- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Food really does matter at Food Matters, an American comfort-food restaurant in Alexandria. It’s seasonal and local - from the Amish-farm-produced chicken to the red cabbage from Hustontown, Pa.- whenever possible.

“Our motto is eat, drink, shop, learn,” says Tom Przystawik , co-owner of Food Matters. “So, one of the things we try to teach people is the great pleasure of eating locally grown food.”

For Mr. Przystawik, it’s not just another gimmick. He estimates that winter menus are about 50 percent local and summer menus about 85 percent local.

He and his crew are serious about food quality and preparation, as evidenced by a to-die-for salad of warm goat cheese with beets, arugula and walnut vinaigrette. (All but the dressing are locally produced or raised).

The sliced steamed beets - yellow and red - were stacked 2 inches high, crowned by an orb of goat cheese, and perfect. They had that wonderful, but slight, resistance when you bite in and then showered the mouth with their mild but distinctively earthy flavor. The creamy but tart goat cheese and the peppery arugula were a perfect match.

Another mostly local offering not to be missed is the slow-cooked duck confit with shredded, lightly steamed red cabbage with caraway seeds and buttery mashed potatoes. This dish, with its mingling of basic and rich, embodies the term “comfort food.”

Prices are surprisingly inexpensive to moderate.

Focusing on local food means some items, such as tomatoes in winter, are missing on the menu.

That doesn’t always go over well with guests, Mr. Przystawik says, recalling one customer who went so far as to call him names - “elitist” - when she asked and didn’t receive a slice of tomato to go on her hamburger in midwinter.

Though he didn’t give in on the tomato (because the hothouse kind is flavorless) he does concede to balancing his principles with customers’ wishes.

“Our diners are happy to know that we support local farmers, but they’re here primarily for a good meal,” Mr. Przystawik says. “So our main mission is to give them that.”

They do.

If there is a problem with Food Matters, it’s the location, tucked in a subdivision that has a kind of “Pleasantville” perfection to it. It can’t be seen from Duke Street, the closest main highway. In other words, Food Matters is not a place you stumble upon, which means publicity and word of mouth are everything to Mr. Przystawik and his team.

One way they recruit followers is through an online newsletter sent monthly to at least 1,500 subscribers. It has information about everything from local farmers to restaurant events, such as the twice-monthly wine tastings.

These are held in the tasting room off to the side of the main dining room with a communal table made from a recycled barn door. It’s a nice touch, as is the wall of wine that serves as a back drop to the bar.

Otherwise, the dining room is a tad too reminiscent of a cafeteria, including the noise level, which is on the high and clattering side.

The service is fine and fun (our waiter had a great sense of humor and looked to be about 12 years old) as well as adequately knowledgeable about the food, from the source to the preparation.

At Food Matters, the name says it all.

RESTAURANT: Food Matters, 4906 Brenman Park Drive, Alexandria; 703/461-3663; www.foodmattersva.com

HOURS: 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and until 11 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, and 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday

PRICES: Starters $3.95 to $8.95; entrees $13.95 to $25.95; desserts $4.95 t o $6.95

CREDIT CARDS: All major cards

PARKING: Street parking

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible

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