“All people’s a mad scientist,” Cronenberg mentioned, in all probability to an enormous speaking beetle, “and life is their lab.”
Combat Membership began life as a pandemic-era pop-up inside Beuchert’s Saloon, serving up large, sloppy, sneaky-clever takeaway sandwiches at a time after we had been all searching for one thing tasty we might eat wherever however a restaurant. Combat Membership is now a stand-alone operation, tucked into the previous Hank’s on the Hill house, the place, very similar to the characters within the novel from which the enterprise borrows its title, the group continues to insurgent in opposition to the numbing strictures of society. Or not less than in opposition to the drained expectations of a sandwich store.
Nothing is what it appears at Combat Membership. The banh mi is just not a traditional banh mi — you realize, a mini-baguette layered with Vietnamese mayo, pâté, meats, pickled veggies, ringlets of jalapeño and a scattering of cilantro — a thought-about collision of textures and tastes. No, the Combat Membership model is only a collision. Chef and co-owner Andrew Markert grafts Chinese language shrimp toast onto a Vietnamese banh mi with an utility of a Philippine-style crab fats sauce, the latter fortified with sufficient crab meat to resemble a form of pâté.
I used to be fascinated by Markert’s shrimp toast banh mi from the second I noticed it on the menu. The sandwich dares to double down on carbs, the so-called unhealthy sort, in defiance of all issues holy, or not less than entire grain. I ordered this sucker twice. I nonetheless don’t get it. Nothing pops for me; the sandwich feels weighed down by its personal ingenuity.
However you realize what? It doesn’t matter. I could not love the shrimp toast banh mi, however I really like what it represents: a fearlessness within the face of conference. A willingness to comply with your ardour no matter what anybody thinks, least of all a meals critic. Markert likes banh mis and shrimp toast, and he loves the combo collectively. Possibly he’s proper. Possibly this Frankenwich will turn out to be his “Nevermind,” first panned, later beloved, finally a traditional.
Markert is the hyperlink between Combat Membership, the pop-up at Beuchert’s, and its bricks-and-mortar successor. He’s mastermind of the menus which have graced each locations. With the everlasting location, Markert has partnered with beverage director/co-owner MacKenzie Conway and bar supervisor Cory Holzerland, and collectively, the trio have created a beast that follows its personal impish impulses. The blokes give off the impression, each on-line and in particular person, that they only wish to take the starch out of this stuffed-shirt city.
You’ll discover gnomes on the cabinets, displaying just a little cheek. You’ll discover draft punches and Jell-O photographs on the cocktail menu, the latter in “seasonal flavors.” You’ll discover Hamm’s on the beer record, injecting just a little mid-century nostalgia right into a decidedly fashionable store that describes its sandwiches as “off middle & on level.” You’ll discover common occasions on the restaurant, together with the inaugural Combat Membership Anti-Dedication Ball, a current Valentine’s-themed promotion that mocked the very concept of romance.
Markert’s sandwiches could play quick and unfastened with their inspirations, however the chef clearly has respect for the classics, even when his creations take a look at your capability to choose them up with two fingers. His Primanti Bros. homage options Italians meats, provolone, cabbage slaw and a thick layer of tots (not fries), your entire stack enriched with the runny yolk of a fried egg. His FC Hen Doink is a fried chicken-thigh sandwich by means of hen and waffles, all served on dense housemade maple desserts. His Das Sandwich is a giant breaded pork cutlet smothered with German potato salad, a mixture that ridicules the toasted bun that tries to include it. I misplaced the battle with every of those sandwiches, their contents spilling onto plates and takeaway packing containers. However that didn’t cease me from utilizing a fork, or my fingers, to scoop up each final chunk.
I’ll confess, although, that my most popular sandwiches at Combat Membership have a tendency to carry their form. Markert’s pastrami variation, dubbed Rarebit and Rye, comes filled with browned onions and Welsh rarebit, reworking this deli commonplace into one thing extra candy and opulent. His French dip doesn’t even hassle with the meat; the chef subs roasted oyster and maitake mushrooms for the animal protein after which pairs the fungi with grilled onions, the umami rush so deep and plain that you just received’t miss the meat. His meatball sub, the Mamma Mia, can also be vegetarian, changing the ground-beef orbs with arancini. He then tops the risotto balls with marinara, pickled banana peppers, provolone and parmesan cheese. The stunning sandwich ranks up there with my favorites this yr — any yr, actually.
The snacks, just like the sandwiches, are created as if Markert believes the previous William Blake noticed that the highway of extra results in the palace of knowledge quite than, you realize, angioplasty. His burnt ends flatbread is a hedonist’s paradise, the smoky nuggets of beef accessorized with coleslaw, scallions, fried onions, melted cheddar, barbecue sauce and a gnawing sense of remorse. If his pork cheek nachos are 5 layers of improper, then I don’t wish to be proper. Even the wedge salad lives in a fantasy world of Markert’s creation, the iceberg tower erupting with blue cheese dressing, bacon, tomatoes and, for good measure, every part bagel spice. I couldn’t eat this factor quick sufficient.
Lest you assume Combat Membership is only one stoner joke after one other, I’d wish to level out a easy truth: At current, the menu doesn’t embrace the Inheritor to the BLT, arguably Markert’s masterpiece, a sandwich that landed on my finest sandwiches record in 2021. The chef received’t make it accessible until tomato season. I respect his warning, which underscores one thing maybe not immediately obvious contained in the 4 partitions of Combat Membership: Beneath all of the enjoyable and cleverness, there may be actual intention.
633 Pennsylvania Ave. SE; 202-885-9714; fightclubdc.com.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday by way of Thursday; 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday.
Nearest Metro: Japanese Market, with a brief stroll to the restaurant.
Costs: $4 to $18 for all meals objects on the menu.