The Reuben says everything you need to know about Washington House. Not only does the kitchen staff bake the rye bread, it also produces the pastrami, ferments the sauerkraut and whips up the Thousand Island dressing for this capacious sandwich ($12), which comes with a house-made pickle.
That speaks about the dedication to quality at this well-thought-out spot, where evidence of careful planning extends beyond the menu to the drinks, the layout and the decor.
The building that dates from approximately 1871 once was a hotel called Washington House. It’s best known, however, as the home of The Store, the type of neighborhood watering hole that was au courant in the 1970s. More recently, it became the Ridge Tavern.
The key players in the rebirth that led to a May debut have spent time at respected establishments. General Manager Marc Hudacsko is something of an expert at opening restaurants, including Market in New Vernon.
For his part, chef Crawford Koeniger said that when he was growing up in Maplewood, he probably worked “in every single kitchen in that town,” including the 4-star Jocelyne’s which became Lorena’s. He went on to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, and graduated to such operations as the highly regarded Eno Terra in Kingston.
The Washington House effort also includes the Jepsen family. They run Scandic Builders and are partners in Washington House with Mark Marrazza, owner of the Tewksbury Inn in neighboring Hunterdon County.
A lean, clean interior offers bright rooms that once were “rather dark and gloomy,” as Hudacsko described them. The original tin ceiling, barn-style doors and American white oak floors convey a country feel, while nautical accents add interest.