The Braddock Inn Brings Back Old Favorite With a New Twists
By April Bartel | Posted on 04.19.16
Humans, like trees, need roots. By connecting to our history we find grounding, strength and nourishment for our souls, and sometimes for our bellies. Carlo and Heather Dan, new owners of The Braddock Inn in Braddock Heights, take this concept to heart. They bought the 113-year-old “camp” in May of 2014 and spent the next 15 months lovingly restoring the Edwardian-era building with the help of family and friends.
They dug into fixing the foundation, crawled through refinishing old hardwood floors and meticulously cleaned the kitchen’s enduring machines. Now they are serving up seasonal fare with eclectic flair.
Established in 1903 by a group of local investors as the Camp Schley Inn boarding house and restaurant, The Braddock Inn is part of the area’s legacy as a resort and entertainment destination. The enterprise passed through a short list of owners while watching the surrounding community boom and wane, rebuild and change. For most, The Braddock Inn isn’t a drive-by find. Long-time residents might know the locale as the old Ski Way or by its proximity to the site of Braddock Heights’ former roller rink and amusement park. But unless you’ve visited during one of its previous incarnations, you have to look for it. At the peak of Alt. U.S. 40, between Middletown and Frederick, it’s a quick turn onto Maryland Avenue and a left onto Schley Avenue at Beachley’s Variety Store. At the end of the road, when you think you’ve missed it among the residential homes, look left and down the slope for the well-manicured building and stony lot.
The Dans fell in love with the place when it was Home at Braddock Inn, enjoying many family dinners in its historic ambiance and befriending previous owner Greg Holson. “We’ve been [coming] here about 13 years,” says Carlo, who grew up in Bethesda. When the Dans heard the place was going up for sale, they seized the opportunity. The Dans and chef Sam Neubauer work as a tight-knit crew with plenty of industry experience behind them, covering management, service, and food prep. Carlo, a culinary school grad, and Sam worked together at VOLT and Family Meal restaurants in Frederick, as well as at Jack Rose Dining Saloon in D.C. Heather Dan says that their skills are a balance: “We have a good trifecta working together.”
Since reopening the doors in September, they’ve focused on letting the menu shine, putting their own spin on traditional favorites. The atmosphere is relaxed. There’s no worry about using the correct fork, but their commitment to fresh, scratch-made food is hardcore.
“We probably make about 95 percent of the things on our menu in-house,” says Carlo. That includes breads and biscuits, bacon, sausages, ricotta, most pastas, mayo and marmalade. He’s only half-joking when he says, “We don’t make our own ketchup yet. Maybe this summer.” Even humble offerings, like scrapple, get the same thoughtful preparation. They use duck meat for the savory slabs during spring/summer and hearty venison during colder months. Expanded charcuterie efforts are in the works for coming months.
Chef Neubauer, who learned his craft on the job, credits mentors throughout his career for instilling a love of great food and a dedicated work ethic. He’ll hit the farmers’ market whenever possible. “In the spring we’ll forage for ramps,” he says, noting the superior flavor of in-season produce. “We use king oyster mushrooms that are farmed here in Middletown.” Even the beer on tap is a “nano-brew,” courtesy of fledgling business, Steinhardt Brewing, up the street.
Family traditions pop up on the menu, too. The shrimp and grits, made with an antebellum heritage-variety of corn, is a nod to Neubauer’s southern grandmother. Biscuits ‘n’ sausage gravy, fried chicken, meatloaf, and Carolina-style ‘cue also make an appearance. Carlo Dan’s Cuban heritage inspired The Braddock Inn’s popular arepas appetizer. The dish tops little bites of griddled corn cake with bright pink shreds of pickled cabbage, chipotle aioli, and a choice of either smoky pork carnitas or veg-friendly marinated eggplant escabeche. House-made chorizo, a Spanish-style sausage, makes its way into fresh ravioli with pearl onions in a sharp Parmesan cream sauce, while the classic Cuban sandwich gets a twist with capicola ham, chilies, and orange Dijon. Selections evolve with new ideas and product availability.
Campfire icons mark a number of offerings. They indicate a kiss of smoldering hard-wood flavor from The Braddock Inn’s oft-employed industrial smoker. Beef brisket and pork roasts will bask in the hot vapor for 12 hours. Alternately, burgers, steaks, vegetables and cheeses might be cold-smoked, a process that adds
a smoky bacon-like essence without cooking the item. One benefit, notes Heather Dan, is that carnivores who crave their selections medium-rare can still have them cooked to order.
“That’s the beautiful part,” says Neubauer about flexing his creativity with food and flavor. “Recipes don’t have to be set in stone.” Likewise, he can readily accommodate vegans, gluten-free eaters and other special diet needs, especially with an advance call, and there is a kids’ menu.
Next on the agenda is finishing The Braddock Inn’s lower level as a casual, evening venue with a modern feel. The third floor will be banquet space, so there’s plenty of work ahead. It’s still a new adventure for the Dans and Neubauer, but they’re already getting a taste of success. “I’m surprised,” says Carlo Dan, “people will come for dinner one day then come back for brunch the next.” He enjoys interacting with guests. “They’ll shake my hand and say that this was the best meal they’ve had in a long time. It’s the reason to keep going.”
Under new ownership, this grand old lady of the mountaintop is ready for the next century, too.