Is there anything fennel can’t do? While the licorice-y herb is perhaps best known for putting the “abs” in absinthe, it also provides critical enhancement to the best chicken-fried steak in Georgetown, served at 123-year-old (save for a brief hiatus in the early aughts) Jules Maes.
As with human centenarians, when a bar is Jules Maes’ age, it deserves an infinite amount of credit simply for rolling out of bed. Whereas a lone working tap handle, bottom-shelf liquor, and a surly, hungover bartender would put a less-established bar out of business, at Jules Maes such perceived shortcomings could be seen as endearing. Yet Jules Maes suffers no such ailments. Rather, with its robust live-music calendar and highly skilled staff, its aspirations are astonishing, considering what it could rightfully get away with.
Take the Georgetown Cheesesteak, for instance. Nobody who walks into Jules’ spacious, vintage, saloon-like interior—or into any bar on the West Coast, for that matter—is going to expect to encounter a sandwich worthy of being pitted against Philadelphia’s finest. The key to the Georgetown Cheesesteak isn’t fennel; this time it’s the caliber and preparation of the meat. Most cheesesteaks contain meat shaved thin enough to resemble Steak-Umms. Granted, that’s the classical standard, but it’s pretty consistently underwhelming. By contrast, the Georgetown Cheesesteak’s meat is chunkier and juicier than that of your average cheesesteak, refusing to be overpowered by its neighboring ingredients. In this sandwich, the steak is the star. Isn’t that the way it should always be?
While Jules Maes has the obligatory nuevo-dive tater tots on its menu, it might be the only blue-collar bar in town which serves a marionberry salad. Which raises the question: Why don’t more blue-collar bars in town serve rabbit food? Salads aren’t tough to prepare, and will keep the regulars around a lot longer than what comes out of the fryer.
Not that there’s anything wrong with fryers. Without them, there’d be no chicken-fried steak!