Bites: Markham Street Cafe disrupts the Asian-dominated restaurant scene in Annandale

The cafe is also launching a bar and speakeasy.

Photo courtesy of Markham Street Cafe
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“We wanted to shake up the town,” says Victor Samuel, one of the owners of Markham Street Cafe in Annandale. “It was unheard of to open something that wasn’t Asian influenced.”

Samuel, who grew up in nearby Burke, and Maryland-raised chef Evan Scher ran Slated Catering for about half a year before a conversation between Scher and his longtime friend Dave Kim veered toward an empty storefront. Kim’s family owns a building in Annandale and after a Chinese grocery vacated the space, the three of them came together to create Markham Street.

From the start the team looked to do something different than what is usually found in Annandale—dubbed K-Town for its abundance of Korean restaurants.

Markham Street’s menu reads like any other American eatery: soups, salads and sandwiches. There’s a kale and quinoa salad, tomato bisque, grilled cheese and something to make the Instagrammers happy: The Grammy, a fried chicken thigh topped with onion rings and a sunny-side up egg. It’s a towering sandwich primed for the spotlight.

While there’s pour-over coffee and the standard espresso drinks, the beans are from Lavazza and not sourced from a local roaster. (And no bubble tea.) But the large room plays to trends elsewhere. There’s lots of greenery, the standard succulents, colorful artwork, twinkle lights and wooden walls with an overall warehouse feel.

Opened in October, the cafe is still in launch mode. By the end of the year, the bar area will open with local craft beer (no drafts), wine and liquor, though the latter will only be served during limited nighttime hours. Samuel says students use the space to study and wants to “keep the place classy.” There will also be a new, more dinnertime-focused menu available at the bar with higher-end dishes of steak and scallops.

By springtime, the team hopes to turn the back room into a speakeasy. Already equipped with a separate entrance, the plan is for something small, with less than 10 seats. Samuel has already been hinting at the idea with some regulars, whom he’d share the number with. Though the term speakeasy is used to encompass a wide range of concepts in the modern era, Samuel doesn’t plan on marketing the speakeasy or posting any contact information online. He wants it to grow with old-school word-of-mouth, eventually envisioning the demand for reservations-only availability.

A speakeasy in Annandale? “We’re gonna take a risk,” says Samuel.