Restaurant review

The Tombs restaurant review: Georgetown’s college tavern still has it

Hey, Hoya friends! Just so you know, the long-running salad-topped pizza has been scratched and the 99 Days Club has yet to be revived at Tombs, the all-American tavern below the formal 1789 restaurant in the shadow of the Georgetown University.

Closed in March 2020, the parenthesis for 60 years reopened in March. Rest assured, the rest of the experience pretty much mirrors the last time you were in the basement waterhole, accessible by steps as steep as “The Exorcist” stairs nearby. Rowing references are everywhere – on the walls, painted on the tables, emblazoned on the waiters’ blue T-shirts reading “Crew” – and, truth be told, your first sniff of the place remains the amalgamation of cleaning solution and spilled beer.

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The changes, meanwhile, are mostly for the better. Hop on the chicken pot pie fritters.

Have you ever been to the Tombs? Here’s what you’re missing: a timeless bar and maze of rooms, fine pub food and the kind of service you might remember on your visits to one of the 10 other restaurants at the famed Clyde’s Restaurant. Group, known for its hospitality. The hostess seems really happy to see you and sit down, and the waiter voluntarily gives the WiFi password without you even having to ask. Dishes may be auctioned at the table, but they never take long to reach you.

More than any other college-adjacent restaurant in town, Tombs is as tied to its school as John Thompson Jr. and Hoyas basketball. The owner of the pub is no less than Georgetown University.

Culinary guardians of the Tombs include Adam Howard, the new executive chef of the formal 1789, and Chris Benitez, who serves as sous chef downstairs. Howard is responsible for adding these Chicken Pot Pie Fritters to the menu, a heirloom from his time at the Family Meal in Frederick. A lot of work goes into the small bites. The chicken is brined before being roasted and shredded; a roux links poultry with peas and carrots. Japanese breadcrumbs form the golden crust. Each bite feels like a full dinner. Swanson, devour your heart. Benitez, an Arlington native whose family hails from El Salvador, also tapped into his past, previously serving pupusas and fish tacos.

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The menu satisfies the appetites of students, professors, and tourists who may have read about the institution. Guess what kids love the most? According to the two chefs, the best seller is the chicken fillets. Laugh if you will, but the big, super juicy chicken fingers sporting steep tan coats are finger-licking good, even more so after a dip in a honey-mustard sauce. Familiar flavors rule here – the menu also lists mac and cheese bites – but they tend to be better than your average bar. rate. Crispy and creamy at the same time, the pasta cubes are punctuated with bacon and red pepper, sprinkled with Parmesan cheese and cooled with a ramekin of sriracha-tinged rose ranch dressing. The Tombs should file for a patent.

Summer sent the chili, so laden with ground beef and beans you could eat it with a fork, on sabbatical. In its place, a Mexican-style chicken soup with a broth that puffs up with the taste of chicken, a fan of avocado and a filling of thin fried tortilla strips. The dish, created by Benitez and ignited with jalapeño, deserves a long run.

Half a dozen salads entice you to eat your vegetables; Go green with snow peas and celery shavings – plus radishes, almonds and a creamy poppyseed vinaigrette – or better yet, Italian style. The chopped antipasto salad is equal parts charcuterie platter (salami, provolone) and produce section (tomatoes, radicchio), a sublime kitchen sink (welcome, chickpeas and baby pasta!) tied together with a sunny vinaigrette . Share it as an appetizer or consider it a colorful main event for $15.

A few plates suggest you are eating at the restaurant dressed upstairs. One of the main courses is a slice of roast salmon spread over tzatziki sauce and a bed of Israeli couscous, smoothed with pesto. The desserts are prepared by a pastry chef dedicated to 1789 but at a price for students. Eight bucks is fair trade for a slice of tart lime pie with raspberry sauce and (real) whipped cream.

If I distributed notes to the dishes, some would not pass. Fettuccine with Bolognese sauce, for example, is so soft it tastes like it was cooked in the dishwasher. And while the “Hot Honey” Fried Chicken Sandwich offers a nice crunch, the honey is the dominant flavor. More balance is required. But these are easily righted wrongs, and the majority of picks exercise care.

Order the turkey BLT, and it arrives with thick slices of turkey, carved from a roasted whole bird inside the open kitchen, and crispy smoked bacon on toast. The star of the brunch menu is the shrimp and grits, each element of which leads to a performance worthy of Charleston. The seafood is springy, the oatmeal challenges you not to scratch the plate, the andouille sausage adds liveliness and boldness, and the buttery tomato broth ties it all together. You will need a box for leftovers.

David Moran, regional operations manager for Clyde’s Restaurant Group, worked at the Tomb as a manager from the age of 23. He says the pandemic pause has given staff a chance to reevaluate the facility. “Do we leave something out just because it’s tradition or because it’s awesome?” he remembers thinking. “Restaurants need to evolve.” One casualty of the philosophy was the pizza topped with salad, a menu staple despite never selling well. Diners knew it as the Hoya Salad. Moran called it a “hot mess”.

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Wine drinkers can save money when they drop by on Sundays or Mondays, when bottles are half price. The Tombs also offers two respectable 1789 wines by the glass, a Chardonnay and a Cabernet Sauvignon, both produced by Rutherford Wine Co. in California.

Brass name plates give patina and a sense of community to the pub. Those affixed to the bar are dedications to former employees who worked there for at least two years. (As at war memorials, former workers have been known to return for carvings.) Other small signs toast beloved teachers and regulars, as well as students who managed to visit the graves during the last 99 days of the school year, a tradition started by seniors of the class of 1999.

Were you expecting calm with your nachos and Nutty Professor, a peanut butter whiskey milkshake? Between the low ceiling and the hard floors, the Tombs trap noise. FYI: A seat at the bar requires more repeated questioning than, say, booths, which are semi-enclosed with leaded glass.

Be sure to read your bill. The bottom of the ticket invites you to complete a short survey within 48 hours. Drop in before the deadline and you’ll receive $10 off your next visit, the cost of a pitcher of Coors Light after 10 p.m. here.

OK, this is me thinking I’m back in Georgetown. Older and wiser, I’d spend the money on the $9 Chicken Pot Pie Fritters – and be home by 10.

1226 36th St. NW. 202-337-6668. Open 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. Monday and Tuesday, 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 3 a.m. Friday, 11 a.m. to 3 a.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. Sunday. Price: Dinner entrees $9-$15, sandwiches and entrees $17-$28. Sound control: 80 decibels / Extremely loud. Accessibility: The basement restaurant is not suitable for wheelchairs. Pandemic protocols: Masks and vaccines are not required of staff.