Chef David Guas Is Opening a New Restaurant in McLean
Neutral Ground Bar + Kitchen will showcase American cooking and regional foodways.
In 2010, David Guas won the hearts and bellies of Arlingtonians with the debut of Bayou Bakery, Coffee Bar & Eatery, a local go-to for beignets, gumbo, pralines and other Big Easy-style eats.
That love was further cemented during the pandemic when the chef put his Courthouse kitchen and staff to work preparing free takeaway meals for food-insecure families—an effort that earned him a Best of Arlington 2021 Award, a 2021 “Good Neighbor Award” from the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington, and a 2022 “Covid Hero” award from Arlington County.
Now, the celebrity chef and cookbook author is gearing up to open his first full-service restaurant in McLean, where the regional American menu will showcase seasonal ingredients from small farms, heritage growers and fishermen in the mid-Atlantic region, as well as the Gulf Coast.
Unlike at Bayou Bakery, the food at Neutral Ground Bar + Kitchen won’t have a Louisiana bent, though the restaurant’s chosen name is a direct nod to Guas’ hometown and its history. In the decades immediately following the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, tensions were high among New Orleans’ diverse inhabitants, particularly between French Creole families dating back centuries and Anglo newcomers. The term “neutral ground” came to signify the linear green space along Canal Street that served as a common zone between neighborhoods at odds.
In McLean, the neutral ground will be more metaphorical. Guas, whose father emigrated to the U.S. from Cuba, envisions a community gathering place that is casual and welcoming to all.
“The name Neutral Ground resonates with me as a unified place,” he says. “I am so burnt out on every conversation ending up in a political discussion. Every dinner party, every restaurant, everywhere I go, people cannot stop talking about it. It seems to be so divisive and toxic at times. I want to build a place, a concept, a full-service spot where people don’t feel the stress of the world around them—as dining at a restaurant was created to gather with friends and family for pure enjoyment. I want to get back to that and have a location of neutrality where people can just come and be social with anyone and everyone.”
Slated to open in early 2024 in the former Assaggi Osteria space on Old Dominion Drive, Neutral Ground Bar + Kitchen will serve an array of wood-fired proteins and vegetables, courtesy of the pizza oven left behind by the space’s previous occupant. The fare will include many of Guas’ favorite dishes amassed over a career spanning nearly three decades, from smash burgers and pork chops to fire-roasted oysters with garlic butter.
The interiors, designed by //3877 in partnership with the chef’s wife, Simone Rathle, will have an air of southern hospitality, featuring light wood accents, striped grass cloth wallcoverings, floating rattan shades and pops of orange and green. Palmetto palm fronds will be a prominent motif.
A generous bar anchoring the rear of the brasserie will serve cocktails inspired by American classics and a curated list of wines and beers from regional producers. Folks who love outdoor dining can look forward to an enclosed patio with boxed foliage.
“Being in Northern Virginia for 20+ years, I have been waiting for the right space in McLean to turn up vacant,” says Guas, who began his culinary career as an assistant pastry chef at the Windsor Court Hotel in New Orleans and then spent a decade with Passion Food Hospitality in the DMV. (He’s since made television appearances on The Today Show, Food Network, The Talk and CBS This Morning: The Dish, and was host of a 12-episode show, American Grilled, on the Travel Channel.)
“I’ve been listening to McLean friends and family for a long time, who ask me, Why won’t you open a restaurant here?” he says. “Their increased desire for a place to fill a void in downtown McLean catapulted me to take a vested interest this year and move forward. I’m excited to be opening in McLean and to have my newest venture only 15 minutes away from my gathering spot in Arlington—a community I take pride in being a part of daily.”