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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Peachy's Picks Washington D.C.: Martin's Tavern Since 1933 Our Coverage Sponsored by Fresh Origins

Our pals Owner Billy Martin IV and Executive Chef Gregorio Martinez

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There are a lot of places you can go to have a good dinner in America.  However, dining with the best of American history is rare, and that's exactly what's done every day at Martin's Tavern on 1264 Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown, Washington, D.C. since 1933 and their top-notch cuisine has also been making history in some world-class stomachs.   The first place Peachy Deegan ever lived outside her hometown was Georgetown, and after earning a B.A. in American History from the Jesuit school with the best hockey team up North, she has been fortunate to dine at some of the best restaurants in Manhattan and on the East Coast but there's only one place where JFK went after church on Sunday for brunch and that's Martin's Tavern.  He loved it so much that that's where he asked Jacqueline Bouvier to marry him, right there in the proposal booth at Martin's Tavern.  We were incredibly lucky to have this seat during our review; thank you Billy!

This is Booth #3 where we sat.
Where we sit matters to us-we detail what we look for in our review instructions.  We did not ask for this booth specifically but secretly Peachy was dying to sit here.  

Martin's Tavern has served every President from Harry Truman to George W. Bush.  A few returned regularly and sat at their favorite table.
Also be aware that notable booths are:
Booth #1: The Rumble Seat - In the 1950's JFK sat here reading the paper and having brunch on Sundays.  He was a Congressman and then Senator from Massachusetts at the time and lived just two blocks down N Street from Martin's.
Booth #2: The Nixon Booth- In the 1940's and early '50's, Richard Nixon sat there as a Congressman, then Senator from California and later as Vice President of the U.S.  He enjoyed Martin's Meatloaf -sometimes with his wife, Pat, most often with colleagues from Congress or the Administration.
Booth #3: The Kennedy Booth - a. k. a. The Proposal Booth - JFK and Jackie frequently dined in Booth #3.  On Wednesday, June 24, 1953, having returned from covering the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth for the Washington Times Herald, Jacqueline Bouvier accepted John Kennedy's proposal of marriage.  
Booth #6: The Truman Booth - Harry Truman, his wife Bess and daughter Margaret sat here for many dinners when Margaret was a student at George Washington University in 1942 and he was a Senator from Missouri.  Margaret Truman wrote 14 mystery novels set in Washington, D.C. and many of her novels include Martin's Tavern.  
Booth #24: The LBJ Booth - Living Landmark Robert Caro wrote in The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Master of the Senate on page 790 set in 1956 - Senator Lyndon Johnson, Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn and his assistant Richard Bolling met for several dinners at their usual table regarding civil rights legislation.  "Bolling - Rayburn's young protege and 'point man' on civil rights - was getting a close-up view of Lyndon Johnson at the Board of Education and at several dinners in a private dining room at Martin's at which he was the only person present with Mr. Sam and Lyndon."
Bill Clinton writes about Martin's Tavern in his book "My Life"
We know Martin's Tavern is important to history.  But what you should know is that Martin's Tavern knows more that it's equally important to be nice.  Menus were ready at this booth with Martin's pens and we were given commemorative pins for their 80th.  We even got a detailed history of this esteemed venue, and what we really are waiting for is Billy's book someday on Martin's Tavern; he has many stories you will want to be regaled with.  Billy greeted us with cheer and pride:
Peachy Deegan put her napkin on her lap and could not wait to begin.  Martin's Tavern is a place where she personally would like nearly everything on the menu, which is rare.  We often appreciate all that a restaurant can do but do not always feel as though we'd pick it on our own.  If Peachy was designing a menu, it would be very close to Martin's. To top it off, you should know that Martin's is also Irish and you know we love love love Ireland and the Irish from everywhere.  In case you missed Peachy saying so a million times before, she once lived in Cork because she spent a semester at UCC.  

