When a man loves his craft, it’s abundantly clear. Speaking with Arthur Ringel, the chef and co-owner of DC Harvest, is inspiring. The humble, soft-spoken chef is passionate about food, sustainability, and health—and has been quietly building an impressive, seasonal menu in a small spot on H Street that also happens to have a great cocktail program.
Chef Arthur Ringel and his brother, Jared, opened DC Harvest on H Street just last year—sourcing sustainable, local produce from the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, smoking and curing incredible, humanely sourced bacon in-house, and serving an incredible brunch, which happens to also be bottomless.
Chef Arthur has an impressive culinary resume, spending time at Vermillion, Hank’s, and BLT Steak, and learning from noteworthy chefs like Todd English.
We sat down to learn about the vision—sustainability and health—behind his first restaurant. And, of course, we had to ask about brunch and that bacon—oh my god, is that bacon good.
Here’s what he had to say.
What is the story behind DC Harvest?
My brother and I have always knew we wanted to own our own restaurant. Early on, our careers in the restaurant industry split—I went to the kitchen and he went to the front of house. We knew we could bring together our skills and be successful. It was just a matter of when.
Four years ago, after I left Hank’s Oyster Bar Dupont, was the time. I thought “we should actually do this, for real.” We began thinking about what kind of concept we wanted, where wanted to be, how we were going to pay for it. After eight months, we finally pulled the trigger.
The concept was an easier decision than the decision to open a restaurant. We wanted our menu to reflect our healthy lifestyle choices—reduced portion sizes, vegetables and whole grains, and less emphasis on large protein portions. We felt that this was good for our customers’ health. And it would allow us to offer great, quality food at a reasonable price. Protein always drives the menu cost at restaurants, so we wanted to avoid this.
As we were formulating our vendors, we decided to stick to domestically sourced produce and local food from as close to the restaurant as possible. The quality is good and it forces me to be seasonal with the menu. Equally important, it keeps the money our customers spend in the community.
So, why H Street?
We went looking for a space—eventually found StreetSense. We came to H Street. We learned about all the development in the area—1,000 housing units coming on the market with an H Street address by the end of 2017. This particular block was ideal because of the Whole Foods across the street—we knew the Whole Foods audience was the exact target customer our restaurant would appeal to.
What’s great about H Street?
H Street is nice because it’s still somewhat of a residential community—even though we’re four to five blocks from Capitol Hill. People walk—their kids, their dogs—and then they come in. We have an incredibly diverse block of restaurants on this block—if you want Ethiopian, you go to Ethiopic. If you want tacos, you go to Chupacabra. If you want farm-to-table, you come to us.
You source primarily local. Tell us about that.
Depending on the season, our menu is up to 85% local, which means we source within the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. The goal was always to stick within the Watershed, which means you can go as far North as New York and as far south as Richmond. I do go a little farther South for the pork—we get that from Heritage Farms Cheshire Pork in North Carolina. That’s for all the bacon we make in-house, and for the chili lemon grass grilled pork belly, which is my favorite entrée right now. All the beef comes from Roseda Farms in Baltimore County, Maryland. I like their products for their slow growth—they don’t use feed lots to finish their animals. They also do a 21-day aging on all their meats before they are cut—allowing us to offer a truly dry aged steak at a reasonable cost. All our seafood is sourced from the Chesapeake Bay. Right now, we’re serving wild Blue Catfish, which is an invasive species without a natural predator in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. By serving the fish and promoting its consumption, we’ll help decrease its consumption and save the environment for its original inhabitants of the Bay that we love: oysters, rockfish, and Blue crab. We all know those three have gotten more and more expensive and less available—so anything we can do to promote catfish is a good thing. The purveyor—ProFish—also donates a portion of the sales of Blue Catfish to charity.
When did this appreciation for sustainability come about?
It started when I worked at Vermillion in Old Town with Chef Bobby Beard. He’s a native of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, he had developed a relationship with the Mennonite community back in 2006-2007 to bring in fresh produce to the restaurant. Everything the Mennonite Community grows is organic, but they chose not to register with USDA because they don’t feel like paying and it costs them too much money. So, it’s cheaper for a restaurant purveyor to buy from them, but it’s the same quality.
We were using extremely high-quality products and really unique varietals—like using multi-colored baby carrots rather than just orange carrots. We started using different varieties of mint—chocolate mint, pineapple mint. They would often just bring us a few bunches of whatever they had—like heirloom tomatoes.
As I moved on to other restaurants, I took those relationships with me. I also have a relationship with Tuskarora Co Op growers, a certified organic co-op of 30 farms that only do certified organic produce. They come together at New Morning Farms: the co-op collects, markets, and packages all the products and drives them down to DC for the restaurants to purchase. Everything we’ve received is less than two days out of the ground. This system forces me to be in season. Tuskarora ran out of tomatoes on October 1, so I had to take tomatoes off the menu on October 1.
How does your sustainability enhance the restaurant?
It forces me to be seasonal. By eating produce that’s in season and using products that are grown sustainably, you get more nutrition, due to less travel costs and items picked closer to their ripeness. Seasonal and local purchasing keeps the money in the economy. If we keep the money in our local economy, everyone wins. It allows us to be more self sustaining from an economic perspective. It allows our customers to experience new things. New vegetables and new protein—our customers try new things. Right now, my best selling side dish is the parsnips and turnips, which surprised me. Here, I can’t give away broccoli. And, inherently, when you get items that are picked two or three days ago, the items taste better. An example is this week’s candy crisp apples, I got them the day after they were picked. They’re insane. They’re just beautiful. They’re small and don’t have the need to store products. Best flavor and nutrition.
You make the bacon in house. Tell me about that.
