Playful Food with a Conscience

People in the Tysons neighborhood like to work hard and play hard. Earls Kitchen + Bar will help you master the playing part.

IMG_5902cmykThe restaurant’s tasteful interior is fluid and bright, with artwork that pays tribute to the DC Area. In good weather, floor-to-ceiling windows are pushed aside, removing the border between sophisticated patio seating and the classic bistro seating indoors. The sound is not overwhelming, even when the bar is busy. Regulars come in for lunch to order their favorite salads and sandwiches. At happy hour, customers order from the discounted bar menu featuring local craft beers and spirits. There’s even a separate whiskey and bourbon bar. “Happy hour is a religion here,” says Earls’ head chef Ryan Spicknell. “Coming from Canada, I would never have thought people would go so crazy for happy hour.”

After one meal at Earls, you won’t be surprised to learn that the family-owned chain is expanding. At first glance, customers may think Earls is a high-end American chain, but the restaurant brand originated in Canada, where owner Leroy “Bus” Fuller and son Stanley Earl Fuller first opened a beer and burger joint. Eventually, the restaurateurs stepped into finer dining without leaving behind Earls original DNA. The restaurant now specializes in contemporary dishes with international flare; with a menu guided by seasonal produce, and the availability of proteins that are sustainable and humanely-raised.

earls-foodBack when it first opened in 1982, Earls introduced menu items like calamari and Caesar salads, which were practically unheard of back then, explains Spicknell. “The eclectic menu is inspired by the owners’ passion for travel. They want you to be able to get something from all over the world,” Spicknell adds. “We have people from all walks of life coming here—from mall goers, families, business people, visiting diplomats, tourists; just so many people come through our door. It’s nice to be able to serve them a little something that speaks them, that tastes like home.”

Begin your meal with one of Earls’ first-rate starters. The most popular item on the menu is Tuna Tostada. Crisp, home-rolled corn tortillas are stacked with avocado and chili rubbed albacore tuna. The muscular slice of fish is tender and firm, topped with crunchy slices of jicama and radish, a potent Anaheim pepper and cilantro aioli. It’s impossible to overhype this bite-size bliss. Coming in with a group? Try the tart artichoke and roasted garlic-infused Warm Spinach + Three Cheese Dip. Served with toasted flatbread, it’s an ideal dish for sharing.

The entrees change with the season, but hopefully the skirt steak and citrus soy sauce is available, and if it is, order it. The steak is flawlessly prepared and delicately brightened with a tangy, ambrosial sauce you’ll want to take home to Mama. It arrives in a cast iron skillet teamed with California or mango sushi rolls, your choice—Earls’ version of surf and turf. The Cajun Chicken Cheddar Sandwich is a mile-high mound of cavorting heat, crunch and smooth enveloped in a brioche bun. Earls’ Warm Kale Salad literally flies out of the kitchen, thanks to garnishes like roasted brussels sprouts, baby potatoes and grilled chicken—partners in divine.

The menu keeps some of its core items, but showcases different specials depending on what’s in season. Thus, what you loved last month may not be there next week. But that’s okay, because you can trust Chef Spicknell. In a nod to the popular fire pits on Earls’ patio, Spicknell debuts his version of S’mores— a gooey chocolate chip cookie baked in a miniature cast iron skillet, adorned with marshmallows made of spun sugar, vanilla gelato, and shavings of bittersweet chocolate. Every ingredient is made in house, designed by a chef who has been with Earls since he was a fifteen-year-old dishwasher.

Chef Ryan Spicknell from Earl'scmyk“I love the company; it’s been great to me.” Contributing to his culinary education and a host of moves where he instructs kitchen staff at new Earls locations, the 29-year-old Spicknell says the company’s commitment to quality of life for Earls employees allows him to explore the Washington DC Area. “Earls doesn’t feel like a large chain. Every restaurant is developed differently and designed specifically for the area,” notes Spicknell. “We build it for people who live in it, from the artists we bring in, patio features, local beers. We want to feel like a family-run, high-end restaurant. We are locals now, and I love it here.”

Earls’ commitment to buying humanely raised beef, poultry and seafood elevates the food in important ways. For one thing, these products always taste better. For another, knowing this makes people who care about such things (me) feel good. Earls’ menu states they are committed to “conscious sourcing from certified sustainable seafood, local chicken, cage free eggs, and 100% certified humane beef.” Spicknell explains that the restaurant’s culinary team works with Dr. Temple Grandin, an expert in the dignified care and harvesting of animals, and Certified Humane, the largest organization in the U.S. promoting facilities that achieve standards for humane animal treatment. Spicknell says, “We all believe so strongly in this. The people here take pride in what they do.”

Watching the youthful servers as they move gracefully through the restaurant, I see they really do look happy to be here. It’s pretty easy to get jazzed about Earls on the Plaza at Tysons. Just steps from the DC Area’s most popular shopping center and the Tysons Metro station, it’s a great location, despite being harder to access from street level. But don’t let that deter you—park at Tysons Corner Mall and walk across the Plaza. Or use the handy valet parking below the restaurant. Whatever route you use, you’ll find playful cuisine to elevate your busy day. 


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