Deep Cuts

B Side in Fairfax is a newish restaurant with an old soul where the vibe manages to be both lively and intimate, and meat is the main event.

B Side restaurant.

Photos by Marissa Bialecki

B side, a convivial bar and restaurant in eastern Fairfax County’s thriving Mosaic District, takes its name from the song on the other side of a hit single, back when hit singles were pressed into 45 rpm records. The name works on a couple of levels. The eatery literally plays the b-side to its adjacent sister business, Red Apron Butcher, serving dishes made with the butcher shop’s excellent selection of locally and humanely sourced meat and hand-cured charcuterie. And like many b-side songs, B Side the restaurant, tucked into the folds of chain-dominated suburbia, is a hidden gem, one my wife Heather and I were thrilled to discover.

We were newcomers to Fairfax when B Side opened in late 2014. Having lived in Staunton and New York City, we were first-time suburbanites hungry for a neighborhood spot—a go-to place with inspiring food and drinks and a friendly staff. B Side checks every box.

“We wanted B Side to be a kick-ass bar with good food,” says chef Nathan Anda, co-creator with restaurateur Michael Babin of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, also known as NRG. “It’s definitely a chef-driven food-focused concept, but we wanted it to feel like a neighborhood hangout.” 

On a Monday evening in late September, Heather and I start with a deep dive into the impressive drinks menu: 10 house cocktails, more than 100 wines and twice as many beers. The cocktails are named after songs. You Win Again (the b-side to Hank Williams’ “Settin’ the Woods on Fire”) blends Tito’s vodka, Domaine de Canton, maple syrup and lemon. Heather orders the Love Street (which shared a 45 with “Hello, I Love You,” by the Doors), a fresh, tart mix of Citadelle gin, lemon, basil and black peppercorn. I’m tempted by a whiskey cocktail called Sweet Thing (the back side of Van Morrison’s “Blue Money”), but instead order a pint of American IPA from California’s Firestone Walker brewery. I’ve heard great things about NRG’s Greg Engert, the first beer professional to make Food & Wine’s annual Sommeliers of the Year list. And I appreciate his bar list’s user-friendly categories—crisp, hop, fruit and spice, roast, and tart and funky. 

I’m happy to see the dinner offerings are far fewer—eight small plates, eight large plates and a handful of sides. To me, a small menu reflects a confident kitchen focused on what’s fresh today. When food is good, who needs all those choices?

Heather and I share the fried green tomatoes, served with buttermilk crema and topped with kale and bacon—a warm and savory semi-salad to start. Knowing we’ve got lots more meat coming, we also tuck into the cold tomatoes and burrata sprinkled with micro arugula and drizzled with herbed vinaigrette. The cream oozing from the burrata’s mozzarella pouch nicely balances the tart dressing and sweet, end-of-season tomatoes. 

The small plate that wows us even more is the beef carpaccio. It’s so tender—and tasty, thanks to a sauce made with olive tapenade, Spanish anchovy, lemon and crispy shallots. Each of those ingredients packs a flavorful punch, but the sauce is applied sparingly so as not to overwhelm the savor of the thinly sliced beef. That would be sacrilege. At B Side, meat is the main event.

Chef Nathan Anda.

Anda’s meat passion grew out of his interest in local food. Raised in New Hampshire andtrained at Vermont’s New England Culinary Institute, he learned to work with farmers as a matter of course, long before there was a locavore movement. After graduating, Anda worked for local-food pioneer chef Todd Gray at his Washington, D.C., restaurant Equinox. In 2004, Babin hired Anda to lead his new upscale Arlington restaurant, Tallulah. 

“We didn’t want to just use bagged beef,” says Anda, 39. “We wanted to know where our ingredients came from. We wanted to be involved in getting food from the farmer to our place.” That wasn’t an easy task in 2004. Anda was buying vegetables and herbs from area farmers’ markets, but if you wanted local meat, you had to buy the whole animal. That’s just what Anda did.

