At J. Hollinger’s Waterman’s Chophouse in downtown Silver Spring, I ask George Manolatos, the director of operations of Hollinger Group Restaurants, which cut is used for the steak frites—the simple dish of grilled beef, herbed garlic butter and french fries that’s ubiquitous on American and French bistro menus—and receive a pleasing response: teres major. From the chuck, that muscle is almost as tender as, but much more flavorful than, much pricier filet mignon. (Butchers sometimes call it the petite tender.)
I’ve not had a finer steak frites than at J. Hollinger’s, which opened in the Lee Building in May. My knife, unlike with chewier cuts often used for the dish (such as hanger, flat iron or flank), glides effortlessly through the meat, whose umami beefiness melds beautifully with the sweetness and pungency of its garlic-parsley butter. Chef John Manolatos, George’s brother, gets the crispy frites right, too, because he makes them in-house instead of shortcutting with frozen fries. (He soaks the fries in water for two days, blots them dry and par-cooks them in 325-degree canola oil. Then they’re fried to order at 350 degrees to crisp them.)
Jerry Hollinger, who owns The Daily Dish in Silver Spring and The Dish and Dram in Kensington, says the owners of the Lee Building approached him and another restaurateur in mid-2019 to submit a proposal for an upscale restaurant in their building. “I felt like a seafood and steakhouse concept would do well, considering what was there before,” says Hollinger, referring to the steakhouse that operated there between 2006 to 2018, first as Ray’s the Classics, and later as The Classics after a change in ownership.
J. Hollinger’s seats 130, including 18 at a curved peninsula bar in a room that offers high-top seating and a view of the kitchen. The main dining room is a study in cool colors. Lining one wall are six large, U-shaped booths upholstered with tufted gray and blue velveteen in a cloud-like pattern. Sheer gold curtains drawn back on both sides of each booth are elegant (albeit impractical) decorations. Sculptural trees fashioned from copper wire, a built-in wall fireplace, abstract paintings from Chevy Chase-based artist Jenny Wilson, and woodwork created by a Mennonite woodworker in Pennsylvania add touches of refinement to decor that strikes the right balance between casual and upscale. (It’s refreshing to see carpeting instead of concrete flooring.)
Hollinger, who is 55 and a resident of Silver Spring’s North Woodside neighborhood, has a winning chef in John Manolatos, 47, who was born and raised in Silver Spring and graduated from John F. Kennedy High School. “I always wanted to cook from the age of 14, watching Yan Can Cook and The Frugal Gourmet on television,” says the chef. At age 20, he scored a job as a prep cook and dishwasher at Cashion’s Eat Place when it opened in Washington, D.C., in 1995. With James Beard Award-winning chef Ann Cashion mentoring him, he rose to executive chef by 1999 and then bought the restaurant with George in 2007. In 2016, the business was struggling, and Cashion took over the lease. John Manolatos still owns Pop’s SeaBar, a boardwalk-inspired seafood eatery he opened next door to Cashion’s in 2014.
Like Cashion, Manolatos’ hallmark is using what’s available seasonally and not indulging in elaborate manipulations. That’s fine with Hollinger, himself a chef, who has for years been making weekly visits to produce auctions in his native Lancaster County in Pennsylvania. A trip there in mid-July yielded heirloom tomatoes, zucchini, Asian eggplant, farm eggs, peaches, sweet cherries and blackberries. That weekend, Manolatos put Andalusian gazpacho, tomato and feta salad (a nod to his Greek heritage), dorade fillets with zucchini, and fruit crostata on the menu.
My late spring and early summer visits benefit from Manolatos’ use-’em-if-you-got-’em strategy. A thick, ultra-tender, apple cider-brined grilled pork chop comes atop sauteed kale, fresh English peas and delicate lemon spaetzle (little flour dumplings). It’s festooned with fresh morels, prized for their smoky, nutty earthiness, and a rich brown cream sauce. Ora King salmon arrives on a bed of local greens, pickled radishes and roasted carrots.
Good sourcing is the starting point for many a dish at J. Hollinger’s. For one starter, Manolatos dips plump Chesapeake oysters in buttermilk and then cornmeal mixed with flour before deep-frying. For another, sweet Virginia Chesapeake clams take center stage on housemade spaghetti; the butter, red pepper flakes and garlicky toasted breadcrumbs play supporting roles in this star turn. (Superlative raw materials, alas, can’t save a wan Manhattan-style clam chowder.)
Another appetizer appeals for its whimsy: a surf and turf riff of fried shrimp toast triangles alongside a tender chunk of barbecued pork belly. Its accompaniments—kimchi with daikon radish and cabbage and a “mostarda” made with fresh tomatoes, mustard seeds and dried mustard—make the unusual pairing come together in a dance of sweetness, fattiness, heat, salt and acid.
Now to steaks. J. Hollinger’s offers an 8-ounce Wagyu culotte ($32), a 6-ounce Black Angus tenderloin ($38), a 14-ounce bone-in Kansas City strip ($48) and a 22-ounce cowboy rib-eye ($75). These are garnished with a grilled scallion and some roasted garlic cloves. Side dishes, such as mac and cheese and spinach sauteed with golden raisins and pine nuts, are à la carte. On a first visit, sauces, such as housemade steak sauce, béarnaise and red wine demi-glace, were à la carte at $4 a pop. On the next, steaks came with the housemade steak sauce. (I’d prefer a sauce and side dish of the diner’s choice factored into the steaks’ prices instead of nickel-and-dime pricing.) I can attest to the strip’s bold, heady flavor (it’s dry-aged for 48 days) and Manolatos’ on-point béarnaise, but my money is still on the $28 steak frites.
Bavarian lime cheesecake with a buttery shortbread crust and a layer of tart lime curd is a lovely way to end dinner at J. Hollinger’s, as is an uber-rich bar of peanut butter mousse, chocolate cake and fudgy chocolate ganache. The sleepers, though, are the homemade ice creams and sorbets. The sampler features tiny scoops of three ice creams (coffee, chocolate and white chocolate peanut butter) and three sorbets (dark chocolate, passionfruit and raspberry). Another sweet bonus at Hollinger’s is free parking in the lot on Georgia Avenue next to the Lee Building. The code to enter it comes with a Resy reservation online or from calling the restaurant for it.
J. Hollinger’s Waterman’s Chophouse
8606 Colesville Road, Silver Spring, 301-328-0035, jhollingers.com
Favorite dishes: Shrimp toast and pork belly with citrus mostarda; housemade spaghetti with clams; steak frites; grilled trumpet mushrooms; apple cider-brined pork chop with morel cream sauce and lemon spaetzle; assorted housemade sorbets and ice creams
Prices: Appetizers: $9 to $19; Steaks: $28 (steak frites) to $75 (22-ounce cowboy rib-eye); Non-steak entrees: $19 to $34; Desserts: $8 to $12
Libations: Mixologist Alex Georgiadis has put together a list of six playful craft cocktails ($12 to $15), such as an applewood smoked “odd” fashioned made with rye, maple, honey and Angostura bitters, and a gin and tonic made with purple Empress 1908 gin and elderflower-flavored tonic. Two classic New Orleans cocktails, a Sazerac and a Vieux Carré, hit the $20 mark. Assistant manager and sommelier Timothy Clune has curated an intriguing collection of wines that favor Old World (Italy, Spain and especially France) offerings. The 48 bottles on the wine list range from $44 to $242. There are 18 wines by the glass from $10 to $17.
Service: Well informed and pleasant
David Hagedorn is the restaurant critic for Bethesda Magazine.
This story appears in the September/October 2022 issue of Bethesda Magazine.