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Columbia Firehouse, Old Town - Bustling Bar in the old Bookbinders Space on S. St Asaph Street

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I have had many reasonably good meals here in the past. Tonight I had, by far, the most wretched meal I have had in recent memory, anywhere. This was Red Lobster bad, if Red Lobster served inedible marrow.

I started with the bone marrow, a dish that is not all that difficult to make. This version was gross -- a bit undercooked, tasteless and pure grease, No sea slat to be sprinkled over it nor enough toast to enjoy it with. A horrible rendition of an otherwise simple dish.

For the main course, the Thursday special was the crab stuffed lobster. All three of us at our table ordered it, and all three of us regretted it. For $26, there was a dried lobster the size of a prawn, with a dry bread stuffing that had barely a hint of crab, and with no flavor anywhere. There wasn't even a wedge of lemon or a bowl of drawn butter to attempt to ameliorate the dryness. This dish was a bad idea, executed even worse.

When the waitress returned to ask how everything was, I told her direclty that the dish was bad. None of us enjoyed it. I asked if the chef had been taken hostage and tied up in the back of the kitchen. She didn't laugh.

To its credit, the restaurant took $39 off our bill -- not sure how that was calculated -- so the pain was lessened....but not by much.

Looks like discounted 50% off each of the three entrees.

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Not really surprised at this review.  I always wish they could get their act together at Columbia Firehouse.  I would love for it to be a really good place, even if the service was stellar and the food just good it would be better than many places on King Street.  And since Steve left there just isn't a cocktail problem.  These days I mainly only go for the Bar networking lunches.  But it would be great if they could get their act together.

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I read the headline and was psyched.  Then I read the article and was completely confused.  Did the headline writer not actually read the article?!?!?

For those who don't want to read the review, the headline was:

Columbia Firehouse review: A new chef comes to the rescue

The next thing you see is a graphic of a 1 star / Satisfactory rating, and then you read paragraph after paragraph savaging every aspect of the place.  Am I misreading the headline somehow?!?!  What did the chef rescue?!?!

Me no understand

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What's really sad is that the location and probably the most beautiful dining venue in Old Town is being squandered by the indifference of the staff. The menu needs a re-do -- and hopefully, that's on Johnny Miele's priority list -- and the front of the house staff can use a refresh. It would really be a shame to waste some of the finest restaurant real estate in Old Town.

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We were there recently for brunch. I had the sausage biscuit with gravy. It was good, but was barely above room temperature. I noticed Sietsema had issues with temperature too. Sounds like they have a problem expediting.

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Just went here for brunch yesterday (really appreciate my friends in Old Town picking this weekend to persuade me to come down, with half of the area closed off for the Art Festival - it made parking a breeze, haha). I wasn't particularly impressed. The food was okay - I had the "ribeye hash", and it was tasty, but it wasn't particularly filling (not a lot of meat in it), and it came out lukewarm as well.

More annoying was the service, overall. We sat in the courtyard area, and my friends got there a couple of minutes before me (didn't order, but sat down) - I was given a place setting, but no water. I asked THREE SEPARATE TIMES (when the waiter came to bring menus, to take our order, and when the food was brought out) before someone finally brought a glass of water. And then after the food was brought out, we basically never saw the waiter again - so there were no opportunities to discuss any issues we had (no one was sending anything back anyway) and all of our water glasses remained unfilled after a certain point.

I'm not usually one who harps on service because it's generally a pretty low-bar - keep my drink filled (especially if it's something easy like water) and make sure I'm still alive somewhere between being served and paying the check. And it just didn't happen. I think the next time they suggest brunch in Alexandria, I will suggest that there may be other options to explore.

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Columbia Firehouse had fallen out of our rotation, food and service started lacking, but a few weeks ago a chef we got to be friends with at Magnolias (Brian Rowe) let me know he was there now and making some changes so we checked it out tonight.  

One of the things we always enjoyed was their respect for classic cocktails - our drinks were good but not great, still needs some work there.

Onion rings as a starter - nice and fluffy how I like them, though hubby prefers more crunchy. 

I had the Steak Frite - nicely done with well seasoned fries and yummy bérnaise sauce.  Hubby had the ribs - potato salad was spot on! The cole slaw had great texture but was a bit bland in taste and he liked the ribs (though not smokehouse quality).  Dessert was the cookie skillet which was to crumbly.  

I'm given to understand menu changes tomorrow and Brian is still working thru changes.  It is back in our rotation and I'm looking forward to seeing how things improve.  

Overall neighborhood gem with comfort food and cocktails. 

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On 5/4/2010 at 10:32 PM, Kibbee Nayee said:

I have to admit, this place is growing on me. I've always liked the interior -- nice Old Town mahogany bar area, and the dining area is the best in Old Town with a soaring glass ceiling and rustic brick walls. I can happily enjoy hours on end in this kind of establishment. Of course, the interior was nice under Portner's and Bookbinder's ownership, but the food wasn't as good.

Thanks for the reference above.  I sort of have the same feeling as KN as he described above and several other times.

The interior of Columbia Firehouse is so attractive I would spend a lot of time there regardless of the food quality.

In fact I did, when it was Portners and first converted into a beautiful restaurant.  I found it to be great at the bar and invariably good at dinner.  I can’t recall the food.  In fact I bet it was never memorable.    Geez I always loved dinning there though.  Go figure.

If this place gets a serious uptick on food it should do gangbusters.  Good luck

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They have a nice cocktail program.  Classics like aviations and blood and sand for less than $12 (though I haven't been in probably a year).

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