Bake rich carrot cake from Cleveland Park joint, Medium Rare, and learn more about their humanitarian efforts in the March edition.
Welcome back to The Sunday Roast! It’s been a long month with highs and lows, but I’m so incredibly thankful to say that we’ve reached 121 SUBSCRIBERS! I feel so blessed to see my hard work pay off and I sincerely appreciate all the support. My goal is to continue to put as much energy and time into crafting quality content for my newsletter, website and Instagram for you guys so we can engage more often. So as a result of that goal, I’ve launched a survey to get audience feedback on how I can grow and evolve The Sunday Roast from here. There’s a little incentive for you to take the 6 to 10-minute survey as well; each person will be entered to win a $20 gift card to Compass Coffee (or we will coordinate another business if you’re not located in D.C.) So please take the survey, found here, before April 11!
This month: I revisited a college favorite of mine and coordinated a time to Zoom chat with the co-founder and owner of Cleveland Park’s very own Medium Rare. The steak and frites restaurant has a delicious bottomless concept that is unmatched, and their decadent desserts are just to die for. I couldn’t convince Mark Bucher to give me their top-secret sauce recipe, but he was kind enough to share a dessert. Scroll down to read more about the restaurant and Mark’s humanitarian efforts. Plus, I’ve been working hard to step-up my Instagram content, so make sure to follow and check out my recipe reels, including one for this month.
Some background: In a monthly newsletter, I combine a DC local’s story behind their favorite recipe(s), or ones that whip up some nostalgia, with photos and prose of my attempt at replication. These recipes vary in difficulty, but they are always ones close to the heart. This newsletter is sent on the third Sunday of each month as the name suggests.
A fun note: Make sure to mark this email as NOT spam, move it to your inbox or add my sending address to your address book to avoid the newsletter regularly ending up in the abyss. Sometimes Mailchimp email campaigns go straight to spam.
ALSO: I’ve noticed people have had issues with receiving my email, so I found this helpful article to walk you through adding me as a contact in Gmail that will hopefully stop the spam folder filtering.
Mark is an entrepreneur through and through. He first met his Medium Rare business partner, Tom Gregg, when he was starting BGR the Burger Joint, and Tom needed help winning back a major customer for his food manufacturing company. Through teamwork, the two managed to wine and dine the customer, and in turn, formed a business relationship between the two future founders of Medium Rare.
Then came the idea for the restaurant. Tom moved to Paris for a year, and when Mark came to visit, he took him to a family favorite restaurant that served only steak and fries. After seeing the line to get a table snake down the street, the duo decided they should open a similar restaurant in D.C., since they hadn’t seen anything like it. They put in the work, found a location, hired their staff and opened Medium Rare in Cleveland Park by the end of March 2011. The beloved joint, which has been open for just about a decade and has two more locations, now serves bottomless culotte steak and frites with their super special sauce for a flat fee in a neighborhood friendly environment. The steak meal also includes bread and salad, and their menu expands with a vegan friendly portobello option. And don’t forget their famed brunch dishes of french toast and eggs benedict with a steak and portobello hash. Mark says that being a restaurant owner can be quite a difficult, yet rewarding job. He wears many hats — about five or six — including a retailer, manufacturer, distributor, HR, marketer and advertiser. But the best part about owning a restaurant, according to him, is being a part of the community. Medium Rare and its staff have developed a special relationship by being a mainstay in the neighborhood for a decade now, and it shows. Mark mostly enjoys watching customers come for birthdays, graduations, weddings, anniversaries and more. Seeing people come to celebrate life has brought him unmatched joy, and that’s what given him joy in the last year through hard times.
Discover the restaurant’s website.
The story behind the recipe.
Most guests at Medium Rare finish off their dining experience with a dish to satisfy their sweet tooth. Mark says the two most popular desserts on their menu are the house specialty hot fudge sundae and the six layer carrot cake, and he was kind enough to share that carrot cake recipe with me. He says it’s the first time he’s shared the recipe outside of the kitchen. I did ask about the special sauce, however, Mark turned me down gently.
The creamy, mushroomy sauce is salty and simply to die for, but it is top secret. Mark says customers on the daily beg for the recipe, but they hold it close. Only two people in the whole world know the recipe to that sauce: Mark and Tom. The two worked together to develop something “craveable” through trial and error until they perfected it. Now, Mark says the two owners carefully engineered a process to avoid anyone else figuring out the recipe. They have suppliers send in the ingredients in specific buckets so that none of the staff know what they contain, and they then mix it.
And the secret to the carrot cake? Freezing the cake layers overnight right after popping them out of the pans. It locks in the moisture and makes sure that your cake will be absolutely perfect in that first bite. Don’t worry, the cake will thaw just fine as you’re thawing it and for a few minutes after. I think this tactic definitely made sure the cake didn’t dry out and was the perfect texture to marry with the whipped cream cheese frosting.
Making the carrot cake in house with prime ingredients and a few special tricks makes it that much better than other recipes you may find online. Mark also pointed out that they roast the walnuts and rehydrate the golden raisins a bit to keep the textures and flavors more interesting. The cake, as a result, is bursting with fresh raisins and has a nutty tone in addition to all the warm spices. Normally, carrot cake can be quite dense, especially paired with a heavier cream cheese frosting, but this cake is still light and fluffy with a decadence unmatched. That may be due to the freezing technique and the whipping of the cream cheese frosting to incorporate some air. Overall, each bite is nostalgic and full of flavor.
And now, the neighborhood haunt has changed a bit during the pandemic. Mark says that like every other restaurant, they have had to get creative to continue to stay afloat.
Expanding outdoor seating, cutting down on in-house seating and starting a venture to ship their special sauce nationwide so customers could enjoy it from their home. And while the changes have been scary, Mark says, they eventually realized they had two options when things shut down and customers were staying at home: fold or go out fighting. So Medium Rare adjusted what it could and kept fighting through a historical pandemic that forced hundreds of businesses to close in D.C. alone.
In addition to those adjustments that have kept the restaurant open, Mark launched a more charitable side to the business. Medium Rare has become well known during the pandemic for its humanitarian efforts to feed D.C. residents and to combat food insecurity. Mark’s We Care nonprofit and Feed the Fridge project were started as a way for him to support the community that supports him.
Feed the Fridge in particular is a project that works with local government agencies and restaurants to stock community refrigerators with healthy, restaurant-quality meals in public spaces. While the program is geared towards school-age children, the meals are free to everyone. We Care provides about $6 per meal to restaurants that donate the meals, served hot or cold, which include a protein, a starch or carbohydrate and a vegetable. Mark says the project has expanded and continued to be successful as an innovative way to address the food insecurity that has only gotten worse during the pandemic.
He’s also continued to cook and deliver meals to elderly residents above 65 throughout the District as a way to help the at-risk population avoid any possible exposure, a program started during the pandemic.
Medium Rare has cooked turkeys for Thanksgiving and delivered other special holiday meals over 33,000 times. Which is quite the success, but also a stark reminder of how many people struggle daily with figuring out where to get their next meal, Mark says. So while he runs Medium Rare as the successful restaurant, he’s still giving back to the community behind the scenes.