Multiple Locations in DC, MD, and VA (http://www.matchboxrestaurants.com/)
* and 1/2 (Satisfactory/Good)
Matchbox, the original, opened in Chinatown in 2002. That original location remains today; now with six sister restaurants spread throughout the District, Maryland, and Virginia (with a single outpost in Palm Springs, California). The 14th Street outpost, where our most recent dinner took place, maintains strong influences from the original: a long countertop bar, plenty of wood accents and tables, and an open kitchen featuring a wood burning oven. Similar still: the consistency of the food; holding strong more than a decade after the original.
Having frequented several of the Matchbox outposts over the years, when a friend and his
wife traveled to the District and needed a casual place to catch a later dinner, I figured Matchbox would be a nice fit. We began our meal with a couple of homey appetizers: the
Ginormous Meatball and the Tomato Mozzarella Arancini. Served alongside a spicy tomato sauce, the meatball, comprised of a mixture of veal, beef and pork, was moist. But even with its accompanying sauce and bread, the meatball lacked that wow factor. It didn’t help that the supposedly “ginormous” meatball was smaller than what you’d find at most family-style Italian joints. Meanwhile, the arancini were lightly battered and crisped well, with a still-tender risotto filling. The fresh tomato sauce served as a great counterbalance – with a solid acidic punch – to the fried risotto.
Service throughout our meal was friendly and attentive. It continued as we received our entrees: four takes on pizza. While I decided to split my pizza between the Pesto Chicken and the Spicy Meatball, my wife opted for the Prosciutto White. Our dining companions chose the Q Special and the Sausage and Onion pies. The pesto made for a savory and herby pizza, though the chicken swung towards the dry side. On the other half, the spicy meatball lived up to its name, with a slow-burn tomato sauce which played nicely with the generously applied protein. Additionally, although the restaurant makes a point to note that “some charring or blistering of the crust is to be expected,” I still found the underside of the crust a little limp under the weight of the toppings. My wife’s pizza, with beautifully thin slices of prosciutto, made for a photogenic look, but she noted that the larger pieces were troublesome to eat. Overall, a tasty pie, and one that utilized garlic to its full effect (pass the mints, please). And though I did not get a chance to try our companions’ pizzas, they both noted their satisfaction.
With so much competition and turnover in the D.C. restaurant scene currently, Matchbox stands out: a small franchise that continues to expand throughout the DMV. A good deal of that success directly correlates to the consistency of the food and service they continue to offer. Bottom line: Matchbox continues its trend of delivering solidly tasty food, and appears well on its way to 15 years in the business.
Atmosphere: The location where we dined – 14th Street, NW – features a long bar, high top tables, booths, and tables scattered on the first floor, and additional seating on the second floor. The kitchen, and its hot brick oven, is open to the dining room. Service at Matchbox is friendly, but not overbearing, and leans on the casual side. The establishment has the laid back feel of the neighborhood bar and restaurant you can head to for a drink and a bite before the big game, after a long day of work, or just somewhere to go on a weekend.
Noise: Though we went on an off-night (Wednesday, 8:00pm), there were still a fair amount of tables sat, and folks sitting at the high tops and bar. Noise was moderate, but could easily tilt towards loud during a Friday or Saturday night with the full hustle and bustle of the bar.
Recommended Dishes: Variety of Pizzas, Tomato Mozzarella Arancini
$$ – $25 to $50 for dinner for two