The Secret’s Out: The Off-Menu Culinary Tour of Washington, D.C.

By Russell Warnick

It happens to the best of us; you’re seated at a restaurant browsing the menu only to find you’ve eaten most of the dishes on it. Or nothing jumps out at you. Or you’re just not up for another plate of charcuterie or organic grilled chicken. You may not realize it, but a lot of chefs create off-menu dishes, a limited number of items that they save for their most loyal customers, or simply a dish they don’t want to over expose due to limited ingredients in the kitchen. Next time you dine out, ask, you never know what might be lurking back of house. Here are some of my favorite off-menu dishes around the city that together make for one serious progressive dinner:


Cocktail: Tequila Daisy at Founding Farmers

Jon Arroyo is the RAMMY-award-winning Chief Mixologist of Founding Farmers, and like many other mixologists across the city, Arroyo is always creating new cocktails. One of my favorites of Arroyo’s is his Tequila Daisy, a sophisticated take on the margarita. Blueberries and mint make for a more appetizing, and sweeter experience than a margarita. Plus, it’s served in a neat copper cup.


Appetizer: The Jackson 5 at Jackson 20

The Jackson 5 lives up to its loaded name. A plate loaded with so much you’d be forgiven for thinking it wasn’t an appetizer; you’ll get tater tots, a shrimp fritter, fried green tomato, a ham, and BBQ pork slider for a measly $12. That’s a combo plate I can get behind, daily. Gym membership, anyone?

Appetizer Bonus: The Pork Cupcake at Bourbon Steak

And I can’t talk off-menu apps without mentioning Bourbon Steak’s pulled pork cupcakes. Adam Sobel marries shredded pork and cheddar cakes, which are more than enough to satisfy your craving for something unique. Like most off-menu items there are a limited number of these gems, with Sobel baking up no more than 20 per day.


Fish: Urchin at BlackSalt

I’ve been enamored with sea urchin of late, taking any and all opportunities to enjoy the not-so-beloved critter. I can call it a critter, no? If you happen to be at BlackSalt on a Friday, get your order in early. The Black’s have a limited supply shipped in from California every week.


Entrée: Osso Buco at Bibiana Osteria Enoteca

Chef Nick Stefanelli at Bibiana knows his meat, so let him treat you to his hidden gem of braised shanks, which are perfect for this impending cold weather. And at $32 per person for two or four people, this will be the highlight of any dinner. Don’t be put off if they are sold out, Stefanelli has plenty of other dishes up his sleeve. If you’re partial to a little heart or suckling pig’s head, then he’s your man.


Dessert: Tug Boat at Carmine’s

The desserts at Carmine’s are sure to loosen that belt, particularly if you’ve ordered The Titanic– it’s absurdly massive and goes down well.  But since The Titanic is too large even for an extended family to finish off, there’s the Tug Boat, – a pared down version of bananas, ice cream and cake. So, next time you’re sucking up that spaghetti, leave a little room for something sweet.

Dessert Bonus:

I’m not one to conform to standard. I’m all for eating two desserts. And should you choose to follow my lead, then make sure you’re at Graffiato, where Chef Mike churns out 20 of his zeppoles: Fluffy balls of dough dusted with powdered sugar and a served with balsamic chocolate dipping sauce.


Go on, treat yourself.

  • Zach @ The Bitten Word

    This is excellent! (And now I’m dying for a pulled pork cupcake!)

  • Tammy G

    Great round up! I’ve been wanting to get Isabella’s zeppoles but now I’m equally obsessed with snagging Sobel’s pork cupcake!

  • jen

    are they still offering “the luther” over at birch and barley?