by Alexandra Greeley
Casual restaurants with informal—and price-conscious—menus draw in big mealtime crowds. Among these “must” destinations is the recently opened The Berliner on Water St., facing the Potomac.
This Georgetown eatery is off the beaten path. Management chose a location not in the heart of DC’s restaurant-land, and in many ways, that’s a plus. It’s not super busy, parking is actually possible, and without plenty of competition alongside, patrons can easily focus on getting into The Berliner for its eye- and menu-appeal.
Both rustic floors in this two-story beer house feature a bar, so patrons can drop by and order up their favorite refreshment. The limited cocktail menu includes a rum-based drink called Rumplemintzker; wine choices with selections from Austria and Germany; and the beers—well, folks can dream big. Of the 24 choices, 10 beers are German, one is Bavarian, and the remainder are American. (There’s even the Penn Quarter Porter, from DC Brau Brewing Co.)
Both the up and downstairs areas offer long, crowd-savvy tables drawing in groups of friends for chatty get-togethers. Patrons might even spot a jeans-wearing mom following after her toddler while her buddies huddle together over their bites and brews.
As for the food, Chef Mike O’Brien’s unique menu is all inspired by the modern-day cuisine of Berlin. Small plates, or starters, include house-made pretzels; fries with a choice of mayo or raclette, bacon, and caramelized onions; and the Currywurst. The last is really a meal in itself, starring a sliced and crisped frank and a heap of zesty fries with curried ketchup. Another “must” starter: the Grains and Things, a red quinoa salad tossed with spinach, sunflower seeds, rye berries, and oh so much more.
Chef offers six rotating sausage offerings, and according to him, the most popular are the Berliner Brat, made from seasoned pork and veal, and the Wurttenberg Brat,composed of pork and bacon plus seasonings and white wine. Others favorites include the traditional North African merguez sausage made with lamb, and a chicken fennel sausage with fresh herbs and white wine.
There’s also a kofta kebab made from lamb meatballs and wrapped in pita; falafel; and chicken schnitzel, with cabbage slaw and Fresno peppers. Why a kebab? Chef explained, “Our whole concept is a modern German beer hall, specifically with a focus on Berlin. It is a very metro city with many cultures, and the largest influence are the Middle Easterners… And I do love meatballs.”
Patrons will too—although not a sausage, the kofta kebab is a must-have. Packed into the pita are gently spiced lamb meatballs, accented by pomegranate molasses, roasted garlic, sumac, and lettuce and cucumbers that add a delicious crunch.
Chef O’Brien has profited from his culinary training, with a degree from Johnson & Wales at the Charlotte, NC campus, and by working in some of the country’s top beer houses. He has also worked locally in several restaurants: The Salt Line, now-closed Cityzen, Birch & Barley, and Liberty Tavern, with a stint as butcher at Blue Duck Tavern, too.
“When I started at Liberty Tavern,” he said, “I took responsibility for butchering and basic sauce making. I told the chef I wanted to do charcuterie… and he gave me free rein.” With this firsthand experience, plus what he learned as the butcher at Blue Duck, O’Brien realized he was drawn to working with meat.
As for sausages? “I did a lot of reading,” Chef explained about how he got his start, “especially books about charcuterie. And I read a lot of recipes… I tweaked them, adding this and subtracting that. Once you have the basic formula, you can maintain the same guidelines, and just change ingredients.”
The Berliner is located at 3401 Water St., NW. 202-621-7000. Hours: Tues.-Thurs., 4 to 11 p.m.; Fri., Sat., noon to midnight; Sun., noon to 10 p.m.