In the world of dining, even the most loyal local foodies would agree that DC is a small pond with a couple of killer whales. Starting this June, DC can add another bold name when Bravo’s Top Cheftestant Evangelos “Spike” Mendelsohn opens his Good Stuff Eatery on Capitol Hill. On Tuesday night, Mike and I were lucky enough to have dinner with Spike and his partner-in-food Mike Colletti at Dr. Granville Moore’s on H St NE.
Say what you will about his performance on Top Chef: Spike brought this season’s most engaging and controversial character. Doubt us? Take a look at Television Without Pity’s Top Chef forum: On the night before the season finale Spike’s thread comments still vastly outnumber the three finalists, even gripetastic Lisa Fernandes. So how does this food personality stack up in real life?
Look, I’ll be honest. If Tom Colicchio himself granted me the power to choose any Top Chef participant to start up in DC, I’d probably opt for Harold “Top Chef Saint” Dieterle or Sam Talbot. (Do I need to explain the latter?). Spike, though a serious contestant who came damn near the final three, always had an onscreen persona that put me a little on edge. Part experienced chef (his resume includes culinary school plus due diligence at the openings of Le Cirque and Mai House), part aggressive competitor and part-time schemer, it was hard to tell if he belonged in the good or evil column of reality show contestants. I was worried which version of Spike we might get – would “part-time slickster politician” make an appearance?
Turns out I didn’t need to worry. Spike showed up in good spirits, rocking his trademark hat and 5-day scruff after a day of tasting with potential purveyors for Good Stuff, scheduled to open by June 24. Spike was open and warm to well-wishers, looking each one in the eye with gratitude and an easy smile. During dinner, he and Mike were every bit the New York chef roles, alternately blasé, passionate and macho about their craft. But there was no mistaking they live and breathe this stuff day-to-day. Really, it’s hard to dislike their enthusiasm and excitement, especially as it relates to the DC food scene.
Spike and Mike, who just secured a townhouse to call home base in the Lincoln Park area, were psyched about kicking off their own venture in DC. “In New York, everybody’s trying everything,” Spike said. “You try to do something new and the guy two weeks later is into the same thing.”
For those avid Top Chef fans keeping score at home? Spike, who claimed in an early episode that “all beer tastes the same” ordered two sodas while those around him had second rounds of beer. Points for consistency.
Spike gets double points for not claiming unfair editing from Top Chef’s producers. “It’s me. Sometimes I’m annoying, sometimes I’m scheming, sometimes I’m funny. Whatever. It’s all there.” Certain other Bravo participants, please take note.
As far as the Top Chef finale goes, Spike knows the answer but isn’t spilling. He has warm words for the three finalists, “I think anyone who can make it that far deserves to be where they are.” Spike specifically highlighted the soul and care of Stephanie’s dishes and Richard’s thoughtfulness and story behind each preparation. “Truthfully, I tried to stay away from him while we were filming. I could tell right away that any chef cooking with him couldn’t compete with his vision. They just faded into the background.” But during the final four cook off when he was called on to be a sous chef for Richard? “Oh, I was in heaven.”
And, it really must be said: this guy is living the Entourage lifestyle in the foodie world. While he shares a story of a groupie climbing up the fire escape ladder of his New York apartment, DC locals around us are obviously giving him the up-and-down. It’s hilarious to watch it play out in DC standards. Spike has everyone from prim Capitol Hill staffers in cardigans and pearls to rocker H Street girls with sleeve tattoos and hipster mullets tapping him on the shoulder to offer their congratulations. Colletti plays the sidekick role with a smile, “If this is Entourage, I’m Turtle!” he pronounced.
But before he can get too ahead of himself in his newfound status, Spike has to answer to a higher power: his mother. Also based in DC and heavily involved in the launch of Good Stuff, Spike credits her with keeping him in check. “She doesn’t just keep me grounded. I’m like, underground,” he laughs. Mike also points out they’ve been eating well during their off hours of the launch, Spike’s mom has been cooking for them as well as advising.
“Spike’s mom thinks through every decision, right down to the basket for bread. She’s given me the best education yet,” Mike shared.
“I don’t think you can get away from having ketchup and mustard on the tables, but we will have a Good Stuff special sauce for the burgers and as a dip for anyone who wants extra,” Spike shared. Mayo will also be made in house on a daily basis. He was reluctant to reveal additional items from the menu, other than the well-publicized banh mi burger (typically a Vietnamese baguette with pickled carrots, daikon, onions, cilantro and meat or tofu) and a toasted marshmallow milkshake.
“I really think at Good Stuff we’re doing for burgers what Colicchio did for sandwiches at ‘WichCraft,” Spike said. The goal here is to up the ante on an every day food in unexpected and high-quality ways. Good Stuff’s menu will step in with local meat and produce alongside homemade frozen custard for milkshakes.
Good Stuff will be open for lunch and dinner, with some thought being put into a late night option for the Hill’s drunk-and-hungry crowd. They’re also “pretty close to a done deal” on a second Good Stuff location on 18th Street in Adams Morgan and openly hope to start new ventures soon.
I suspect Good Stuff on the Hill will do well. Just about any place with unlocked doors can make a profit during Capitol Hill’s lunch rush (Burrito Brothers, I’m looking at you). A restaurant with true-blue chef leadership, a little celeb status and a food-forward menu rises about seven steps above the competition. Plus I’m already in line to try the toasted marshmallow milkshake.