Beyond Coffee

City Paper

When talking to friends about having dinner at Dooby’s (802 N. Charles St., [410] 702-5144, we kept getting two responses: “They serve dinner?” and “I’ve never been there—the name makes it sound like it’s a haven for trust-fund hippies.”

The answer to the first question is yes, and the second observation couldn’t be further from the truth. Dooby’s is a relaxed modern space in Mount Vernon that during the day poses as a traditional coffee shop/cafe and then at 5 p.m. transforms itself into a restaurant that served us one of the best meals we’ve eaten in a long time. 

Opened a little over a year ago, Dooby’s (after owner Phil Han’s nickname) began offering a full dinner menu last month when chef Tim Dyson came aboard. Dyson’s menu is a little quirky—cheese and charcuterie boards served alongside mainly Korean/ American-inspired fare—but it is concise, with something for everyone, and in the middle of a metamorphosis.  The night we ate at Dooby’s, it provided hit after hit.

First from the small-plates section of the menu came the crawfish pancakes ($10). A trio of petite crawfish-dotted pancakes was spattered with gochujjang aioli, soy caramel, and the ubiquitous scallions. It was a great start, even if we would have liked a crisper pancake. 

Steamed buns ($7) followed next and served as a change of pace from the usual heavily salt-and-sugar-cured pork belly served a la Momofuku that is so prevalent these days. The pork belly is braised and served simply with gochujjang aioli, soy caramel, and kimchi. The buns were pillowy and meshed well with the pork meat. 

The braised sticky ribs ($12), while expensive for three ribs, were delicious. The soy-bourbon glaze had a big hit of molasses and a bit of heat from chili flake, giving it balance and making it the right sauce for the meaty pork ribs. We paired it with a side of the kimchi potato salad ($4) and the two together became the best cookout fare we’d never had. The tangy potato salad and the sweet/salty ribs were made for each other. We will be trying to get the recipe for that potato salad. 

Dooby’s has been serving ramen since May and it’s nice to see that it’s still on the menu, because Dooby’s ramen is the real deal. The shoyu ramen ($13) featured firm Sun Sapporo-style noodles swimming in a rocket-hot chicken and pork shoyu broth and was topped with corn, bamboo shoots, kimchi, nori, and slices of roast pork. Slurping up the dense noodles and lip-smacking broth while it’s still super-hot is the only way to have it. The roast pork and other accoutrement give the diner a different bite almost every time. It’s good stuff, and when the leaves start changing, you can bet we’ll be in Dooby’s with our faces in a steaming-hot bowl of this ramen.

We’re not generally a fan of quinoa. It tastes like dirt that’s been dug up by a shovel made out of moss. But the quinoa bibim hot stone bowl ($14) had us believing that quinoa, when prepared properly, is a grain of beauty. By itself, it is a vegetarian dish with quinoa, sauteed and pickled vegetables, marinated tofu, and a fried egg, but we opted to add the 6-ounce Korean BBQ steak (an extra $5). With a good heaping of gochujjang (chili sauce) mixed in, this was a hearty dish that was light on our stomachs even after we ate too much of it. The pickled vegetables are a shocking treat in comparison to the flavor profile of the rest of the bowl, but it ties it all together. 

Dinner ended with hotteok, a Korean sweet pancake stuffed with brown sugar syrup and crushed peanuts, topped with vanilla-bean ice cream and slathered with hot cinnamon plum compote, which is, unfortunately, not always an available topping. The varying temperatures and the play between tangy and sweet in this dessert made for a fantastic finish. 

While it may be known for its coffee during the day, the cocktails at Dooby’s are also impressive. The Tiki Junmai ($9) was a strong drink that paired well with the various Asian dishes we had. Made from a mixture of gekkeikan junmai Ginjo sake, cocchi americano, falernum, cucumber, and lemon, it bordered on bitter, but was still refreshing enough to keep you drinking more. The Carmen Miranda ($10) was a drink that made us wish there were more summer left—frothed egg white made it light and airy, with fresh and bright flavor from Jamaican rum, cantaloupe, orgeat, lime, and mint. It was a perplexing flavor to wrap our taste buds around. The only way we could describe this was to compare it (in a really good way, mind you) to getting a half-and-half snowball in which one side was egg custard and the other was spearmint. It also went well with everything we ordered—we’ve been craving it since leaving Dooby’s.

It will be interesting to see where Dooby’s menu is headed. We get the feeling this is the start of something special and we will keep an eye on the menu for changes, but in the meantime we’ll be going back for that potato salad recipe.  

Dooby's is open Monday-Thursday 7 a.m.-11 p.m., Friday 7 a.m.-midnight, Saturday 8 a.m.-midnight, and Sunday 8 a.m.-5 p.m.

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