Last New Year’s Eve, I was making a variation on the classic French frissé salad—with a poached egg and bacon. I have a smoker here at the restaurant, and I thought “Let’s give it a shot. Let’s try it.” So, I fired it up and started making bacon in house. I tried a few different farms, and I came to the product from Cheshire Farms. It’s humanely raised, all-natural pork. And it was a hit. The first batch, I just made one belly. I chose to dry cure it for flavor. It’s a longer process, but it leaves a better flavor versus wet brine-ing the belly, which is how commercial bacon is prepared. It’s dry cured for 8 days with salt, brown sugar, and secret spices. After that, you need to smoke the bacon. I chose the flavor of cherry—instead of Applewood, pecan, mesquite, hickory. But, hickory and mesquite are too strong.
Applewood was redundant, and pecan is expensive. Cherry, I’d used before, and I thought it would add good flavor. Just by experimenting, the bacon turned out to be very, very good. We decided why not make this for brunch, instead of buying it. It went along with our ethos of keeping whatever we could in house.
Today, I personally hand slice every piece of bacon in house—it gives you a thicker slice and that great texture. It’s been a runaway hit at brunch—now I make four to six bellies a week, just for the bacon. It’s in our Monterey Jack bacon doughnuts.
We make a sweet-and-sour bacon jam to accompany our cheese plate. We offer it with our burgers and turkey at brunch. We now fold it into our pancakes—to get that sweet salty thing that you love. We also sell it to go to our customers who can take pre-sliced bacon home to cook. It’s $10 for a pack.
Tell me about your culinary journey to get here.
After attending Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, I graduated in September of 1999. I did an internship with Capital Restaurant Concepts (Georgia Brown’s, J. Pauls, and Paolo’s), I joined them as Sous Chef under Chef Neal Langermann at Georgia Brown’s in October of 1999 to begin my career here in D.C.
After one year under Chef Langermann, I knew I needed to improve my actual cooking skills, I decided to go back and cook on the line. I didn’t think my skills were up to speed to lead a team better. Then, I went to Olive’s under Chef Dimanino, and did four years as a line cook. He took me under his wing, up to the position of Roundsmen. I worked everybody’s station on their days off, so I was able to learn and experience every piece of the restaurant’s kitchen.
Then I went to Boston to work under Chef Todd English at Figs. I was quickly promoted to Chef du Cuisine at the Figs in Chestnut Hill. After a year, the restaurant was sold. So, I came back to Washington, and ended up at Vidalia with Chef Jeff Boubin and Sous Chef RJ Cooper.
After that, I went to work at Vermillion with Chef Bobby Beard, we’d worked together at Olive’s so it was great to work together again.
I only decided to leave that position to join BLT Steak. Then, I received my first opportunity to become an Executive Chef, at Napoleon Bistro for the Popal family. I’m incredibly grateful to them for the opportunity to drive their programs.
About a year-and-a-half later, I had the opportunity to work with Chef Jamie Leeds at her flagship restaurant in Hank’s. She’s a pioneering chef and restauranteur in the Washington, D.C., area. And I find that I’m very proficient in seafood cookery and I wanted to expand my skills and knowledge in that area. After assisting her with the expansion of Hank’s Dupont, we doubled its size, added an in-house charcuterie, and cheese program. I was making my own duck ham and lomo in house!—it took four months. It turned out really well.
So tell me about the difference and being a chef owner?
After working so hard for so many other people, I took the time off, researched, studied, made all the vendor contacts I needed to source our food.
I was able to make my own kitchen: I chose all the equipment in the kitchen. I laid out the kitchen to match the menus.
On a day to day, we print the menu in-house daily, so I have the flexibility to adapt to what people are ordering. It allows to be more flexible to customer demands and requests.
Of course, it’s definitely more hours. More challenges.
Bloody Marys or mimosas?
Mimosas. I prefer blood orange—I’ve always been a fan of that. Or, tangerine. I’m not a fan of tomato juice—but I am a fan of vodka.
Brunch in or out?
I’d prefer to go out if I wasn’t cooking it every weekend—I’ve cooked every Saturday and Sunday since we opened!
If you do go out to brunch here in D.C., where would you go?
Bourbon Steak is pretty good. Georgia Brown’s—where I used to work a long time ago—is a nice, old traditional D.C. spot with great jazz and a nice mix of customers.
What’s your favorite dish to cook for brunch?
Right now, it’s gotta be pancakes. I’m proud of what we’re serving—a whole-grain, spelt buttermilk pancake. We chose to serve that with the sorghum syrup. Sorghum is a great alternative to maple syrup—I’m not a fan of overly sweet breakfast items.
So, what’s the difference between sorghum and maple syrup?
Sorghum is a grass-like sugar cane, so the juice is extracted, then reduced. A very simple process to maple syrup. Sorghum is a sustainable product—because it’s so fast-growing that it’s renewable. Maple trees are not as quickly renewable. They’re worried there’s going to be a shortage come spring.
From the restaurant side, it’s one third of the price.
From the health perspective, it doesn’t spike your glycemic index as much.
If you had to invite five people to brunch, who would they be?
If they were dead or alive, here’s my list:
- Frank Lloyd Wright. I used to study architecture and I’ve always admired his work.
- Alice Waters, a pioneer in the farm-to-table movement.
- My great-grandfather, Max, because he passed away before I was five. I would love to understand his story and his immigration from Hungary to the United States.
- My mom, because I miss her since she passed away 12 years ago.
- Chris Cosentino, from Cockscomb, in San Francisco—because he’s extremely innovative and pushing the boundaries in terms of what proteins Americans consume. That’s something we need to do more of as center-of-the-plate proteins become more expensive and out of consumers’ reach due to high cost these days.
BitchBiz: Bitches Who Brunch partners with DC Harvest. While this article was written independently by Bitches Who Brunch, we do receive compensation from the company.