Clyde’s Gambles on New ‘Hoods, Creative Concepts
By Warren Rojas / Photography by Kate Bohler
Clyde’s Restaurant Group, a regional hospitality powerhouse perhaps best known for their riotuous oysterfests, late-night bar specials and seasonally inspired seafood deals, has made wooing hungry Northern Virginians their business for over 30 years. Each new spot they open helps remind us of just how lucky we are to have a friend in the neighborhood.
The original Clyde’s popped up in Georgetown in the early ‘60s. But the budding chainlet first made its way across the river in 1980, carving out a place for itself in the still developing corner of Fairfax County known as Tysons Corner. From their place on the hill, Clyde’s watched the commercial hub crawl, walk, run and now crawl again, thanks to the one-two punch of a sluggish housing market and road-wrecking, massive incursion by Metro.
“People can see us, but they don’t know how to get to us,” a Clyde’s spokeswoman says of the conundrum caused by their hidden side-street access and widespread construction. (Thank you, Tysons Corner and Metro planners.)
A temporary setback, we’re sure. As Clyde’s has proven itself to be amazingly resilient each time they’ve grown.
Northern Virginia is home to four of the group’s dozen-plus properties, including: Clyde’s–Tysons, Clyde’s–Reston Town Center (established 1991), Clyde’s –Mark Center (established 1995), and Willow Creek Farm (2006). Each location clings to the group’s saloon-influenced roots, but typically embraces some sporting theme or another (equestrian, crew and hunting memorabilia figure prominently throughout; I like to think of it as dining in a Britches Great Outdoors catalog). Staff are very much cut from the same cloth at each location, strutting their stuff in functional uniforms (creased slacks, starched dress shirts, ties, white aprons) and spoiling patrons with personable, truly team-oriented service.
The Clyde’s aide confirms that corporate hands down roughly 60 percent of the core menu, which means the head chef at each restaurant has the ability to color in the rest with personal preferences.
Universal items include: an array of evergreen specialty burgers that keeps the group’s grills busy with up to 5,500 pounds of groud beef per week (the grass-fed meat is currently sourced from a Maryland farm, with companion Virginia sources set to contribute to the cause beginning this year), their signature chili, the chameleon-like crab cakes (the jumbo lump crab is deployed as appetizer, sandwich, entree and even bonus topping, depending on the location) and cheese plate (sourced from boutique farmers and specialty retailers like D.C’s Cowgirl Creamery). Seafood scores include: Chespeake Bay rockfish (typically available January through February), wild-caught Alsakan salmon (May throuh June) and Maine lobster (September to October).
The remainder of the menu at each outpost runs the gamut, bouncing from crispy chicken flautas to well-traveled raw oysters (flown in from Massachusetts, Maine, New York and Prince Edward Island) to bread bowls brimming with “American onion” soup to spicy, curried lamb spooned over basmati rice. Drinks tap into everything from well-respected craft brews to worldly cocktails (pisco sour martinis infused with everything, cointreau-spiked ice teas) to regionally reflective wine lists (Willow Creek *hearts* LoCo vinters) to “adult” milkshakes (root beer, caramel Dutchman, bananas Foster).
Not everything works all the time. But there appears to be some thing for everyone at any given moment.
Surf and turf gnocchi seduced us with butter-poached lobster and wine-braised oxtail, the competing proteins laid to rest among supple dumplings, tender leeks and ravishing cream sauce.
Short ribs permeated by an Asian-style rub (excellent star anise) are in good company with fried-till-crispy Brussels sprouts and soothing celery root puree.
Bacon-wrapped oysters are battered and fried beyond recognition; salty swine swallows the oyster flavor entirely, though the tongue-teasing Tabasco-lime sauce works wonders here (playfully hot).
Chicken livers sauteed in sherry-butter sauce melt with each swipe of the knife—making it absolutely critical that you properly ration out the accompanying crostinis so you don’t miss a single bite of garlicky organ meat and tangy pickled eggs.
The signature trout Parmesan— which the company pokeswoman says then-corporate chef cum company president Thomas Meyer introduced at the Old Ebbitt Grill in 1983 “and it’s never really left”—was a mixed bag. Roast potatoes and string beans appear to be salted for long-term storage rather than human consumption, while the broad, well-breaded filet resides comfortably beneath a blanket of meticulously browned dairy.
The Hamilton, which debuted in downtown D.C. this past December, marks the next chapter in the Clyde’s continuum. The cavernous, two-tiered establishment boasts the chain’s first full-service sushi bar (headed up by Zentan vet Jason Zheng), first round-the-clock venture (“Nobody knows where to eat … in the middle of the night,” the spokeswoman suggests) and their first dedicated live music venue.
“It’s not fine dining, but it’s more upscale than Clyde’s,” the aide says of Hamilton’s still-evolving carte.
Here’s to new beginnings.
Multiple NoVA locations; www.clydes.com
Hours: Check locations for times.
Average entree: $13 to $20 ($$).