Peachy began with a delightful Chianti, which was a perfect welcome and it set the tone for the night well, and it paired perfectly with her Filet Mignon, which was truly incredible, setting the standard for all Filet Mignons we've eaten in the Mid-Atlantic.  
Some restaurants with an illustrious history are content to sit on their laurels with their cuisine, but not Martin's.  Though it was founded by this Billy's grandfather and great-grandfather, Billy Martin the 4th has worked incredibly hard to be the owner and bought the business from his father.  This Billy was once the bartender for many years prior to becoming Martin-in-charge.  William S. Martin, an immigrant from County Galway who used to drive the soda truck for Schweppes, and his son William G. Martin opened Martin's Tavern in 1933.   There's a New York connection here as well-Patricia Martin Simpson, the current Billy Martin's aunt, is from Rochester. William G. was a Hall of Fame athlete at Georgetown University and went on to play three professional sports: basketball, football and baseball, including playing for the Boston Braves in 1914, the first team to take the World Series in four games.  In 1949, William A. Martin (the third Billy Martin) started behind the bar, and finally in 1982 the current Billy did the same, and started behind the bar.  In 2001, William A. Martin took over and has been a smashing success, with every year better than the previous one which has kept him smiling.
We are looking forward to Billy and his grandfather meeting one day in heaven.  We bet Peachy's grandmother (see Deegan girls to the right, bar circa 1940's New York) likely had a chat up there with William S. and William G. prior to this review...
Peachy Deegan began with the Oakwood Atlantic Smoked Salmon appetizer.  Diced hard boiled eggs, tomatoes, red onion and capers graced a spectacular salmon complete with fresh chef made dilled creme fraiche and toast points.  A winner of a start, this edible entry had great flavor and was presented beautifully.  You heard all of the colorful history before, but of course we wanted to know what the recent Presidents that we have lived through have eaten.   Donald Rumsfeld has told Billy Martin that both he and Ronald Reagan have loved the Prime Rib.  (Donald if you are reading-we would be happy to review your book if you meet Peachy at Martin's!)  George Bush 41 likes the corned beef and cabbage, and Bill Clinton is all about the hamburgers at Martin's Tavern.  George W. Bush (43) loves the crabcakes and seafood.  Nixon liked the meatloaf.  Bottom line-if you want to be President, you should eat at Martin's Tavern.
Another quite cool aspect of Martin's Tavern is that its corner on the block is not a right angle-it's an obtuse angle for all our geometrically-inclined readers, which makes Martin's even better for people-watching.  They do have outdoor seating which we bet is also spectacular; maybe we will sit outside next time.  Martin's has 98 seats inside and 20 outside and we hope it expands up and down to accommodate the continued demand.  We love the original paneling in the interior; the original mahogany bar also adds to the charm of the decor.  Basking in this history, it is even more exciting to eat your filet mignon 8 oz tenderloin.  Resting on top of superior garlic toast and the chef's vegetables: asparagus and carrots perfectly cooked - is the piece de resistance: the Filet Mignon, absolutely the most succulent choice Filet Mignon you could eat.  It was sizzled to perfection at medium, and it tasted like a diamond you'd get from the up and coming Senator from Massachusetts especially when you sit in this booth!  But why would you eat a diamond when you can eat this Filet Mignon...
Bread pudding, which is traditionally Irish, was one of the desserts we tried and both this and the Creme Brulee that they chose for us to try were truly standout.

The current President has not been to Martin's Tavern and all we've got to say is what is he waiting for????  We're not sure Barack Obama has an interest in Whom You Know however he should know that Billy will make whatever he wants and if Michelle wants to bring vegetables from her garden, Martin's Tavern is happy to prepare them.  Martin's Tavern has survived the Great Depression, World War II and Korea, Camelot and the Great Society, Vietnam and Watergate, the Cold War and the Gulf War.  Your stomach will not survive your trip to Washington if you miss Martin's-make Martin's Tavern a priority for your stomach.  We were really looking forward to this review, and sometimes when we are so psyched up for a place we can be disappointed but Martin's was exactly as amazing as we thought it would be!
We cannot WAIT to go back to Martin's Tavern.  It really is something special.
Our esteemed panelist adds:
We recently dined at Martin’s Tavern in the Georgetown area of Washington D.C. We arrived at the quaint restaurant and bar on Sunday night arriving to find it buzzing with activity counter to our expectations for general foot-traffic on Sunday night dining. We entered into a restaurant steeped in 80 years of history, much of it from the Martin family’s 4 generation ownership and connections with Washington Politicos and leading small business owning families. Most all Presidents from the past 7 or so have dined here and many other politicians and luminaries. 

The restaurant is conveniently situated on a corner abutting Wisconsin Ave so that one can spot people walking up and down this landmark street. The interior is decorated in a comforting, nostalgic throwback to the past like a saloon or perhaps a Chicago style steakhouse. In fact, we sat at the table that JFK sat at when he proposed to Jackie. The tables are spacious and the feel is casual but not cluttered or claustrophobic. It’s a great spot for family style dinners or for large events. Additionally, there is plenty of outdoor seating without ado as the location is quiet and quite private given the location. 

The menu is quintessential American fare with plenty of meats—steak, pork-chops, meatloaf, chicken roast turkey and fish too—Salmon, tuna, shrimp. Plenty of choices on the menu for all palates and eaters at reasonable prices. 

Once we arrived, our host Billy Martin (the owner) spoke to us at length about the restaurant and his family’s long and storied history as well as his time managing the restaurant over the past 13 years. Each year has been successively more productive than the prior, a real feat for the economically sensitive and faddish restaurant business. Billy is hospitable , welcoming, knows his regular customers very well and has incredible stories to share. His pride and passion for the family business is self-evident. I recommend anyone interested in history or family business to speak with him. Billy introduced us to his Chef, Gregorio Martinez, a El Salvadorian who has been in D.C. for decades. Gregorio is quite accomplished and prepares his dishes artfully and with fine local ingredients, many organic. 

Grilled Ahi-Tuna Tower

We sampled the smoked Salmon and pan-seared Sea Scallops for appetizers. The smoked salmon was savory and well prepared. The Sea Scallops were very tender and simply prepared with a refreshingly light orange citrus sauce. For a main course, we tried the Grilled Ahi-Tuna Tower which was outstanding. Very simple, adequate portions of fish with crispy wontons, Napa Cabbage prepared in a hoisin sauce. Dessert included crème Brule that was to die for and a bread pudding with raisins. Both of these dishes were perfectly done. 

Overall, we highly recommend Martin’s Tavern and will certainly return, especially to chat with Billy over a Bourbon! We hope Martin’s can expand and add even more space to allow more folks to experience the history, charm, great food and hospitality. 

Peachy Picks Martin's Tavern!

Martin's Tavern is Highly Recommended by Whom You Know.

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