The problem was what to do with the 700 pounds of cow left after you’ve taken the tenderloin, New York Strip and other choice cuts. Anda, a short, shaggy-haired man with a wry smile and easygoing demeanor, dove in whole hog, so to speak. He taught himself to break down whole animals—cows, pigs and more—and turn the offcuts into charcuterie, bacon and burgers. Shortly after Tallulah opened, Babin and Anda opened a more casual gastro-pub call Eatbar. Anda served the steaks at Tallulah and the rest at Eatbar. 

“That’s how Red Apron Butcher was born,” Anda says. “I was forced to buy whole animals. I needed to know what to do with them.”

In 2008, Anda left Tallulah and Eatbar to develop, with Babin’s backing and creative input, a central meat-processing facility to supply a series of regional butcher shops as well as NRG’s growing family of restaurants (today there are 17, all original concepts). Anda trained and helped plan for nearly five years and finally opened Red Apron in 2013, becoming the country’s first butcher to offer 100 percent Animal Welfare Approved pork (AWA is a Marion-based non-profit that certifies independent farms meeting the group’s animal welfare standards). Today, NRG operates a processing plant in Alexandria and three butcher shops, each affiliated with a different restaurant.

One of my favorite things at B Side is the sushi-bar-style charcuterie menu. It comes with a pencil. You mark which items you want, and they come in small servings on a cutting board. Like the beers, the cured meats fall into half a dozen helpful categories. It’s fun to sample a range of flavors—the “bright” lemon salami preserved with Korean chili flake and black pepper, for example, alongside the “smoky” herb lomo, made from pork loin cured with fennel pollen and rosemary. Load up your board with 15-month-old prosciutto (“rich and creamy”), foie gras bologna with black truffles (“earthy”), cheeses and a variety of creative snacks—almond hummus with Hungarian long peppers, smoked pimento cheese and pork rind popcorn. It’s addictive, so pace yourself. If you fall in love with something, you can buy it next door. 

For the main course, I have the Monday burger—heaped with Swiss cheese and onions caramelized in one of the draft beers, the hoppy Ithaca Cascazilla. I can’t taste the beer, of course, only the onions’ sweetness, amplified by a soft, sweet potato bun and countered slightly by a smokey mayonnaise. The burger itself is moist and incredibly tender and also messy as hell, a price I’m willing to pay. 

“One of the benefits of being a whole animal butcher is that I can pull from all parts of the animal when I grind my burger meat,” says Anda. “It has sirloin, but I can add the best pieces of trim. That gives the burgers great flavor and texture.” 

Another benefit, he says, is offering rare cuts, like the Denver steak (“a tender little triangle on the shoulder”) Heather orders. Served sliced, seared and rare on the inside, the nicely marbled meat tastes a bit like the love child of filet mignon and flank steak. It comes with herbed butter and red-wine-and-garlic sauce in a small gravy boat, but the sauce isn’t necessary. We share the beef with a side of creamy polenta, which we order instead of the house favorite—beef fat fries with garlic confit, rosemary and ranch aioli. Believe me, I’ve dug into those plenty of times. Tonight, I need room for dessert. 

As I eat a sugar-dusted brioche-Nutella panini—like the rest of my meal, dessert is delicious but not dainty—I listen to the hum of warm conversation and try to put my finger on why B Side always feels so welcoming. Like a lot of places in the suburbs, B Side is new, but it has an old soul. The space is small, with a long bar backlit in chartreuse, lots of barnwood and a giant pig’s head on the wall, but the design doesn’t seem kitschy or trendy. Oddly, B Side always seems full—loaded with bright energy—and yet never crowded. “There’s something about coming here that makes you feel you discovered it,” says Heather. 

It’s partly the music. Anda is a big-time alternative rock fan. His tastes run to Joy Division, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and the Afghan Wigs. Raised on album rock, he installed a turntable at B Side so the bartenders could spin vinyl. “When a band released a new album, you might know a couple of songs getting radio play,” he remembers, “but what was exciting was discovering more obscure songs.” Deep cuts, the DJs call them. 

In a way, Anda the butcher and chef takes a similar approach to food. He serves all the hits—burgers, salamis and other familiar favorites. And he throws in enough deep cuts, like Denver steak and foie-gras-and-truffle bologna, to keep things exciting. That’s a winning playlist.

This article originally appeared in our December 2016 issue.

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