Restaurant review

J. Hollinger’s Waterman’s Chophouse Restaurant Review

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Before we get into the specifics of why you want to eat at J. Hollinger’s Waterman’s Chophouse, let me tell you where you should expect to sit in Silver Spring’s newcomer.

I discovered the friendly seats on my last visit, when my party of four were shown to a comfortable alcove cabin in the aft dining area. Like a car salesman emphasizing the luxury of a vehicle, our attendant introduced switches that could control – get this – both music and lighting in our cocoon, as well as sheer curtains that could be drawn across the in front for more privacy. We weren’t the only lucky ones. The restaurant has four such compartments along the wall, each spacious enough for six to eight occupants.

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Each night, more than two dozen diners could find themselves in improved circumstances. Controlling your comfort in a public place is not a luxury. And this in a place whose entries cost an average of $35.

The name in the title refers to Jerry Hollinger, whose other restaurants in Maryland are the Daily Dish in Silver Spring and the Dish & the Dram in Kensington. His third venture is his most ambitious to date and continues a sort of theme at this location, which previously housed two steakhouses, the Classics and Ray’s the Classics. Hollinger, a Mennonite whose parents ran a grocery store in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and who became a chef and caterer, admits the restaurant’s long name is a mouthful. In addition to honoring his family’s name, “Waterman’s Chophouse” makes subtle nods to seafood and steak, words that Hollinger considers outdated.

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A small dream team takes care of the dinners. The kitchen, visible from the bar, finds John Manolatos at the helm. You may have tasted his talent at the much-missed Cashion’s Eat Place in Washington. The chef’s brother, George Manolatos, who once co-owned Cashion’s with him, serves as general manager. The suit advising you on wine, Timothy Clune, worked at the late Shark at the Dock before trying his hand at beer at the nearby Astro Lab Brewing.

Let’s eat! Soups and salads portend good things to come on the menu. Asparagus soup tastes like an iconic vegetable just plucked from the ground, steamed and pureed with basil and mint; the intense color comes from the spinach added just before serving. The fish soup includes local redfish, especially its belly, treated like salt cod, and pimenton for a rich, smoky flavor. The “George” garden salad goes Greek with feta cheese, tomatoes and cucumber. What sets it apart from other green salads is its dressing, a combination of red wine and sherry sweetened with chopped shallots and tangy garlic – a delicious incentive to finish off your veggies.

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The “light bites” – steamed mussels, vegetable tempura, homemade spaghetti – are designed for people who want something larger than an appetizer but smaller than a typical main course. The star of the lot marries earth and earth: Crispy prawn toast and caramelized pork belly share their stage with flavor pumps including kimchi and sweet mustard tomato jam, as entertaining as anything could play out across the street at the AFI Silver Theater. You can easily make a meal of pasta cooked just right, a swirl of butter-glazed spaghetti sprinkled with soft Virginia clams, ignited with red pepper flakes and better for the crackle of garlic breadcrumbs on top.

I am repeatedly reminded that John Manolatos cooked with James Beard Award winner Ann Cashion, now a Los Compañeros partner. Consider crab cake, Cashion’s recipe pairing a large chunk of crab with cracker flour and just enough mayonnaise and mustard to keep the price together (and tasting mostly crab). The dish comes with double-fried fries, confetti-cut coleslaw, and a tartar sauce that favors fresh chervil, lemon, and capers over the fat.

The reasonable prices are due to Hollinger personally purchasing produce at auction from Amish sources in Pennsylvania and trucking the ingredients to his three businesses. Manolatos also offers smaller portions of beef than you might see at other steak sources. The restaurant opened in May with an 18-ounce dry-aged Kansas City strip loin steak priced at just over $60; reducing the cut (a New York strip with the bone) down to 14 ounces, he can charge $48. I really like the coulotte, a lean but tender cut whose strong flavor is complemented by brush strokes of clarified butter on the grill.

The chef also offers mixed dishes – thoughtful combinations of protein, starch and vegetables – meaning you don’t need a side dish to complete an entrée. J. Hollinger’s juicy brined pork chop might stand on its own, but how much nicer to see it presented on lemony spaetzles with bright English peas, black kale and a curtain of morel cream sauce ? Arrangements may change from tour to tour; the constant is the habit of the kitchen not to interfere with the good ingredients.

Clune, the wine director and assistant general manager, is the epitome of a good neighbor for offering distinctive glasses for as low as $10 and suggesting bottles below the price of the selections you’re mulling over. “I love weird grapes from weird places — and their value,” says Clune. Pro tip: Uruguay produces great wine, and Clune is happy to introduce you to the joys of Artesana Tannat for $47. He’s also good at finding the right bottle to bridge seafood and steak, like the night he poured an Elizabeth Spencer Grenache, rich in fruit flavors (imagine raspberries and ripe strawberries), nicely acidic and ending with mineral notes.

There may be discrepancies between courses. But the wait pays off when, say, a juicy burger patted from a chopped chuck and beef brisket finally lands on the table, inside a baked-on-the-spot brioche bun. It took a while for my Faroese salmon to show up as well. All is forgiven when the fish of choice surfaces with such amusing companions as a tater tot flavored with fresh dill and cabbage melt, its buttery sauce bursting with orange salmon roe.

Other chop houses might offer a slice of cheesecake and call it a day. This one has you swaying, rather than waddling, thanks to the light bavarian lime filling on this crispy-bottomed version of the steakhouse staple.

We talk a lot in the industry about being accessible. J. Hollinger’s Waterman’s Chophouse doesn’t just follow the word, it allows select wealthy patrons to adjust their own vibe. Now when people ask “Where’s the beef?” or “How about fish?” I’ll direct them to Silver Spring and a restaurant that can teach Washington some new tricks.

Chophouse by J. Hollinger Waterman

8606 Colesville Rd., Silver Spring, Md. 301-328-0035. jhollingers.com. Open: Indoor dining and takeout from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. daily and 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Price: Dinner entrees $9-$45, entrees $19-$75. Sound control: 72 decibels/Must speak in a high voice. Accessibility: No barriers to entry; restrooms are ADA compliant. Pandemic protocols: Masks for staff are optional; most, but not all, staff members are vaccinated.