Mark Bucher, co-owner of Medium Rare, is committed to doing food right. (Along with his partner, Tom Gregg). So much so that he dedicated Medium Rare’s menu to one dish: the perfect steak frites. We frequent both locations (Cleveland Park and Barracks Row) to savor the perfectly cooked steak, crispy fries, and their heavenly steak sauce. At brunch, the menu is expanded to include a Bitch must-have Eggs Benedict, steak and eggs, and dangerously indulgent French toast.
Come Thanksgiving morning, customers can head to either location to have their turkeys deep-fried while sipping on warm cider. I visited the bustling Capitol Hill restaurant to chat with Mark over brunch. In between turns in a restaurant-wide game of tic-tac-toe, we talked steak, the D.C. dining scene, and the ideal Thanksgiving. See what he had to say and read the review here.
Where is your favorite place to brunch in town?
You know, I find there’s something about a hotel brunch in the courtyard during spring in D.C. with the cherry blossoms. I think the Fairmont has a beautiful courtyard that comes to mind.
What is your favorite dish to cook for brunch?
I’m trying to figure out what my kids would say. I think my Nutella pancakes or Krispy Kreme doughnut bread pudding. If you’re gonna do brunch, then you might as well do brunch.
Do you prefer to brunch in or out?
It’s interesting because D.C. has become such a town for brunch. There’s something about leaving your house or apartment and going to another place to spend a few hours. I think 50 percent of brunch is how it feels.
What brunch item do you have to order if it’s on the menu?
Corned beef hash. That depends where I am because I’m not going to get it at a dumpy place but, more often than not, I’m gonna try it. It’s so easy to do but no one does it well. People in this country are trained to do things fast and you can cook hash fast, but to do it right, it takes some time. For whatever reason, restaurants don’t get it. Poached eggs used to be a fast thing but it takes us 3 hours to poach our eggs. We force them to do it slow.
What is your favorite item on Medium Rare’s brunch menu? What is the most-ordered item?
I think my favorite item is our hash and I think the most ordered item is French toast by a long shot. We take the bread we serve and soak it overnight in custard and then we deep fry it.
Do you prefer Bloody Marys or mimosas?
I’m a screwdriver brunch guy.
If you had to invite five local celebrities to brunch, who would they be?
I would say Marion Barry. Not necessarily for the conversation, but more so I could watch a train wreck happen. I would put all these people at the same table: Garret Graff, the past editor of the Washingtonian; Jim Vance; Seth Hurwitz from the 9:30 club; and Michel Richard. I mostly want to see the fireworks.
Your dinner menu’s only item is steak frites. How have diners reacted to this concept? I notice for brunch you have more options, is there a reason you didn’t go with one signature brunch item. If you had, what would the one item be?
So the idea for steak frites is not new. There are restaurants all over the world that do it and only have steak frites. When my business partner Tom and I were mulling this over, we came to the conclusion that every restaurant is a single item restaurant. At your favorite Thai, Chinese, or Italian place, you eat the same thing because, in your mind, it’s the best. Every restaurant is known for something. We wanted to make sure everyone enjoyed their meal. When you go to a Cheesecake Factory and the menu is 60 pages, there’s always entrée envy and you’re also not spending as much time talking to your guests because you’re too busy looking at the menu. We chose this approach because of a combination of wanting people to talk more and not worry about it. You worry too much during the day; you can come here and it’s consistent. It’s meant to be easy with no stress.
Brunch was a continuation of our concept. We find other ways to use the ingredients we already use to create brunch. If you’re not doing brunch in D.C., then you’re not in the restaurant business. Brunch is the hardest meal to do consistently and hardest to work. It’s very hard to do brunch in this town. If I had to do one item for brunch, I’d do Apple Jacks because everyone likes Apple Jacks.
I can tell you that it took us exactly a year to come up with it. It takes three days to make one batch and there is not a single person in the company except for me and my business partner that know the entire recipe. We have different staff members make different parts of it. We make at least 200 gallons a week in each restaurant. The more impressive thing is our French fries. We’re the last of the Mohicans in that we slice the potatoes, cook them, blanch them, and cook them again. Most people go for frozen French fries and they’re good but they’re just not exceptional. We go through a ton and a half of potatoes per restaurant each week.
What is the secret to cooking a perfectly medium rare steak?
Eat if fast because it keeps cooking when it’s on your plate.
You founded BGR, which has locations all over the area. If you could build your ultimate burger, what would be on it?
That’s a very interesting question because I am the highest scorer in the World Burger Championship. It’s hard to come up with something new for a burger. It’s kind of all been done now, so you have to surprise people. You have to make things not as they appear to be. I’m currently playing around with honey. What won it for me last year was everyone was doing eggs, but I put mine in the middle so no one knew it was there. The best burger for me is a simple American cheeseburger medium rare on a potato bun with Heinz ketchup. I actually used to like grilled burgers but I don’t like them anymore. Now I fry them on a cast iron pan.
Medium Rare has locations in Cleveland Park and Barracks Row. Are there differences in the dining scene?
Cleveland Park is interesting. At 5 o’clock, there’s a line to get in before we open the doors and it’s typically retired folks or families with young kids. By 6:30, it becomes families with school-aged kids and, by 7, it becomes millennials. At Barracks Row, it’s families up until 7-7:30 and then it becomes millennials, staffers, and young couples with no kids until the minute we close. When congress is out of session Capitol Hill is a ghost town so, if you want a seat and you don’t want to wait, come to Capitol Hill when congress is out of session.
We read that Medium Rare will deep fry turkeys for customers who come by with a bird. How do you cook your Thanksgiving turkey? What are your Thanksgiving dinner must-haves?
I did it for 4 years in Bethesda at BGR and this is such a neighborhood community so, we’ll open at 10 and deep fry customers’ turkeys here. It saves the oil, mess, and they won’t risk burning their house down. We’ll have hot apple cider and coffee and have the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on. Thanksgiving dinner is my favorite meal of the year and it always has been. A must have for me – only because I’ve had it every year for my life until I was 18- was a stupid cherry Jell-O mold with canned fruit cocktail. I’m a traditionalist so nothing fancy. To me, Thanksgiving is not about being fancy.
D.C. has had an influx of steakhouses opening in the city. What do you think keeps Medium Rare so popular?
D.C. has always had a lot of steakhouses. That’s all you used to be able to eat here in the 70’s and 80’s. D.C. didn’t have many great restaurants- just steakhouses. It’s always been a steak and potato town. A funny thing happened in the late 70’s and 80’s. Jean-Louis Palladin came here and his restaurant at the Watergate was the training ground for all the great chefs in France: Eric Ripert, Michel Richard, and Daniel Bouloud. Jean-Louis and Michel Richard changed everything in D.C. Long story short, we serve steak and fries but I wouldn’t call us a steakhouse. We like to think it’s a restaurant that’s successful at something everyone likes. Some steakhouses are stodgy and expensive -$100 a person. I don’t eat at those restaurants because I leave angry that I could have gone on vacation. Tom and I wanted to create something that is very accessible. Women especially love Medium Rare and they are probably our core customer. It’s fun and current.
How many people have completed the 9-pound burger challenge at BGR? Have you tried it?
Nobody to my knowledge ever finished it at BGR. When I had that burger in Las Vegas, the black widow Sonia Thomas ate it in 43 minutes it has never been done since then. I’ve tried it but was not successful.
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.