This new trend of restaurants not taking reservations? I am not a fan. Yes, I have arrived at Rose’s Luxury before 5:30 pm to ensure we get a table without an hours-long wait. In fact, I’ve done it twice. But it’s not my preference. On the other hand, when my husband and I decide at the last minute that we want to dine at the new/no reservations Republic in Takoma Park, we can give it a shot. In this case, our last minute dining decision is rewarded. While I still don’t care for no reservations, particularly when dining with a group, I have to concede the advantages.
We arrive at Republic at 6:30 pm on a Friday evening. The wait is approximately one hour. I find this manageable, particularly since many of the Takoma Park shops are still open. We head out to explore, and Republic sends us a text message that links to a site showing how many parties are ahead of us. I consider this a fun new toy, and check it far too often during our wait period.
I imagine that Chef Danny Wells must feel right at home cooking in Takoma Park. That’s because he is actually from here. There’s something about the town that makes me feel like I’m on vacation, even though it’s 25 minutes away from my house. Dotted with vintage stores and a small array of independent businesses, it’s artsy and eclectic and at the same time family-focused. It is a perfect location for restaurateur Jeff Black to open his newest venue, adding to his group which includes Black’s Bar & Kitchen, Black Market Bistro, and Pearl Dive Oyster Palace. I am still mourning the loss of his recently shuttered Addie’s in Rockville.
Almost exactly an hour from the time we check in, our table is ready. I have already decided to order the Smith Meadows burger. Tom Sietsema’s review of Republic has just been published in The Washington Post, and he says “the burger is good enough to compete in any future hamburger contests.”
I don’t eat burgers all that often, but somehow on a bitter cold evening a thick juicy burger is exactly what I want. And now, a week later I am still thinking about the meat. The duo of patties are sandwiched between a pretzel bun, and topped with cheese and aoili. I have also succumbed to the call of house-smoked bacon. All of the extras add flavor and crunch, but it is the charred on the outside/juicy on the inside burger patties that stand out. The crispy shoestring fries sprinkled with herbs are also irresistible.
It’s one of those nights when indecision leads us to order more food than we can handle. I love those nights. Curry spiced beluga lentils with yogurt and cauliflower has assertive Indian flavors that awaken my palate. Ancient grain salad with pomegranate seeds, pistachios, and mint has an unexpected tartness and an abundance of crunch. Vegans will be happy with either or both of these dishes, which is important for a “post-hippy” town with a likely disproportionate number of vegans and vegetarians.
My husband has wood grilled mahi mahi with tomato-fennel puree, grilled rapini, olives, and oranges. The bitter rapini balances nicely with the sauce, but he just isn’t blown away by the dish. Since Takoma Park is a designated nuclear free zone, perhaps it’s better this way.
In another nod to the neighborhood and population, Republic is dressed in nostalgia. There’s reclaimed wood, and vintage fixtures and furniture. It feels urban and at the same time suburban, with many of the booths and tables filled with young families. If any of the children are crying, it is impossible to know. The noise level at Republic is searingly high.
Our overindulgence on sides leaves no room for dessert. But I can’t resist a cup of coffee from Ceremony Coffee of Annapolis, Maryland. I love the strong finish- to the coffee and the meal. My first taste of Republic leaves me wanting more. I have no reservations at all about recommending Republic as a great new restaurant in Takoma Park.
Republic, 6939 Laurel Avenue, Takoma Park, MD
The Washington Post, Tom Sietsema review