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Cooper's Hawk Winery & Restaurant, an Illinois-Based Chain Undergoing Expansion


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A few colleagues and I stopped by the recently opened Cooper's Hawk restaurant in Ashburn for lunch last week.  This is a small chain based in the midwest that seems to be undergoing rapid expansion, with a location in Richmond and another opening soon in Reston.  Overall the food was quite good, but service could use some work.

After the usual background speech about the restaurant, the server let us know that each guest can order two free tastings of any of their wines with their meal - every dish has an accompanying recommended bin number for pairings.  There is also a large barrel of a red blend in the middle of the room that "changes monthly, and no one knows what the blend is that month."  Interesting idea to keep things moving, but the explanation came across more as what they had in open bottles at the end of the evening.  Everyone took up the offer of the two free tastings but passed on the mystery barrel...

Meals start with an offer of pretzel bread, which was fine except it's always awkward to cut the communal loaf when out with business colleagues (hope everyone washed their hands).  My Napa Chicken Salad ($14.99) was fresh and not over-dressed.  Others at the table had the Brussels Sprout Salad ($7.99 [appetizer]), Chicken Madiera ($18.99) and Turkey Burger ($11.99).  Nothing too adventurous but all solid meals given that it's a chain.  A limited lunch menu is available with lighter portions and prices.

A few nits - no one ordered an appetizer ahead of their meal or dessert and lunch was more than an hour and a half, which according to one CH frequent flyer at our table was not abnormal.  It would seem that a restaurant that caters to the lunch crowd by having a separate menu would try to move things along a bit more to draw in the business crowd.  Service was awkward and slow throughout the meal, with the waiter having to come back twice to confirm orders that he had written down, and serving an entire round of incorrect drinks.  If this place had opened last week I'd understand, but it's been open for over a month now.

Lastly, and this isn't limited to Cooper's Hawk, but.... I applaud restaurant who offer lighter menu options, but naming all of the lighter options "Life Balance XXX" makes it embarrassing to order.  At Cooper's Hawk these are just lighter versions of other menu items, so there isn't really a way around saying "Life Balance" because they are not different names altogether.  Having said that, "Life Balance" is still better than the Cheesecake Factory's "Skinnylicious" section.

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Some random thoughts about this fine post:

* It's elegant to cut a communal loaf by one person taking charge, placing a napkin in their off-hand to hold it down, and cutting it completely into one piece per person (also sometimes easier in theory than in reality).

* They should simply label an entire section of the menu "Life Balance" to save customers the pain of having to say those two odious words.

* They're also opening in Baltimore Annapolis sometime in 2016.

* You're correct that they need to get that lunch down to an hour unless specifically asked to go slowly.

* I suspect all or part of this business will be sold within a few years (I have no reason to believe this other than the situation at hand - I see no passion here, other than making mega-bucks).

* Here's an article that may be of interest:

Dec 12, 2014 - "Tim McEnery: The Daredevil Behind Cooper's Hawk Winery & Restaurants" by Lettie Teague on wsj.com

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I believe they are also opening in Annapolis town center soon, next to EMS and Whole foods.

Not sure how well they will succeed in Annapolis as we have several great wine bars/Bistros that are firmly established and have great wine and food.

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I believe they are also opening in Annapolis town center soon, next to EMS and Whole foods.

Not sure how well they will succeed in Annapolis as we have several great wine bars/Bistros that are firmly established and have great wine and food.

I'm sorry - I meant Annapolis, not Baltimore.

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