Ballston is getting a little more Belgian, thanks to the opening of Mussel Bar and Grille (800 N. Glebe Road) this week.
Today and tomorrow the restaurant is holding its soft opening for invited guests and will open to the public for dinner on Thursday. Friday will be the first day it will open for lunch.
This is the third Mussel Bar and Grille location, joining others in Bethesda and Atlantic City. Owner and chef Brian McBride hopes to expand to as many as 10 locations. He thought Arlington seemed perfect for the newest restaurant.
“This Arlington area seems to be booming,” McBride said. “This is going to be a fun spot. It’s designed to be a neighborhood gathering place. It’s not pretentious, it’s very casual.”
As the restaurant’s name implies, mussels are the house specialty. Mussel Bar and Grille has exclusive rights in the D.C. area to Penn Cove mussels. That variety comes from the oldest mussel farm in the United States, and McBride says they have plumper, sweeter meat.
“We pay a lot more for those mussels than the standard P.E.I.s [Prince Edward Island mussels],” said McBride, “Just so we can have the best mussels we can get.”
Other seafood dishes include Maryland crabcakes and lobster rolls. The restaurant also offers options for customers wishing to munch on something other than seafood, such as brick oven fired pizzas, steak frites and a lamb meatball sandwich.
Chefs at Mussel Bar and Grille concentrate on old fashioned food preparation techniques, according to McBride. He notes that although each dish will look modern, no shortcuts will be taken, unlike other chain restaurants.
Along with the mussels, the restaurant will focus on Belgian beers. The bar offers 18 beers on tap and more than 100 others in bottles. Bartenders will be able to suggest beer selections that complement each customer’s dish.
“The goal is to introduce as many different kinds of Belgian beer to Arlington as we possibly can,” said McBride.
Bar Manager Adam Jarvis pointed out that the restaurant also serves up specialty drinks highlighting the time when the Bob Peck Chevrolet dealership sat on the land. The drinks bear the names of Chevy models like El Camino, Bel Air and Camaro.
“This is a big thing, to keep the Arlington community, and the history of Arlington as well,” said Jarvis.
Mussel Bar and Grille will have happy hour specials every day of the week from 3:00-6:30 p.m.
“I think people should be happy on the weekend,” McBride said. “It shouldn’t just be a Monday through Friday thing.”
The goal is to accommodate everyone at the restaurant, from bar goers to business people to families. Customers can sit in the dining area, order at the bar or enjoy the outdoor seating.
“Customers rule,” said McBride. “We don’t set too many rules.”
One rule the restaurant does abide by, however, is limiting the number of customers allowed in at one time for the first few weeks. McBride said it gives staff a chance to acclimate to the new system and smooth out any issues. He expects to go “full blown” in September and will begin offering weekend brunch at that time. For now, the restaurant is open Tuesday through Sunday, and will begin serving on Mondays after Labor Day.