Venue Review: Capital Club 16
Don't let the name fool you. Capital Club 16 is not a private club. It's named for the building in which it's located, a historic structure that in turn gets its name from the men's club that thrived there in the 1930s. And, while the restaurant that opened on the ground floor in June is open to the public, its name is a fitting tribute to the era it evokes.
"Our idea was to create a timeless, traditional American look that fits the style of the art deco building," says Jake Wolf, who owns the restaurant with his wife, Shannon. To that end, the couple furnished the dining room with period details including vintage-look wallpaper; marble-topped tables; a mahogany bar salvaged from Lüchow's, a now-shuttered Manhattan restaurant that served German fare for a century; and the art deco chairs that once graced the dining room of a Horn & Hardart automat.
The New York elements are no accident. Jake Wolf, who trained at the CIA before working in kitchens from Atlanta to Munich, most recently was chef for several years at Zum Schneider in Manhattan.
The menu, which reads like a travelogue of Wolf's globetrotting culinary career, is well-suited to the setting. The bulk of the offering consists of German and traditional American fare that would have been familiar to members of the original Capital Club: Gentleman's Steak Dinner, daily fish specials such as pan-fried trout with brown butter, a first-rate pork schnitzel sandwich. A recent soup du jour was the chef's soul-satisfying take on a goulash, chunky with slow-cooked beef and redolent of onion and smoked paprika.
Lace-crusted, German-style potato pancakes, served with a generous dollop of house-made applesauce, are a winning starter. Kielbasa red hots are another rib-sticking first-course option, though the molasses paprika sauce in which the spicy chunks of sausage are bathed is too-sweet overkill to my taste.
I prefer the rustic simplicity of the butcher's plate, an entree platter of grilled sausages (delicate weisswurst, rustic bratwurst and savory, pinkie-thin Nürnberg sausage), smoked pork chop and crusty pork belly. None of the meats is house-cured (in this age of artisanal charcuterie, Wolf remains loyal to Schaller & Weber, the fifth-generation New York institution that supplied the sausages for his kitchen at Zum Schneider), but they're all lip-smacking good. Rounding out the platter are the customary German sides: potatoes (which the menu describes as roasted but appeared to be boiled when I ordered the dish), sautéed apples, sauerkraut and a couple of house-made mustards (sweet and Düsseldorf-style hot).
But don't get the idea that the menu is nothing more than an homage to our meat-and-potatoes past. Beef brisket sliders are savory proof that Wolf is capable of keeping up with trends (and for a bargain $3.50 a pair at that). Shrimp skewers, served over a crispy grits cheese cake, are a nod to the chef's Southern sojourn. On his Sunday brunch menu, you'll find sausage gravy over biscuits (a tradition passed down from his Midwestern father's side of the family) cheek by jowl with challah French toast and eggs Norwegian.
Shannon Wolf makes a few contributions of her own to the menu, directly and indirectly. The Crispy Garden Skillet, which serves up seasonal vegetables and kraut over crisp-bottomed rice in a hot cast-iron skillet, topped with a fried egg and accompanied by a spicy-sweet paprika dressing, is her husband's tribute to her vegetarian lifestyle. Jake Wolf winks at her fondness for French fries by naming his fresh thyme- and sea-salt-dusted rendition Shanny fries. And, though caring for the young couple's 8-month-old son occupies much of her time, Shannon Wolf herself bakes the excellent Dotchie's pound cake, which is named for the Eastern North Carolina grandmother who gave her the recipe.
You might even say that Capital Club 16 is a labor of love for Jake and Shannon, though they're clearly working hard to make the restaurant a financial success. "We wanted to create a restaurant that feels like it belongs here," Jake Wolf says. Looks like they've succeeded.