The way chef Dennis Friedman sees it, fine dining is fading. And so he's closed Newton's Table and replaced it with Bethesda Barbecue Company, which quietly opened last week.
"We heard enough times from the community that they wanted more of a neighborhood gem," Friedman says. He felt barbecue was one of the things missing in a neighborhood saturated with restaurants. It's also timeless, he says. "It goes in the same column as Chinese food and pizza. It has a strong brand identity. It is thoughtful food."
Friedman has partnered with David Smelson, who works with point-of-sale software company Micros Systems. Smelson, who's done some barbecue catering, helped Friedman develop the menu, which includes a range of sandwiches, platters, salads, and more. The barbecue has no particular regional loyalties: the pulled pork is North Carolina-style, and the brisket is more Texas-style. Other snacky offerings include bacon pops (cured and smoked pork belly on a stick served with a fried pickle) and cheese puffs ("American-style versions of gougères").
Smelson solicited local bartenders for cocktail recipes that they would want to drink at a barbecue joint. The "Feet Don't Faile Me Now" from Neighborhood Restaurant Group Bar & Spirits Director Jeff Faile includes Rittenhouse Rye, cognac, sweet vermouth, and Benedictine, while "Taha's Temple" from Taha Ismail of Kapnos includes Templeton Rye, muddled fruit, simple syrup, and bitters. All the cocktails are $12.
Friedman emphasizes that the restaurant is still a work in progress. And he's still got some work to do on the rustic decor, which will include reclaimed wood, canvas, and tin accents.
"We're going to keep at it until we make this one of the best barbecue spots around," he says.
Bethesda Barbecue Company, 4917 Elm St., Bethesda; (301) 718-0550; bethesdabbq.com
Photo courtesy Bethesda Barbecue Company