Can a grimy dive bar reinvent itself into a big, bright restaurant serving good food? After one meal at the Madhatter, it appears that the answer is "Yes." The owners closed up shop on M Street and reopened this month in a large, and fancifully decorated space on Connecticut Avenue.
The Alice and Wonderland theme is carried through to every detail: from the upside down table on the ceiling to the tiny cups of apricot tea served before every meal.
We weren't expecting a lot from Madhatter, but our amazing waiter Gary and very good/very reasonably-priced food had us talking about a repeat visit before we even left the table. Gary not only had us laughing, he wasn't shy about telling us what he loved and didn't love on the menu.
Each meal at Madhatter starts with the apricot tea and some yummy cornbread.
Gary highly recommended the heart attack on a plate, err, the deep fried pork belly tossed in sweet chili garlic and ponzu sauce. This dish is a cardiologist's nightmare but a pork lover's dream come true. The sauce was sweet yet tangy and the combo with the spicy arugula made for a flavor explosion. BOOM!
When Gary described the hot dogs as "the truth" we knew we had to try them. He recommended that I try the Wonderland Dog (mac n' cheese-topped dog) and add chili on top. Well, since the fried pork belly already killed any chance of a healthy meal, I figured I might as well go all the way.
Yep, that is a chili dog with mac n' cheese in place of regular old boring cheese. All of this yummy craziness was only $7. You read that right. The $7 included that big basket of fries and the salad on the side. This is hands-down one of the best bargains in town.
For B, Gary recommended another zany hot dog. He tried the Psychedelic Dog (crushed potato chips, pineapple, and cheese). One the first try, the kitchen forgot the potato chips. Once B was about half way through his dog he realized that the crunch was missing. Gary didn't hesitate to bring out an entire new dog complete with the crunchy chip topping.
While these Alice-inspired menu items are definitely not for every day consumption, I think the Madhatter is great fun and a nice change of pace. Sometimes you just need to get out of DC and get away from the suits and seriousness. Thanks to Madhatter, there is a rabbit hole waiting for you whenever you need one.
Second Thoughts From B
Some people would call the hot dogs at Madhatter "the truth." Other people might choose to describe them as "legit." Shortly after announcing that he would shed the formal facade, Gary used both adjectives and we were thrilled that he did.
So why all this talk about Gary? It isn't that the Madhatter is only worth the trip to visit our new favorite waiter. Instead, it is that Gary personified the spirit of the place. Food and an atmosphere that is fun-loving and whimsical (I think I've now used that word in back to back posts).
And what's more fun than having a great time eating good food and doing it on the cheap? Maybe going to see the Gay Men's Choir's production of Grease afterwards, but that'll have to wait for another post.