“Local Restaurant Group Remains Relevant in the Progressive DC Food Scene”

1319 Connecticut Avenue, NW

From a press release:

“In the midst of a booming restaurant scene, several Washington, DC staples have held their ground and stood strong in the competition. The DC Restaurant Group, consisting of Madhatter, Front Page, Café Soleil, Bottomline, and Cedar, to name a few, has proven that even when big name chefs come to town, people still support local.

For over 30 years, owner Dick Heidenberger, has been serving up food and drinks in the nation’s capital. He still tenderly recalls the days when he was one of the “coolest” bartenders in town and he and his friends were turning dingy bars into hot spots. You can reminisce with Dick at the Madhatter, now located at 1319 Connecticut Avenue NW- a major step up from its former location on M St. You’ll find pictures from the “good ol’ days” and find business partner, Mickey Tobin, reading the paper at the bar or turning tables during a busy lunch. Dick has partnered with several others over the years, expanding his reach to Baltimore and Delaware with popular spots like Canton’s Portside Tavern in Baltimore, Mango’s, Bethany Blues BBQ, Dickey’s Frozen Custard and The Starboard in Delaware. Now, Heidenberger’s sons are stepping into the role of managing partners at Madhatter, Front Page, and Café Soleil.

Sons, Eric and Alex Heidenberger, don’t seem phased by the growing competition in DC. Both regularly jump behind the bar on any given night, host Bingo nights and huge New Year’s Eve parties to stay connected to guests and to maintain that personal touch…the very thing that keeps the Heidenbergers passionate about what they do. Dick Heidenberger says, “We are local. We are family-owned and we really care about the neighborhood. We want our guests to know that we are here for them. We want to stay connected to our local hotels so that visitors know where to find simple American food- something that will make the whole family happy when they come to DC for a visit. We want locals and visitors alike to feel at home at our restaurants.” Each restaurant offers a different energetic ambiance and classic dishes. Madhatter boasts big with the “BMF Burger”- 10 ounces of fresh ground beef with bacon, grilled portobello mushroom, crispy onions and sriracha mayo. We won’t say what the “BMF” stands for but when you see the burger, you will most likely figure it out yourself. The Giant Sundae and Madhatter Punch both are best enjoyed by 4 or more. Needless to say, bigger is better at Madhatter.

At sister restaurant, Front Page, guests enjoy a 3 course $19 menu every Wednesday with favorites such as Pan Seared Salmon and the Dupont Pasta, a crowd favorite made up of sautéed shrimp, tomato, feta cheese, and a garlic white wine sauce over fettuccine served with garlic bread. On Thursdays, Front Page is well-known for $5 margaritas, $2 Corona and Miller Lite and FREE pulled pork tacos. Yes, you read it right…FREE.

Café Soleil, sharing the neighborhood with the White House, offers a European feel and a menu that keeps it simple but divine. From the rich Lamb Shank to the Shrimp and Grits, Café Soleil is a favorite for local business people and many refer to it as a hidden neighborhood gem. Café Soleil also boasts exquisite private dining space perfect for business meetings, presentations and all day events. While Cedar is one of the smaller sister restaurants, don’t be surprised by the punch it packs with its seasonal focus on local farms and fresh ingredients. Located in the Penn Quarter, Cedar serves up a contemporary take on country fare. The menu’s diverse approach to rustic flavors is intense and well appreciated. Duck, venison, bison, trout, boar, elk and lamb two ways are just a few of the dishes that will cause you to take extra time deciding on the menu. Managing partner, Mikias Abebayehu, passionately describes the restaurant as upscale- “rustic but refined.”

With honorable titles like “Best Happy Hour in DC” and “Best Brunch in the US”, these DC staples carry some serious clout. Although they are “small business” in an ever-growing corporate scene, they are far from intimidated. In fact, they are just gearing up for more. Alex Heidenberger says, “Eric and I are excited to branch out and put our own personal touch on the restaurant scene.” There is no doubt that when they do, DC will be better for it. In the meantime, youngest son, Eric, says, “We want everyone to know our restaurants as places that are just a lot of fun.” And that they are. From Madhatter’s Upside Down Room with a table and settings hanging from the ceiling to the giant Madhatter hat in the dining room, Madhatter, for one, has become one of the most exciting scenes in Dupont Circle for lunch, happy hour, brunch and late night fun.

