Photos: Courtesy of Kimpton Hotels
Photos: Courtesy of Kimpton Hotels

Warmth and Home Cooking at Firefly

On a recent chilly evening, I climbed the steps of Dupont Circle staple Firefly. It’s a cozy restaurant featuring reclaimed materials, low ceilings with intimate lighting, a broad expanse of beautiful bar, and a tree – yes, a tree – rising through the center of the dining room. The indoor/outdoor vibe has been bringing a little magic to visitors and locals alike for years. In October, Executive Chef Jammir Gray took over the kitchen, reviving the restaurant’s American comfort food theme with fresh takes on classic dishes and new menu items, while respecting and retaining regular favorites.

Chef Gray hails from San Francisco, and has worked all over the country for the Kimpton hospitality brand. She was thrilled when the company offered her the chef post at Firefly, an opportunity to shine and share her love of traditional American fare with each customer who walks through the door.

“Jammir is such a talent,” says Julia Hobbes, PR specialist for the Kimpton brand. “She really gets the concept and [has the] ability to marry different cuisines.”

Chef Gray’s best-known dish is a family recipe she’s taken with her from restaurant to restaurant – the pozole, a slow-cooked soup made from pork shoulder, hominy, red cabbage, cilantro and crispy tortilla. Most people who know someone with Mexican heritage have tried this dish in someone’s grandma’s kitchen. This version is exceptional, mixing different textures with just the right amount of heat awash in a broth I just might sell my soul for to have another taste.

Firefly serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, and offers a particularly popular menu to the brunch crowd, who sip on $3 mimosas and dine on lemon ricotta pancakes, shrimp and grits, and steak and eggs. Or try the “urban picnic,” which includes Firefly’s famous deviled eggs and pickled vegetables.

But I was there for dinner and cocktails. There are plenty of options for both vegetarians and carnivores. The veggie pot pie is a hearty alternative to meat, featuring several kinds of mushrooms, a sinful chestnut cream gravy and homemade puff pastry, while the freshly formed cavatelli simply melts in your mouth, flavored with lamb, sofrito, oregano and pecorino Romano cheese. The mini-pot roast is better than going home for dinner (sorry Mom!) with its juicy, tender beef swimming in a shallot au jus and accompanied by braised veggies and mashed potatoes.

Chef Gray is also a delightfully accomplished baker. The former pastry chef insisted we try her sweet potato cake, another recipe from her vault of favorites. She incorporates chunks of roasted sweet potato into the fluffy cake, which deliciously surprises the diner, and the nutmeg sponge candy and marshmallow frosting hit just the right note without being overly sweet.

Accompanying this decadent feast was a selection of playful cocktails that will make any grownup gleeful. Mixologist Brendan Ambrose treated me to several unforgettable concoctions I vowed to introduce to all my friends. First, the most impressive:  the Transformation3, which is literally three cocktails in one. It starts out as a gimlet (my favorite drink), this one with Tanqueray and a basil-lime muddle. At its center is an “aviation sphere,” a lovely, blue-colored, frozen cocktail-within-a-cocktail made with Maraschino liqueur and crème de violette. As it melts, the entire drink is infused with color and a new taste all together.

Ambrose couldn’t have been more attentive to detail as he explained the chemistry behind the craft cocktail, and then, with a twinkle of mischief in his eye, he brought out the Campfire. This play on a Black Russian mixes kalua, vodka, coconut and an allspice-walnut liquor created in-house. It’s served in cedar-smoked tumblers with marshmallows roasted tableside – the perfect way to end the evening and the meal at Firefly.

Firefly: 1310 New Hampshire Ave. NW, DC; 202-861-1310; www.firefly-dc.com

Sweet Potato Cake

Acorn Squash

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Vanessa Mallory Kotz

Vanessa Mallory Kotz has been a writer and editor for more than 15 years. She covers visual arts, fashion, food and anything that advocates for better treatment of humans and animals. Her work has appeared in Popular Photography, American Photo, The Writer's Guide, Hirshhorn Magazine, First Person Plural, Goucher Quarterly, AmericanStyle, Niche, Reflections: Ultra Short Personal Narratives and art catalogs for museums across the country.