Virtue Feed & Grain

Photo from Virtue Feed & Grain Facebook page

Last week, I dined at the newest restaurant from the successful trio Chef Cathal Armstrong, his wife Meshelle Armstrong and business partner and mixologist Todd Thrasher (known for Restaurant Eve, The Majestic and the speakeasy PX). The restaurant is named Virtue Feed and Grain, named after the building that it’s located in on Union St in history Old Town, Alexandria- the building used to function as a feed house in the 19th century.

The restaurant features comfort food from the chef’s native hometown of Ireland (think kidneys, pig’s feet, colcannon etc.) with more familiar American, comfort, pub food, a beer list of more than 80 beers, cocktails and “hoptails”.

First, let me say the atmosphere (and the idea itself behind Virtue Feed & Grain) and location are perfect. I grew up in Alexandria and went to elementary and middle school right in Old Town and this location is one of the best that the Washington, DC area has to offer in terms of dining options and also history, culture, and beauty. I love the owners’ embrace of the history of the location as seen in the restaurant’s name and the rustic nature of the decor- exposed wood beams, wooden booths, lots of neutral colors and brick. We never made it upstairs, but judging from the Facebook photos that area seems like the place to be– arcade games, a lounge area, etc. There’s also a seating area in the alley leading to the water where the restaurant boasts that once a month it will host “alley block parties” with pig roasts and the like.

I selected the Belgian beer Leffe Blonde  as my drink of choice- the bottled beers were all served in koozies (something the beer distributors probably would not appreciate).  For starters, my friends and I opted for a Spinach and Artichoke dip with sliced baguette, and deviled eggs. The Artichoke dip was great- very crusty; however it was served with about four bread slices. We asked our server for more bread and he apologized offering this explanation: “We have to slice all the bread ourselves so there’s just not a lot of bread served with it ever.”  We were all very amused by this…and thought this was a bit strange. My other friend also ordered the Pigs in a Blanket appetizer which she raved about.

For entrees, several of us ordered the salmon and I opted for the Pike fish with colcannon (potatos and cabbage mixture). The fish was very well-prepared and everyone enjoyed their food. Nothing jumped out as “amazing”, but it was all very delicious.

Unfortunately, our overall dining experience in terms of service was not up to par– but I definitely recognize this is one of the hazards a restaurant experiences when it first opens before it weeds out all the new staff that start. Our server was most likely a first-time server- he seemed pretty uncomfortable and unsure of himself. He wasn’t very knowledgeable about the menu or beer selection, and then mixed up all of our checks at the end after offering to split them for us. As a former server, I recognize how challenging it can be when it’s your first time, but this guy could have really used some more training before throwing him out on opening week.

I still had an overall positive experience and am definitely willing to give this place a second go-around purely for the location and unique setting. There are also more things to come according to the Best Bites Blog “early look”– the outdoor block parties, a take-out window for fried chicken, and special “feasts” that feature a single item (ex- steamed crabs) that will serve two-ten people. It seems there are a few kinks that need to be worked out, but what restaurant ever opens without a few mishaps? *

Recommend for: Low-key night out (arcade games, large bar, lounge), dinner with friends, casual dining, something different

Pros: Location, ambiance, great drink selection, yummy appetizers/bar food, authentic Irish food, a “winning” team of owners (same team as Restaurant Eve, PX, The Majestic)

Cons: Parking (like anything in Old Town), service (could have been our one waiter though)

*At the time of this post the restaurant’s website has been down for almost a week now.