You could say Jahmond Quander is living the American dream. The restaurateur’s family arrived on American shores from Ghana in the 17th century, and documentation proves that the Quanders served George Washington at Mount Vernon. Centuries later, Quander ran food and beverage service at the very same property. Most fulfilling of all? At his very own restaurant, 1799 Prime Steak & Seafood, he’s about to start a harvest-to-table dinner series with the property’s director of horticulture to bring the produce that his ancestors may have once cultivated to diners’ plates.
Quander is a restaurant industry lifer with 30 years of experience. He’s opened eateries from Towson to Times Square, including steakhouses. But there was little doubt that when he debuted a project that was all his own, it would be in Alexandria, not far from Quander Road, named for his family, who continued to live there for generations.
The goal of opening a steakhouse in Old Town took shape five years ago, but while he searched for the right location, he helped run Blackwall Hitch with Eleazar Tena, whom Quander calls “Chef Sonny.”
“We have a great relationship built on trust and respect for one another,” says Quander of the culinarian who became his business partner.
1799 opened in August 2022 in the space formerly occupied by the beloved fine dining destination Restaurant Eve. “I felt like I was in the shadow of Restaurant Eve,” Quander admits. But he doesn’t need to: With a welcoming feel and crave-worthy steaks, he’s found a formula that should work just fine.
The only problem is that it’s not yet consistent on every visit. On one brisk day, the lunchtime crowd packed all three dining rooms. Despite having a reservation, my party scored the very last table. At the host stand, it was colder inside than out. This colored that whole visit, when servers seemed to be actively avoiding my table and its chill. The lemon emulsion that dressed my whole grilled branzino was broken, just part of a plate that, at $42, would have still disappointed at half the price.
Growing pains? I hope so. On my next venture to 1799, I sat in another room, right by the fireplace, and the good vibes reflected the flickering flames. My server was chatty, in a good mood, and was loose with his recommendations.
Those included his favorite starter, the braised pork belly, which I otherwise might have overlooked. Served in thick rashers, the meat piles high on the plate. A smattering of spiced sugar prepares the belly for an auspicious meeting with a blowtorch. The pork melts at first bite, combining a crispy charred exterior with a fatty inside. Oddly, the plate’s greatest coup is a single head of baby bok choy. Let me explain: Bok choy is typically my least favorite green vegetable — slimy and flavorless. But this crunchy version dressed in fig demi-glace made me rethink my stance on the brassica.
Another highlight among the appetizers is the fryer basket filled with rings and tiny tentacles of calamari, along with the unorthodox inclusion of green beans. Surprisingly, it works, making the tender squid and al dente beans feel like a satisfying meal. It’s also one of 1799’s most visually pleasing dishes, thanks not only to the bronzed glow of the batter, but also the rustic-looking pot of tangy marinara, covered liberally with fresh basil. Seafood lovers may also want to ball out on the tempura lobster tail, with its cilantro-lime sauce and smoked chile oil. And landlubbers? Quander recommends the herb-crusted lamb chops, but also the colorful salads.
Though my wade into the seafood side of the menu had mixed results, I can wholeheartedly recommend steaks and burgers alike. The latter, on a shiny brioche bun, is a classic in the making thanks to a juicy prime beef patty topped with roasted garlic aioli, house sweet pickles, and a layer of American cheese. The house frites are a crisp, skin-on success, too.
The steaks, says Quander, are mostly prime, with the exception of the filet mignon, which is certified Angus beef. “Our guests have told us that they love the filet,” he says with pride. They’re not wrong, but Quander’s personal favorite, the rib-eye, is no slouch either. The steaks I sampled were cooked accurately to temp with a just-right coating of char.
I ordered the filet with Béarnaise sauce as a test — after that fateful lemon emulsion, I wanted to see if it, too, would be broken. Quite the contrary, the sauce was rich, pleasingly packed with lemon, and served directly on the steak, looking like a gilded box.
Fat spears of asparagus are seasoned and grilled to perfection, so it’s not necessary to order sides, but skipping the crisp-crusted mac and cheese, sweet with melted onions, would be an error.
The desserts I tried were lovely, especially the lemon mascarpone mousse cake, which is thankfully more creamy than acidic. Nonetheless, the final course was a consistent disappointment, due to the fact that items on the menu were missing at each of my meals. I may never know how good the chocolate spoonful cake is.
What I do know is that it’s a rare thing for a local entrepreneur to take on the expense of opening a steakhouse. Quander’s sheer guts should be celebrated. While the restaurant isn’t yet a slam dunk, it’s well on the way. Just because 1799 was birthed with a robust backstory and experienced team, doesn’t mean that it isn’t entitled to the usual growing pains. And I’m convinced that Quander is already doing enough to make his Alexandria ancestors plenty proud.
1799 Prime Steak & Seafood
See This: The 200-year-old building has been refurbished differently in each room. Stick by the fireplace for a little physical warmth to match your welcome.
Eat This: Crispy calamari, filet mignon, lemon mascarpone mousse cake
Open for dinner daily; lunch Monday through Saturday; brunch Sunday
110 S. Pitt St., Alexandria
This story originally ran in our February issue. For more stories like this, subscribe to Northern Virginia Magazine.