Housed in three quaint Victorian-era row houses on a tree-lined street in Dupont Circle’s historic neighborhood, the Tabard Inn, one of the oldest operating hotels in the district, celebrates its 100th anniversary this year.
An ornate maze of halls, staircases, and lounges feature antique furnishings, eclectic works of art, and low-slung, wood-beamed ceilings that shuttle you back to the Inn’s heyday as a gathering place for the area’s socialites and creatives. The private dining room, with monochrome floors and subdued lighting, is ideal for date nights and romantic occasions.
By contrast, the shaded outdoor patio, complete with ivy-covered redbrick walls and metal sculptures, offers diners a more relaxed setting. “When COVID-19 hit, we changed our seating to have all the tables six feet apart,” says executive chef Cliff Wharton, describing the intimate dining area and ivy-lined outdoor patio. “It just looks so great that we haven’t moved things back.”
The century-old hotel has been employee-owned since 1993, and the results are evident throughout the Tabard Inn. “We do what’s called the greater game of business. It helps us interact with the staff, and they can get an idea of how we cost the food out and it gives them a chance to be creative,” Wharton says of the menu’s special dishes that are created by the Inn’s employee-owners.
As a former heavy metal rock drummer from Kansas City, Missouri, Wharton spent part of his childhood in the Philippines, his mother’s homeland. He got his start in the restaurant industry washing dishes and bussing tables before meeting his mentor, chef Jeff Tunks, in San Diego. After moving to the district in 1998, Wharton worked at dining stalwarts such as D.C. Coast and Ten Penh before beginning his tenure at the Tabard Inn in 2019.
“I would say the cuisine is rustic,” Wharton says of the longstanding D.C. establishment that’s operated continuously since 1922. “I’ve put a little Asian flair to the menu while still trying to keep the dishes comforting and simple.”
To commemorate the Tabard Inn’s 100th anniversary, Wharton recommends trying three dishes that speak to the restaurant’s rich history.
As one of the oldest dishes on the Tabard Inn menu, Mary’s Berries is a brunch time staple. “It’s a flavored ricotta cheese with an orange, lime, and lemon zest,” he says of the popular weekend order. “It’s topped with raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, finished off with our housemade granola and a drizzle of honey.”
When it comes to menu favorites, Wharton’s is the hoisin-glazed duck breast served atop a parsnip puree—an inventive twist on Peking duck. “It took me a while to think about what I wanted to do with the duck breast,” he explains. A side of spicy pickled cucumber offers just the right hint of acidity. “I finish it off with fried wontons and grilled scallions,” adds Wharton.
Shrimp and pork Lumpia
Those interested in sampling a taste of Wharton’s Filipino heritage can choose from several brunch, bar, and dinner items such as lumpia, a popular Filipino appetizer—and Wharton’s snack of choice. “Every restaurant I’ve been in, I’ve always been able to sneak lumpia onto the menu,” he says of the shrimp-and-pork-filled spring roll. “Because it’s my heritage.”