To hone the menu, he has been vigorously recipe testing with his team of chefs in the kitchen at Range. “Every dish, we’re dissecting it, ripping it apart, and putting it back together to make sure that it’s the best we can do,” he says.
Part of the reason he is expanding Family Meal now is because he has a robust staff on his payroll, including many people who have been with him since the days when he only owned Volt. “I have the chefs that are going into all of them,” he says, “so I can knock all these new locations out with people I know and trust in charge of them.”
Perhaps when these new spots are up and running, Voltaggio will be able to take a step back and enjoy some well-earned time with his family. Until then, there’s work to be done. He takes a last sip of coffee, says his good-byes, and heads out into the autumn day. 880 N. East St., Frederick, MD, 301-378-2895