The insider's scoop on food, travel & southern culture
You would think chef Robert Wiedmaier was opening a chain of gyms in the region with the number of folks flocking to his establishments to get their plumped up mussels (yes, that’s mussels, not muscles). But if you go the mussel route with his succulent Penn Cove mollusks then you will certainly stay fit!
The first Mussel Bar & Grille came to Bethesda, MD in 2010, followed by a second in Atlantic City, NJ and NOW the third in the vibrant Ballston neighborhood of Arlington, VA, projected to open Thursday, August 8, where it inhabits the revamped corner once home to the iconic retro-futuristic Bob Peck Chevrolet Dealership. Past the recreated jutting overhang, guests enter into an intriguingly surreal space filled with the same retro-modern anachronistic charm. Winding past the industrial jungle of painted steel cargo containers – which have been repurposed as individual bathrooms – and below twisting overhead ropes fused to bare bulbs, the dining room opens up into a multi-level, ship-like space illuminated by the geometric windowpanes bowing across the restaurant’s front-façade.
Wiedmaier’s offbeat Brussels dive-bar-meets-raw-American industrial look represents a close collaboration with Hapstak Demetriou (the design team behind the other two Mussel Bars, Brasserie Beck and Wildwood Kitchen). Raw and unprocessed materials give the space an edge – showing up in unexpected places from the construction crane purse hooks at the bar, to the clean, linear stretch of the stainless steel counters along the open kitchen.
The austere industrial elements are countered with warmer touches that nod to Mussel Bar & Grille’s Belgian roots and playful side. Opal-colored subway tiles create a cheerful backdrop to the otherwise sleek kitchen; supple caramel-colored leather banquettes are framed by wainscoted planks of rich rustic wood and white oak tabletops; custom suspended light fixtures adorned with bottles of Wiedmaier’s own Belgian beer, Antigoon, cast a soft light on guests below; and a monumental antique Belgian train clock adds a hint of whimsy and European flair.
The semi-enclosed bar is framed by a soaring wood and glass refrigerated beer case, showcasing the comprehensive selection of 100+ Belgian and craft beers—not to mention those on tap that are pumped through hundreds of feet of colorful beer lines enclosed in a floor-to-ceiling glass “control center” exposing the intricate nucleus of the beer operation to curious guests. More spirited playfulness comes with Mussel Bar’s innovative selection of cocktails, ranging from the “NoVa” with Titos Vodka, Hand-squeezed Grapefruit, house-made Ginger Syrup and Cinnamon, to the “Greenbrier” with Smooth Ambler Whitewater Vodka, Strawberry Purée, Basil Syrup, and house-made Lime Rhubarb Bitters.
The central bar seamlessly integrates the dining and lounge experience, making Mussel Bar & Grille a comfortable spot for an after work drink or a lengthy meal with friends. The menu is complete with a tempting selection of delectable domestic Mussels; savory Brick Oven Fired Pizzas flavored with local Virginia produce and artisan meats such as Wild Mushrooms, Arugula, Goat Cheese and Spicy Lamb; seasonal Soups, Salads and Sandwiches; and robust offerings from the grill that include four all-natural premium beef cuts, grilled upon order with Sea Salt & Peppercorn, Bordelaise Sauce along with leaner options such as Short Smoked Atlantic Salmon, light yet meaty Grilled Swordfish; and Spiced & Grilled Rare Ahi Tuna.
Mussel Bar & Grille will be open Tuesday through Sunday (and starting on Mondays after Labor Day). It will accommodate 244 inside and 54 outside. Be sure to work out your timing to come claim your seat!