Published in USA Today
The story began in 2002, when friends Drew Kim, Perry Smith, and Mark and Ty Neal found a vacant building in Chinatown. It stood empty for so long, a six-foot tree had laid claim to the slender two-story building that “looked like a matchbox,” says Kim.
Named “Best New Restaurant” by the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington (RAMW) in its first year, the Matchbox empire has since grown to five locations throughout the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area plus one rogue location in sunny Palm Springs, Calif.
At first glance, each location offers the standout dishes that made Matchbox famous — Angus beef sliders piled high with ringlets of fried onions; and thin-crust, wood-fired pizzas. Order one of 14 unique pizzas like the sweet and savory prosciutto/Black Mission fig or carnivorous pepperoni-Italian sausage-bacon, and the hand-built, wood-burning brick oven will fire up that bad boy at 700°F to hot, bubbly perfection in 2-3 minutes flat. Pizza naturally makes a cameo at brunch, under the guise of scrambled eggs, sausage and Gouda, threatening to overshadow the cast iron cinnamon rolls or Bloody Mary burger.
Look closer at each location and you’ll find the distinct personalities of each chef-driven menu. Catering to the neighborhood it lives in, Matchbox changes things up seasonally with oversized salads, rustic pastas, juicy meats and fresh seafood to keep regulars on their toes — all while keeping large groups, families and self-professed foodies satisfied.
“We’ve always been steps above bar food,” says Kim, “but we’ve never wanted the white tablecloth-type of dining.” Save room for dessert, as favorites like sugar-dusted cinnamon doughnuts and Kahlua crème for dipping have been known to draw murmurs of unbridled joy.
While you wait for your piece of the pie, take a selection from the list of whimsical cocktails with names like “Match-hatten” and “Ginger Snap,” plus beer and wines priced so you can try some really great selections.
Look for design details at Chinatown such as matchboxes that have traveled from around the world to decorate your table. Or ask for one of the floating booths at 14th Street so you can people-watch from the sky. Shuffleboard tables from the Capitol Hill location’s days as a vending machine company re-appear as bartops, while Rockville’s sleek wooden bar hints at its former life as a Douglas fir that hung up high in the 25-foot ceiling. And that six-foot tree that stood in Chinatown? It lives on, on the labels of Matchbox’s private label wine, available at all locations. Ask for a glass.
Locals know that the wait at all Matchbox locations can be arduous, so be sure to call for reservations and convenient call-ahead seating. Spacious locations are ideal for families and large groups.