It’s been almost a decade since Great American Restaurants, the Norton family-run group that unflaggingly sustains mainstream Americana restaurants across Northern Virginia, has unveiled a new concept.
This spring, it will bring three restaurants into one space in Tysons Corner.
Up first is Patsy’s American, named after the matriarch of the Norton family, who in the early days waited tables while nine months pregnant and baked the restaurants’ pastries from her own kitchen.
About 75 percent of the menu will feature what Jon Norton says are the “all-star dishes” of the Great American Restaurant canon. Norton is the CEO of GAR, and son of founders Patsy and Randy Norton, who also works with his sister Jill Norton (Vice President of Construction and Design) and brother Timmy Norton (a chef on the R&D team).
Expect smoked salmon with poblano cheddar crisps (made by GAR’s Best Buns bakery) that’s been featured over the years at various restaurants and a lobster roll that Patsy brought to the company after research trips to New England, plus salads, steaks (including cult-hit drunken ribeye), fish, baby back ribs, jambalaya pasta and a variety of sandwiches.
The back bar inside Patsy’s acts as an homage to GAR’s retired concept Fantastic Fritzbe’s Flying Food Factory. In its heyday in the late 1970s and into the ’80s, it was known for its wild happy hours—they’d spin a wheel and determine the cost of drinks, somewhere between 5 cents and 95 cents—and old-fashioned milkshakes. While they’re not bringing back Reagan-era prices, the milkshakes will return, plus 40 beers on tap, as well as three lines dedicated to wine. On the wall: an original Pablo Picasso charcoal sketch, which would probably be more at home in Patsy’s upscale neighbor, Randy’s, for high-end seafood and steaks.
At 70, says Norton, “my father realized it would be his last project. He decided he wanted to have some fun.” Fun, in this case, is $50-plus cuts of prime and wagyu steaks, a three-tier seafood tower and a wine list where every bottle is rated above 90 (by the likes of Robert Parker and other critics).
“It’s definitely out of our wheelhouse,” says Norton, of a brand known for mid-range pricing and mainstream flavors and an unflinching dedication to consistency. “Someone who is a regular guest of ours will see the influences, but will be a totally different experience than at our other restaurants.”
GAR doesn’t change menus with the seasons, with the whims of a farmers market-adoring chefs, with social media-approved trends. He didn’t have an answer for what would be the most Instagrammable dish, at a time when chefs create dishes, and restaurant lighting and plating, to achieve viral fame.
Randy’s promises to be a more intimate experience at 28 tables, and 20 seats at the bar. Menu items include a lobster-crab cake, Dover sole, bronzino, miso sea bass, pan-seared sea scallops with sweet corn and a ribeye cap (a cut rising in popularity, marrying, says J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, “the flavor of the juicy fat of a ribeye, with the tenderness of a tenderloin.”
Vegetables and sides include roasted baby golden beets with whipped goat cheese, wild mushroom, rainbow carrots, corn brulee, truffled mac and cheese and duck fat fries.
Randy Norton has been curating the wine list for his eponymous restaurant, only securing the most highly rated bottles. He says it takes a “crazy amount of time to source everything because once they’re rated well, they disappear.” This was the case with RdV, one of the few Virginia brands he researched for the restaurant.
The list is primarily from the American West, California, Oregon and Washington, with others from France and Italy. Some of his prizes include bottles from Lokoya and Dominus Estate, both from California. Bottle ratings will be listed on the menu. “DC has a lot of analyst types,” says Randy, and “I can appreciate people liking the numbers.”
In the same complex, an offshoot of the bakery will open, Best Buns Bakery & Cafe. It’s the team’s entry into fast-casual eating and will offer a full espresso bar, to-go salads and sandwiches, some hot items (including a burger and fries) and the brand’s array of breads and pastries.
Norton says his parents have been a little embarrassed about their kids insisting on naming restaurants after them. Randy laughs, and calls it “torture.”
“It’s something my wife and I have resisted for 45 years. We kept trying to think of names that would appeal to the kids,” says Randy, and nothing worked. Though they might shy from the limelight, hospitality remains in the family.
Just how the Norton children would scrape gum off tables (for 5 cents a piece) as kids, (as a teen, Jon Norton started the day with the 6 a.m. maintenance shift cleaning bathrooms and later ran the host stand at Mike’s American), the next generation is already paying their dues. This past summer, Norton’s daughter rolled silverware at Sweetwater and his niece learned how to roll dough at Best Buns. // Patsy’s American + Randy’s + Best Buns: 8051 Leesburg Pike, Vienna
*This post has been updated.
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