The first thing you notice when walking into the new Black Squirrel in Merrifield is the ceiling. It’s impossible to miss.
Countless lamp shades hang from above like multicolored stalactites, coming together to form the centerpiece of Dunn Loring’s eclectic new gastropub.
“I put those up first,” says Amy Bowman, admiring the shade menagerie overhead which took her five trips back-and-forth to Ikea and Walmart to create. “I designed everything around that.”
That ceiling — along with everything else in her new restaurant — she’s had a long time to think about.
After four years of planning, Bowman is set to open the second edition of her Washington, D.C. gastropub next week at the corner of Gallows Road and Avenir Place. With a prime spot in the four-year-old Modera Avenir Place development, she couldn’t have asked for a better location, facing the busy commuter thoroughfare and next door to the Dunn Loring Metro station.
Up until now, The Black Squirrel has been strictly a neighborhood affair, serving the Adams Morgan crowd on 18th Street for the past 10 years. But when it came time for expansion, Bowman had no trouble picking her next destination.
“The Northern Virginia location was a no-brainer,” she says. “There’s only half a million people in D.C. Virginia is unlimited.”
So much so, that while Merrifield was her pick for restaurant number two, Bowman says the third and maybe even fourth Black Squirrel will also be on this side of the Potomac. She has plans to open a restaurant in Reston Town Center next year and then possibly another one in Falls Church off Route 50 in Seven Corners after that.
But for now, all her attention is focused on Dunn Loring.
The new Merrifield version of The Black Squirrel will follow much of the same blueprint as its sibling in the District, meaning loads of beer, wine and liquor and a menu filled with things like wings, poutine, five-cheese mac and cheese and burgers spiked with duck fat (more on those later) to soak it all up. But while there’s lots of carryover from the Adams Morgan lineup, Bowman brought in veteran chef Thomas Crenshaw to tweak the menu and put his own spin on things.
“There’s nothing like [The Black Squirrel] right here,” Crenshaw says of Merrifield. “Yeah, there’s small plates and craft beer, but not the full package.” That full package includes a true farm-to-table operation with a menu and changing dishes throughout the week reflecting the availability of seasonal items from local suppliers like Breezy Meadow Farms in Lovettsville and Snider’s Sprouts in Springfield. A regularly-updated chalkboard will detail the sources of ingredients on any given day.
Crenshaw says he intentionally limited the sandwich and entree selections because he wants to bring more specials into the mix — up to seven a week — using in-season fruits, vegetables and cheeses. “It’s a little ambitious,” he admits.
A veteran of Arlington’s Willow Restaurant and D.C. kitchens J. Paul’s and Chef Geoff’s among others, Crenshaw is originally from the midwest so it’s practically a given he’s a meat guy, and with a stint in Seattle, he’s big on seafood, too. That’s why on the tentative opening menu you should expect to find dishes like pastrami-spiced lamb and a New York strip steak next to Arctic char and mussels from Prince Edward Island.
And about those burgers… Bowman’s crowd-favorite patties make the trek to Merrifield with only a slight change. While the beef will still get hit with the duck fat on the grill (“It gives the burger that umami,” says Bowman), the burger grind will now be a mix of chuck, brisket and short rib.
“When we opened 10 years ago, we were some of the first to do upscale burgers,” she says. “Now it’s time to up my game.”
And it wouldn’t be The Black Squirrel without a massive lineup of craft beer. Though Dunn Loring won’t feature 57 taps like Bowman once had in Adams Morgan, the 26 draft lines planned — with an emphasis on Virginia breweries — should be plenty for most any beer aficionado (for the first few weeks, Bowman says she’s also planning on having some rarer beers on tap).
The Commonwealth will also be well-represented on the wine and liquor front, too, with booze from places like Purcellville’s Catoctin Creek and Richmond’s Belle Isle Craft Spirits and, for the green fairy fans, absinthe by Mt. Defiance Distillery in Middleburg.
The Black Squirrel Dunn Loring is smaller than the Adams Morgan location (3,500 square feet vs. 5,000) but will feature a large patio with outdoor seating. And from the start, the restaurant will serve lunch and dinner daily along with weekend brunch on both Saturday and Sunday.
With only a few inspections remaining, Bowman says she’s aiming to debut her new restaurant next
Wednesday Friday (Bowman tells the News-Press the new target date is Friday). “As soon as we get our permits approved, we’re opening,” she avows.
After four years, you can bet she’s ready.
The Black Squirrel | 2670 Avenir Place | Vienna | facebook.com/BlackSquirrelVA