PoP Preview – Carmine’s Italian Restaurant

Back in the end of June I mentioned that Carmine’s would be opening on Aug. 3 in Penn Quarter at 425 7th St, NW. Yesterday I was able to get a tour of the 20,000 square foot space.

Main bar near entrance, Photo courtesy of Carmine’s

I was given a tour by Chief Executive Officer of the Alicart restaurant group (parent company of Carmine’s), Jeff Bank. Ed. Note: The Alicart group also runs Virgil’s Real BBQ which is likely coming to DC in the next 6 – 12 months. Stay tuned for updates on that front.

As mentioned before the space is huge, 20,000 square feet, but doesn’t feel huge because in addition to the main dining room the rest of the space is split into 9 private dining rooms. They’ve hired 250 folks, including 200 new jobs for DC. A bit of an interesting history on the space – it was going to be a grocery store (Balducci’s) before the economy and Bear Stearns imploded. The space now has an old school feel with old pictures on the walls as well as some paintings (to be in a painting you have to be “Italian and dead”.)

Continues after the jump.

One of 9 private dining rooms. Photo courtesy of Carmine’s

Bank described the feel as 1930s retro Italian. It’s the type of meal you would get at “an old world Italian wedding or at your grandma’s house”. He stressed that the restaurant was not a pretentious place. I def. got that feel from Bank who was an easy going but fast talking New Yorker describing the restaurant’s details at about a mile a minute. Though the place is not pretentious they are capable of handling VIP guests with a secure back entrance and the above mentioned private rooms. Bank sees the restaurant as all inclusive, attracting VIPs, locals, tourists, business folks, and even students.

Carmine’s is considered a “Family Style Southern Italian Restaurant”. The menu has hardly changed over 20 years. You can see the menu here. Each item could serve between 4-6 people. I got to see some of the dishes and they were gigantic:

Photo courtesy of Carmine’s

Photo courtesy of Carmine’s

One of the interesting items that I didn’t anticipate were the lunch subs (like meatball parm, chicken parm etc.) from the lunch menu. The special is $9.95 and comes with a salad. Beck said that folks often split the sandwich it is so large.

The restaurant opens tonight, Aug. 3rd at 5pm and will be open 7 days a week not even closing for holidays. On Wed. they’ll be open for lunch too. They’ve also signed a 25 year lease so you’ll def. have the chance to try them out. Personally I’m looking forward to the eggplant parm.

30 Comment

  • I can’t wait to try it. A big restaurant like this is definitely a valuable asset for that neighborhood, as tourist- and event-oriented as it is.

  • I’ve never been to a Carmine’s, but the concept sounds like Maggianno’s. For those who’ve been to both, how do they compare?

    Totally psyched for more Italian food in DC…

  • Dag, that sub looks delicious.

    Definitely a welcome addition to the DC restaurant scene.

    (Captcha: abets divorce. Uh-oh.)

  • This place is the anti-tapas: obscene portions, and completely unpretentious. There’s not a single bottle of truffle oil in the house. The pastas and sauces are actually pretty tasty, unlike Maggianos where the dominant flavor profile is “salt.” It’s a nice place to bring your less-adventurous eating partners.

  • I’m not too interested in the giant platters of red sauce pasta – but if their hoagies are good then I will definitely stop by their bar. Italian cheesesteak sounds pretty good right now.

  • Carmine’s is definitely a cut above Maggiano’s, but not amazing by any stretch. It’s decent, family-style Italian food, and that’s really all it aspires to be.

  • anon. gardener

    Oh my god, my dream is finally coming true – a Virgil’s in DC! Please please please let it be as good as the one in Times Square. I better lose 20 lbs now, because once Virgil’s is here, it’s all over.

    I’ve been to the Carmine’s in NYC. All the staff there were very very happy, which is a wonderful atmosphere to eat in. And the food was really good. This is definitely not Shopping Mall Italian.

    • Is Virgil’s better than Hill Country?

      • anon. gardener

        Virgil’s is the best BBQ I’ve ever had, and I grew up in the south where we ate a lot of bbq. Now admittedly the only thing i’ve had there is the pulled pork, but it’s so damn good – melts in your mouth – i’ve never been motivated to try anything else. My husband is Muslim, and the only time he’s EVER tempted to cross the pork barrier is when we’re in Virgil’s.

        The cornbread sucks, but you can’t have everything.

  • Maggianos can’t compare to Carmine’s. As a former NYC resident, I can tell you Carmines is a cut above the rest.

  • Two hundred jobs for DC residents sounds as good as that lasagna looks (which is good!)

  • I’ve only been to Carmine’s a few times, but I agree with others, it’s definitely better than Maggiano’s, Buca di Beppo, and the like.

  • For those skeptics out there, i gaurentee, one taste of this food, and you’ll realize that it is something truly amazing. The food is fresh, flavorful and authentic – no cans of red sauce here. Nearly everything is homemade and you can really taste the quality in the food. So excited that DC finally gets to be a part of the legend!

  • perfect neighborhood for this kind of place. right off the mall, close to all metro lines. great for really big groups.
    if the food is as good as some of you are saying then it’s a
    total win.

  • I am also a former NYCer who can vouch for Carmine’s. I’ve probably directed dozens’ of people there over the years and no one has ever complained (and most go back).

    Good food, lot’s of it. Plan accordingly when ordering.

    Best deal, as mentioned is to split the sandwiches at the bar. (love the hot italian.).

  • I got here at 5:20. Lots of folks already here, excitement, valet parking already, lots of friendly staff around, and a news(?) camera outside. It is big too. Fries look good. The Peroni is cold. I’m a fan already.

  • ah

    What is the fun of a restaurant if each dish serves 4-6? Unless you have a huge group that means either one dish or lots of waste. Isn’t family style more fun when you have several dishes to share, like a Chinese restaurant?

    • . There are very few places in dc that do this. Embrace a new option. Or go somewhere else.

      • No need to be nasty. It’s a legit question. There are two of us here. We are debating if we want to order one of these huge meals.

        • Cue Chris Pusvegan’s comment above. This is the sort of place where you’re practically expected to take home your leftovers.

        • please don’t call me nasty for making an obvious suggestion.
          i swear to you that your life will be better if when faced with a different way of doing things you.
          1. embrace it, at least once.
          2. just go elsewhere.

          i see from your post you embraced it. awesome. is it worth a second trip for you?

  • Carmine’s is ok. That’s it..ok. Virgil’s is a$$ on toast. The smell alone of the liquid smoke is enough to get my colon into overdrive. Ugh.

    If people love 20,00 sq. ft. restaurants, why don’t we get an Ikea in DC? Swedish meatballs are good.

  • We have great Italian places, like Dino in Cleveland Park. Why settle for what appears to be the P. F. Chang’s of Italian food?

    • Try Carmines, then come back. One way to tell a “real” New Yorker is to ask them about Carmine’s. If they turn up their nose and say “Ugh, what a tourist trap,” they are a recent hipster transplant. If they say “Mmmmmm….Carmine’s” They have been living there many years and understand the food scene.

      • maybe they just don’t like it. there are different kinds of italian besides red sauce/southern italian, perhaps you don’t just have to be a hipster to dislike that style.

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