It’s been on “Most Anticipated Restaurants” lists around the DMV area since 2017 but PennyRoyal Station has yet to open. For those familiar with the restaurant world, delays to opening a new space are no surprise.
“Things are going a little slower than we’d hope—as most people say—but it’s moving along,” states Jesse Miller, Executive Chef of Bar Pilar and PennyRoyal Station.
The culprit behind the hold up? Permits.
“People really want to put you through hoops,” Miller continues. “We were supposed to open last October and we had to get a second plumbing permit that took the board another three months of back and forth. Six months just for two permits. It’s a real hassle and it’s frustrating because there’s nothing that any of us can do about it. We’ve waited this long so we really want it to be perfect.”
Miller and his partners—Erin Edwards of Bar Pilar / Café Saint-Ex in D.C. and Garrick Lumsden, of Passion Food LLC.—are now shooting for an opening in late spring or early summer. In the meantime, the food menu is well on its way.
“We want it to be an homage to the area,” Miller describes. “We wanted to do what we’re best at; a neighborhood-style bar with a rustic, playful, farm-y kind of feeling.”
Don’t expect to see dishes in the style of Bar Pilar at Miller’s new spot.
“I usually take a worldly approach to cuisine,” Miller says and one can’t help but think of hits like the XO shrimp dumplings, chicken liver and sriracha pâté or Szechuan-style pork shank. “But [PennyRoyal Station] is going to be more American-based. It’s more Southern food meets the DMV where I grew up. Lots of fish, crab, and veggies.”
There is also the promise of pastas served in casserole dishes—the same way Miller remembers eating pasta as a child.
Miller is excited to cook for the high vegan population that he says lives in the area. “I want them to trust me first and then slowly start experimenting with plays on the cuisine. People are getting more adventurous and aren’t scared. They’re opening up their palates to new cuisines.”
Here, Miller references the huge Filipino boom currently taking Washington D.C. by storm. “Look at Chef Seng. Paolo Dungca. Purple Patch. A few years ago, you’d have never had anything like this.”
When it comes to deciding what goes on menus, there’s no set equation for Miller. “It depends on the weather. The seasons. What I’m reading. Sometimes, who I’m dating. My sous chefs and cooks don’t necessarily have brainstorm meetings. It’s just happening all the time.”
Miller gleans inspiration from his vastly expanding cookbook collection. “When I was coming up, I was paying attention to different types of cuisines. I read a lot of books and watched what other chefs did. I was a nerd. Every day, I was buying new books and asking questions.”
While Miller uses food as a form of artistic expression, his interest in art began in a much more traditional sense.
“I never went to culinary school. I went to art school and, to pay for it, I worked in kitchens.”
During his time in art school, Miller gained work experience across the board, from local inns to fine dining establishments. While in the process of looking into graduate schools for art, he decided to keep up with his time in kitchens. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Despite dedicating his career to restaurants, Miller still keeps up with his paintings. In fact, PennyRoyal Station diners will get to experience some of his work first hand via three murals in the dining room.
“It’s hard to find time but when you do it’s really nice. It’s a lot less pressure. More releasing and relaxing. There’s no deadlines.”
Miller has perfected a delicate balance of running Bar Pilar, planning for PennyRoyal Station, and pursuing his art. Like many chefs, he describes himself as a workaholic.
“Always have been. Always will be. My mom taught me the workaholic stuff. She just turned 60 and she’s still working her butt off. She’s got an insane work ethic that I definitely adopted.”
Once PennyRoyal Station opens, Miller’s load will lighten at Bar Pilar.
“I’m finishing up there currently,” he confirms. His sous chef, Clarysa Aguilar, will be taking his place. “I’ll be talking to her and helping and working with her as needed but it’s really gonna be hers. I trust her and can’t wait to see what she does.”
Meanwhile, the DMV can’t wait to see what PennyRoyal Station has in store.