Food & Drink

Peek Inside Virginia’s New Neutral Ground Bar + Kitchen

Armed with a wood-fired oven and a roster of local suppliers, chef David Guas of Bayou Bakery opens a new spot in his own neighborhood

A tropical-colored dining room

Chef David Guas is all about community service: He stepped in to cook for Hurricane Katrina relief efforts in his hometown of New Orleans, rallied his team at Bayou Bakery in Arlington, Virginia, to help those in need during the pandemic, and traveled to Poland with World Central Kitchen in 2022 to feed Ukrainian refugees. Now, though, he’s doing something new for his own community: opening his first full-service restaurant just a few minutes from his home. 

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Best known for Bayou Bakery and his James Beard Award–winning cookbook, Dam Good Sweet, centered on New Orleans–style baking, Guas is stepping out of the Crescent City box for Neutral Ground. The name, though, nods to New Orleans slang for medians, which originated when the city divided itself by Creoles and Anglo-Americans in the 1800s, and Canal Street served as the so-called neutral ground. “At the restaurant, this is our lighthearted attempt to create a space that is neutral in the sense that people can leave their worries and their politics behind,” he says of the name. 

A portrait of a man; a dish of mozz sticks

Photo: Chonkey Cat Media

Chef David Guas; Lillian's tuna croquetas.

As for the menu? Guas has perfected a classic burger he’s been making at home for years, along with a brined bone-in pork chop finished with whole-grain mustard and a fennel and green apple slaw. “But of course I had to have at least one New Orleans dish,” Guas says. There is barbecued shrimp, plus his take on charbroiled oysters, and he slipped in a nod to his Cuban heritage via tuna croquetas, a dish he remembers his grandmother Lillian making.

A tropical cabana room

Photo: chonkey cat media

The Cabana Room.

An orange cocktail in a wine glass; a burger

Photo: chonkey cat media

The Sunset Spritz; the burger with Randall Lineback cattle beef.

Behind every great chef are quality suppliers: The beef for Guas’s burger comes from rare Randall Lineback cattle raised on Chapel Hill Farms fifty miles away. A nearby garden provides fresh microgreens, and the Blackberry oysters hail from the Chesapeake Bay. A Marra Forni wood-burning oven Guas inherited with the space gives the perfect char and smokiness to everything from oysters to pimento peppers to the blistered strawberries that star in the lemon icebox pie (a favorite recipe from Dam Good Sweet.)

A bar with green wallpaper and tropical colors

Photo: chonkey cat media

The bar.

Best of all for Guas and his wife, Simone Rathlé (who oversaw the retro-coastal design down to the custom-made wooden utensil caddies), the restaurant is just over one mile from home. “We’ve lived here for over twenty years and raised two boys here,” Guas says. “It’s our backyard, and our friends have all picked out their bar stools already.”