Columbia Firehouse

109 South St. Asaph St.
Alexandria, VA  22314
Columbia Firehouse on Urbanspoon

Work and some other commitments have kept me busy this past week so I haven't been able to write much less go find a good place to eat.  I had some free time today and decided to take a bit of a long lunch to try out Columbia Firehouse which is part of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group.  So, far I've been to Tallula, Rustico, The Evening Star and Vermilion.  Columbia Firehouse, I think, is a slightly more casual take than the others but still very much in the same family with its take on simple, casual comfort food.

As the name implies, the restaurant is in an old firehouse but hast been transformed into so much more.  It has two floors and when full, it probably can seat hundreds.  As you walk in, there's that dark, rich wood paneled bar that you find in so many restaurants these days.  There are tables and booths everywhere but since it was such a gorgeous day, I decided to sit outside on the patio.  It's a small little space surrounded by some shade trees, exposed brick and a wrought iron gate separates it from the street.  There is a two story tall all glass atrium that allows you to look into the rest of the restaurant from the patio.  The whole space of the restaurant is pretty fantastic.

I was pretty starved so I decided early that I was going to try three courses here.  Unfortunately, I couldn't resist ordering two battered and fried dishes along with dessert.  For starters I ordered their Cornmeal Crusted Oysters which honestly was more of a salad with some fried oysters (I'm not saying this as a negative towards the dish, I'm just trying to justify to myself that I ordered something that was somewhat healthy).  Surprisingly, I found this dish to be wonderfully balanced with layers of flavor.  It came with a chipotle tartar sauce (which easily doubled as a salad dressing), some rich black olives and walnuts.  The oysters were fresh and juicy on the inside and the batter was a bit on the heavy side but nothing that would sit in your stomach like a rock.  I got some latin flavors from the chipotle peppers to mediterranean to southern all in one dish. It was a pleasant surprise since I had expected simple, solid dishes but nothing with this much character.

I know I should have varied my choices away from fried foods but I had to order the Soft Shell Crab sandwich next.  In my defense, the dish came with fries which were pretty good but still run-of-the-mill so I only had a few.  The crab was pan fried so the breading was rather thin and light.  I've already espoused my love for Old Bay when I went to the Hideaway so when I bit into the sandwich and tasted the Old Bay mayo, I became a fan.  What I liked best about the sandwich was that it was so simple.  All it had was breading, lettuce, tomato and Old Bay mayo.  This allowed the richness of the crab to come through in every bite.

For dessert, I got their Cookies and Confections which was their elevated take on a Hostess Cupcake, oatmeal cream pie, a pudding pop,  and a Snickers Bar.  It also included a small homemade doughnut and cereal milk sherbet.  Yeah.  I don't know where to start.  Yes, all the flavors for the various things reminded you of those things but were so much better.  The hostess cupcake had less creamy filling but the chocolate was richer and more luscious.  The pudding pop was a cool explosion of chocolate.  The snickers bar had real peanuts and the caramel-y nougat was everywhere.  Cereal milk into some sort of frozen goo has been a new revelation to me lately and I can't get enough of it.  The doughnut added a nice warm contrast to the rest of the dessert and made me wish there was more than one.  The only drawback of this is that you ate six incredibly rich desserts (although they were small portions) but who says you had to finish all of them?

I don have to mention that I also tried out their sparkling pomegranate lemonade.  I enjoyed the cool crispiness of the drink and was an appropriate beverage to be sipping outside on a patio.  The only drawback was that it was pretty pink which doesn't always evoke masculinity.  Nonetheless, I enjoyed it greatly and it really complemented the meal.

When I decided to go to Columbia Firehouse, I was looking for a straightforward, simple and comforting meal for a beautiful spring day.  What I found was a well crafted and well rounded meal that goes over and above what the menu promises.  All the food may not be cutting edge and Columbia Firehouse may not be a mecca for new techniques but the food is a pleasant surprise for anyone that may expect simple bar fare when they visit.  I've enjoyed most of my experiences at all of NRG's restaurants but I think this was first one that really made me want to go back again.


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