Shaw’s The Dabney is the latest in a wave of Southern-inspired eateries sweeping the city, with high-profile chefs at the helm.
The pear salad with arugula, sunchoke miso, buttermilk, sorghum, and chestnut highlights the technical flair behind The Dabney’s Southern cuisine.
There’s a renaissance happening in Blagden Alley. The once-decaying, overlooked backstreet micro district in Shaw is now ablaze with activity. New residences are going up, while adventuresome urbanites grab lattes at La Colombe, snap Instagram shots of street art by graffiti maestro Kelly Towles, and sup at The Dabney, one of the year’s most talked-about new restaurants, which opened this fall.
The food evokes the traditions and timeworn techniques of the Deep South while celebrating the mid-Atlantic’s rich bounty. Diners get a first-hand look at this approach in action as they cross a patio covered by a year-round garden that produces an impressive crop of herbs, edible flowers, and other produce for the eatery. The restaurant’s low-slung, rusticated space accommodates roughly 50 diners and is ruled by a long, 14-seat wooden bar. The open kitchen boasts a modern-minded take on a colonial hearth, where much of the Old World–meets–New American cooking is done. “There are so few places in the city where this restaurant would make sense,” says chef-owner Jeremiah Langhorne. “It would be such a shock to guests to say this is what we’re doing, but we’re in the bottom of a 30-story glass skyscraper. Blagden Alley is perfect.”
Spit-roasted whole rabbit over grits.
The DC native—who moved back to the area two years ago with friend Alex Zink, The Dabney’s co-owner and general manager—is a veteran of Sean Brock’s venerated Southern revivalist restaurant, McCrady’s, in Charleston and Rene Redzepi’s “best restaurant in the world” winner, Noma, in Denmark. At his first restaurant of his own, Langhorne melds skills and philosophies he learned from both chefs, forging dishes that reach back in time to celebrate long-forgotten cooking methods, recipes, and ingredients, but placing them in a contemporary context. A perfect example is his Chesapeake blue catfish, which arrives with pickled clams, grits, fermented pepper broth, and mustard greens.
Langhorne’s one-page menu is only 15 or so items long. There are a few snacks (such as crispy pig skins), more than half a dozen shareable appetizers, a few family-style entrées (Peking-style quail, whole roasted chicken, and the like), and several seasonal sides.
Desserts include the Cherry Glen Farm’s goat cheese ice cream sandwich with stewed quince, wild persimmon, fennel pollen, and dark chocolate served between slices of red fife sourdough.
Prior to opening, the chef spent time foraging in the area for wild ingredients, like ramps, morel mushrooms, and persimmons, that he could preserve or turn into condiments for his dishes. He rented a space in Union Kitchen to make vinegars, misos, soy sauces, and “all manner of pickles”—from tomatoes and okra to green beans and ramps. “The bigger and better your pantry is, the better chef you’ll be,” he says. “That’s something Sean Brock drilled into me.”
Despite the debt he owes to Brock for his tutelage, Langhorne doesn’t want The Dabney to be the DC cousin of McCrady’s. He has worked hard to develop his own style since leaving Charleston. “At first,” he says, “every dish I made was just another McCrady’s dish.”'
It took more than a year of experimenting before he felt like he had shrugged off the mantle of his mentor to arrive at his own vision of a restaurant that seamlessly combines antebellum traditions, ancestral techniques, and the natural wealth of the Chesapeake watershed. “If you don’t give yourself that time to really think and let things evolve, you’re going to end up making something very similar to what you were doing,” Langhorne says. “And that’s dangerous. Growing is always necessary.” 122 Blagden Alley NW, 202-450-1015