When you first enter The Dabney, Jeremiah Langhorne’s groundbreaking restaurant in Shaw, you immediately sense that you’re in for a unique dining experience. The wide-open kitchen is anchored by a 10 foot-long wood-burning hearth that perfumes the space with a delightful smolder. A large fire blazes throughout the meal. From time to time, chefs transfer embers to a cooking station and fan them in dramatic fashion. A landscape of greens, flowers and herbs is assembled at the edge of the cooking stations for diners to gawk at as they walk to their seat. Tables are assembled so that you are able to observe the chef and his team do what they are so good at. It’s a restaurant that rewards you for paying attention to the action happening around you.
Langhorne sent shockwaves through the restaurant community when he exited his position as chef de cuisine of the legendary McCrady’s in Charleston in 2013. While working there, he staged at the landmark Noma, in Copenhagen. Their use of foraged, local ingredients struck a chord with him. Langhorne then spearheaded the effort to turn McCrady’s into a temple of cuisine that centered not only on local producers, but foraged ingredients as well. He has taken that same philosophy and brought it to Washington, DC as a way to feature the foodways of the Mid-Atlantic region, which includes New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Washington D.C., Virginia, and West Virginia.
To an outsider, identifying Mid-Atlantic cuisine might not be an easy task. Luckily, Langhorne grew up in the DC area and knows his way around the ingredients and cooking styles that are trademarks of this part of the country. He defines the style as, “cooking over open flames, aging, smoking, and preserving.” Langhorne says that it is part of his overall approach to cooking. The goal of The Dabney is to “showcase the quality and diversity of the ingredients in the Mid-Atlantic region and the wonderful people that raise, grow and produce them.” Even the cocktail list features locally distilled gin and whiskey.
It’s not just about the local producers and growers. Much of the menu is composed of foraged ingredients from within the Mid-Atlantic region. On foraging, he says, “It’s important because when you’re trying to represent your region through your food, the best way to do it is to create a connection between the food and the diner. The best way to do that is to introduce the diner to wild ingredients that are native to the area. Using those foods help pinpoint where you are.” For other ingredients, Langhorne has taken matters into his own hands. The rooftop used to grow produce and other items are made in-house, such as pecan miso, watermelon molasses, and fish pepper hot sauce.
The Dabney has already had a sizable effect on the dining scene in Washington, DC. It has already been recognized as a semifinalist for Best New Restaurant by the James Beard Foundation. And they show no signs of slowing down or changing their philosophy.
We’ve dedicated ourselves to being a showcase for the cool, delicious ingredients of this region. We’ll continue to dig deeper and get better every year,” Langhorne says.
Visit The Dabney at 122 Blagden Alley NW, Washington D.C.
Words by Peter Ogburn / Photography c/o The Dabney