2024-07-18 12:57 AM

Our Man in Arlington

Announcing another landmark soon to vanish:  Essy’s Carriage House, the American cuisine steakhouse that’s been a fixture in Cherrydale for 48 years, will close its doors at the end of March.   

No other Arlington full-service restaurant has been open longer, according to founder-owner Essy Saedi, an Iranian immigrant who came to the United States in 1962. (An exception might be Mario’s Pizza, primarily takeout since 1958.)

My tasty lunch there last week (pork schnitzel and cabbage) was served by executive chef Janet Saedi, the wife of Essy, who will also retire. We spoke amid the 1950s décor with fresh flowers, cloth tablecloths and napkins (maintained by the chef’s mother). I took in the view from Quincy St. and Langston Blvd. showcasing the D.C. skyline beyond Cherrydale Auto Parts, Northside Veterinary Clinic and Safford Brown Honda.

The reason for closing? Essy has heart issues and diabetes, so retirement is looking good for the couple, who live in nearby Bellevue Forest. Contrary to rumor, Essy’s has no connection to the old Billy Martin’s Carriage House (now Martin’s Tavern) in Georgetown. (The Martins were also an Arlington family.)

But for decades Essy’s has drawn what he calls a “high end” clientele—judges, attorneys, four-star generals—and notable regulars such as the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist and state Del. Patrick Hope. It is geared toward regulars from the older set, not children or teens.

The $18 — $24 entrees of steaks, seafood, burgers, soups and salads (35 dishes) could be called traditional American, with a soupcon of European influence due to a previous chef from Belgium.

Essy engages three other employees with varying hours—daytime eating has always been slower than dinnertime. The 25 tables, plus a full bar, seat 50-55, and reservations have topped 160 in an evening, he says. Also popular: Sunday brunch.

Essy’s for years was open seven days, but has been closed Mondays since May. Evening business was actually decent during Covid, he says, due to take-out orders.

Essy’s longtime landlord, the Koumas family, is hoping to sell the restaurant and rear parking lot to a developer who would create new apartments. (Old Dominion Drycleaners next door would be unaffected.)

Essy Saedi plans to auction his period-piece furniture. He will not return to his native Iran.

               ***

Black History Month launched locally Feb. 4 with activists reeling from news of the video-recorded suffering of Tyre Nichols at the hands of Memphis police. Some 100 came to the Arlington Career Center for a session on public history museums sponsored by the Columbia Pike Partnership and the Embassy of Switzerland (whose ambassador, present, follows American social conflicts closely).

The Black Heritage Museum of Arlington is “a safe haven, and anchor in the storm—you can talk about anything,” said president Scott Taylor, raised in Halls’ Hill. Events such as police violence and bias against blacks “all go back to slavery,” said Felicia Bell, advisor to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, even though “eyes roll when you say it.”

Marvin-Alonzo Greer, community engagement officer for the Prince George’s County Parks and Planning Commission, advised small museums to avoid putting black history “behind a paywall” just for the privileged. Some nonprofits even offer food to low-income visitors.

The curators’ common theme: “Black history is not about slavery, it’s about overcoming  slavery.”

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The Arlington Players (staging productions since 1951!) made good use of shared county space at Thomas Jefferson Middle School theater last weekend. The New England-flavored comedy “Almost, Maine,” by playwright John Cariani, directed by Alexa Roggenkamp, presented “a series of vignettes about love at its best” performed by 19 skilled volunteer actors.

They deliver amusing visual wordplay, such as falling to the floor when falling in love and gawking at a one-shoed woman, during a lover’s quarrel, as other shoe drops from the ceiling.

I was also impressed with the free nearby parking underneath the beautiful Alice West Fleet Elementary School. The Valentines month show runs through Feb. 19.

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