From notorious bar crawls to business luncheons at Front Page and fine dining dinners at Cedar and Café Soleil, DC Restaurant Group confirms that local business can survive the growing pains of a city that is making its mark on the food scene. How do they stay relevant and have such longevity, you ask? They value people and they create an incredible experience for the young and the young at heart alike.”

28 Comment

  • Huh?

  • Cedar is the only name on that list that I would consider “relevant.”

    • bottomline is as well
      they still probably have one of the best friday happy hours around

      • Tsar of Truxton

        I guess it depends on your definition of “relevant.” I think many of the places on the list are relevant to the bar scene (I haven’t been in a few years, but the new Madhatter location used to be packed to the gills on weekends). I think blahblah was referring to relevant to the DC food scene, i.e., Cedar has pretty solid food. Bottomline would not fit into any discussion about restaurants with good food.

        • Yea, that was based solely on the drinks haha

        • @RKM: yes, that was what I meant. I think that Madhatter and Bottom Line are very relevant to certain demographics, like fraternities and people seeking cheap drinks. But since the press release specifically tried to link them to the “progressive DC food scene,” I felt the need to cry foul. And Justin, I agree that Cedar has gone downhill a bit since its heyday. But I would argue that it is still a solid choice for a decent, midpriced night out.

    • justinbc

      Cedar was good years ago. After their head chef at the time left 2-3 years ago it’s never gotten back to that quality for me.

      • Relevant when the DC food scene was mediocre on a good day. I only went once, about 4 years ago and it was very blah. Decent at the time, but we’ve come a long way since then.

  • Who does business lunches at Front Page?

  • This is amazingly awful. That being said, Front Page is actually not a terrible bar to grab a cheap drink at.

  • Of course these places are doing well– they’re smack dab in the middle of downtown. Plenty of office workers just need a mediocre place to have happy hour drinks before heading back to the suburbs. These places wouldn’t last in a residential neighborhood.

  • justinbc

    Dickey’s Frozen Custard is the only name in this whole article that I still enjoy.

    • Holy crap, they own Dickey’s?!? I always assumed the mom n’ pop behind the counter owned it 🙁
      Dickey’s is amazing custard. The fresh carved turkey sandwiches are also really good.

  • if by “relevant” you mean “inedible.” I had to attend a wedding-related brunch at Front Page recently and it was worse than I ever could have imagined.

  • This comes across as a floundering business flailing it’s arms trying to get attention. Was there a context for this release or was it apropos of nothing?

    • I think you pegged it right the first time. Floundering businesses hoping to remain relevant as bar-goers find better places to spend their money. (See all the new bars/restaurants opening up.)

  • Gah. This is such pointless, self-serving, incoherent PR drivel. “Local restaurants continue to serve food!”

    Also, they used commas incorrectly so many times I stopped counting.

  • Ha, what a joke. Are they really that delusional that think they are in anyway “relevant”?

  • They’re only telling part of the story. Yes, there’s corporate bars and restaurants moving in to some degree but there’s also a lot of authentic independent bars and restaurants opening, with unique offerings.

    Their brand of generic corporatesque local joints are getting caught in the middle. When they opened, they could get away with providing a bland environment with bland offerings because they filled a niche that wasn’t really in the city very much. They provided a generic happy hour night out for stuffy lawyers / drunken frat boys (seriously – have you seen how awful the crowd is in Mad Hatter and how generic the place feels for having a theme like that?).

    Playing the local card here seems too little, too late. They should have better defined their identity before now if they wanted to appeal to that market.

  • I have been to cedar a few times in the last year, and it is really good. especially for brunch. i could eat that sausage all day every day

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