Walter Mencken 6:15 p.m., Feb. 28
I hadn't tried this downtown gastropub yet for a series of reasons; some good, others not. I won't list them because they're rendered irrelevant now that I've eaten at Proper (795 J Street). Mary Beth went there for brunch a little while back, but I paid a visit during the more conventional dinner hours.
I didn't really know that it was basically inside the complex of the ballpark, so finding it and parking proved to be a little tricky. Considering that, the area is actually a lot better than I would expect. The park has been developed in a very pedestrian friendly way with big sidewalks and green space for walking dogs or letting kids run around.
Proper occupies a segment of the big building that runs along the edge of park. It has been dressed up to look like an old-time English public house. It's an effect that runs skin deep, however, as the pop hits soundtrack; menu of sweet, brightly colored cocktails, and the high-heels and mini-skirts attire of guests and staff alike end up creating a recognizably Gaslamp type environment.
Rather than retiring to unremarkable statues, Proper does manage to distinguish itself in certain, notable ways. The beer list has plenty of good brews. The rotating set of drafts is mostly local stuff and the bottle list has some European favorites like Houblon Chouffe (that Belgian triple with the gnome on it), among others. The aforementioned specialty cocktails, which looked to be a bit overdone, nevertheless contained brand name liquor at reasonable prices.
The menu was where Proper really managed to outdo itself. An order of curry chips ($5.50) was an enormous bowl of fries, thickly cut Kennebec potatoes, and a dish of curry for dunking them. The chips were almost too salty, but not quite and therefore extremely satisfying, and there was plenty of curry.
Equally enormous, an order of pork rinds ($4) filled a basket with crispy chicarrones that had been covered in tangy, cheese dip and reminded me of a snack I got in a TJ bar one time. Not very British, but very very good. I ate nearly the entire basket, restraining myself only out of sheer willpower.
Simple great bar snacks.
The menu has lots of sandwiches and a few entrees as well. I tried a shepherd's pie ($15) that came in a small, cast-iron frying pan. Braised short-ribs had been mixed with vegetables and bound with a thickened stock that tasted of red wine or beer. The filling was good and, well, filling. The mashed potatoes had been piped on top of the pie like cupcake frosting, but they had been worked to a gluey consistency in order to achieve the texture where they could be reliably squeezed out of a piping bag.
A portobello mushroom sandwich ($12), the only vegetarian, came with a nicely dressed salad and a good bun from Sadie Rose bakery.
I liked the look of the kasekrainer sausage ($11) or the foot long chilli dog ($10), both of which boasted house made links and appropriate presentations. I find that the food was much better than I had expected. Despite the less-than-perfect mash, the shepherds pie was really quite flavorful and the staff seemed genuinely concerned with whether I was enjoying my meal. I would say that, despite the potentially crowded location and dubious parking situation, Proper merits a visit for the sake of the food, not just because it happens to be right next to the ballpark.