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Aug 23, 2011

Church! The Best Places To Watch Football

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At approximately 6 p.m. on Thursday, September 1, Casey Brockman will walk to the line. The Murray State quarterback will look across the field to find Louisville’s stud linebacker Dexter Heyman, hoping to God the Cardinals’ won’t blitz on first. The 6’2’’ junior will lean over center Brock Rydeck, ignore the jeers of the Cardinals’ crowd, and demand the ball.

In all likelihood, it will be a bad day for Casey, Brock and the Murray State Racers, but an excellent day for the rest of us. Because on that day, when Rydeck snaps that ball and Heyman drives Brockman into the field of Cardinal’s Stadium, football will once again be with us (this NFL preseason crap doesn't count).

It’s been said that this game of grace and violence is our national religion. If that’s the case, then the sports bar is our house of worship. Being a fan of far-away teams (South Florida, Buccaneers), it took me a while to find a few decent bars and restaurants in the D.C. area to watch football. The region may be inundated with sports bars, but few offer the trifecta of great beer, good food and the promise of your team on the screen (unless you’re a Skins fan, in which case any Chili’s will do).

Well, friends, I’m here to help. Below are my top five bars and restaurants in the DMV to watch the faux-pros on Saturday and Pro Bowlers on Sunday. 

1. The Black Squirrel: The Black Squirrel has three floors, 49 taps and 11 TVs (and if you call ahead, the third floor can be your private sports bar). Owner Amy Bowman keeps this Best Beer Bar stocked with a top tier line-up of craft beers, while the talented Gene Sohn runs the kitchen (order the burger). Is it a coincidence that on game days all the TVs are tuned in? Nope, The Black Squirrel was co-founded by former sports columnist Tom Knott. (Disclosure: I’m friends with Amy and Tom. Still, The Black Squirrel is a great place to watch football.) 

2. Iron Horse Taproom: If the Iron Horse Taproom opened at noon on weekends it would be the best place in D.C. to watch football. The multi-level bar is big, filled with TVs, has a great selection of craft beers, and features the best menu in town -- by not featuring a menu at all. The Penn Quarter tavern (pictured above) doesn’t have a kitchen, so it allows patrons to bring in food or have it delivered. Want to dig into some Texas barbecue while watching the Lone Star Showdown? No problemo. Grab a pound of brisket from Hill Country or better yet, a burrito from Capital Q and head to the Iron Horse. How about some lamb vindaloo while you watch the John Beck/Rex Grossman quarterback controversy unfold this season? Mehak is just down the street. Just make sure your game doesn’t start before 5 p.m. If it does, you’ll need to head elsewhere. 

3. Frisco Tap House: What’s more American than football? Excess. The Frisco Tap House has 50 taps, a beer engine, a table where you can pour your own draft beer, an extensive bottle and can list, great burritos and eight giant flat screen TVs (with more coming this fall). Sure, the Columbia, Md., bar is a hike if you live in Logan Circle. But if you live in Maryland, you have one hell of a place to watch football.

4. Capitol Lounge: This is where it started for me. When I moved from Tampa to D.C. in the late 90s, Cap Lounge was the only place in town I could reliably catch Bucs games. It helped that one of the bartenders was a Bucs fan and wanted to watch the games, too. The Capitol Hill bar continues to be a great spot to catch a game, with a mess of TVs tucked and hung throughout the two-floor restaurant, and a stellar selection of craft beers on draft and in bottles and cans.  

41380020 5. Rustico: These days, it’s tough to write a story about beer without mentioning ChurchKey and its downstairs sister, Birch & Barley. But before there was CKBB there was Rustico, owner Michael Babin’s first crack at a craft beer establishment. While ChurchKey is unabashedly a beer bar, a fine one at that, Babin makes sure his two Rustico restaurants remain casual neighborhood spots, which makes them ideal for watching the game. Greg Engert oversaw the beer program at the original Rustico in Alexandria before heading over to ChurchKey, and continues to curate the draft and bottle lists for his original restaurant and the newer Ballston location. Although neither will be mistaken for a sports bar, the Rusticos have just enough TVs to catch most of the marquee games. And if the beer list and full menu aren’t enough to attract you, they’re offering beer specials as well. Beginning September 10, both Rustico locations will offer $3.50 cans of craft beer, including G’Knight, Dale’s Pale Ale, Old Chub and Ten Fidy (they clearly have a thing for Oskar Blues’ beers), and $2.50 cans of college beer (because you or your buddy don’t know better) during games. 

Categories: Adams Morgan, Alexandria, Arlington, Bar/Club, Beer, Capitol Hill, Chinatown/MCI Center/Verizon Center, DC, Food and Drink, Gallery Place, Games, Maryland, MCI Center, Penn Quarter, Sports, Television, Top 5, Virginia, Washington, DC
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Jun 08, 2011

In D.C., The Only Thing More Elusive Than Statehood Is A Good Cubano

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A Cuban sandwich is: ham, roasted pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard pressed until crispy between two slices of Cuban bread, ideally.

It’s a simple sandwich. It’s a great sandwich.

DSCN5828 You want a good Cubano, you go to La Teresita in Tampa. It’s on Columbus by the stadium. Over the years, the Cuban diner has cranked out thousands of Cuban sandwiches, each for about $4. Just look at it. The bread –- the Cuban bread –- is toasted just enough to be crispy, crunchy on the outside, while the interior stays soft and just slightly chewy. The Swiss is warm and beginning to melt. And there’s just enough roasted pork, ham and pickles to fill out the sandwich without going overboard. Simple.

Yet, in the dozen years that I’ve lived in the District of Columbia, I’ve encountered many, many bad Cuban sandwiches. Just awful ones. I became convinced that no one in D.C. could make a proper Cubano.

Before working on this article, I never actively sought out the sandwich around town. I make it back to Tampa enough to satisfy my occasional need to have one. But every time I did encounter a D.C. Cubano, I tried it. If the sandwich was a flop, I would assume the rest of the menu was as well. Why not? If a kitchen can’t make a ham sandwich, why should I assume it can make something more complicated? 

Fortunately, there are six restaurants (using the term loosely) in the DMV that make a good Cubano –- and one of them makes the best Cuban sandwich I’ve ever had … anywhere.

Ceiba, the upscale Latin American restaurant, across the street from the White House and a thousand miles from Tampa, makes the best Cuban sandwich I’ve ever eaten (pictured above). That said, it’s not a traditional Cuban. If you’re a purist, the best traditional Cubano is made in Arlington by a guy from New Orleans. But the ways that Ceiba’s sandwich is different are the ways that it’s better than the rest.

For the most part, I’m still right about how hard it is to find a good Cubano in D.C. This is the town of Jose Andres and Minibar, of Michel Richard and Citronell, of Frank Ruta and Palena, of Vikram Sunderam and Rasika. This town, this foodie town (mostly) can’t make a reasonably good Cuban sandwich.

DSCN5926 G Street Food shoves dry, roasted pork and prosciutto into a roll and calls it a Cuban. It’s not (allegedly, there are other ingredients, but they’re lost in the loaf). Mi Vecindad on the Hill looks like the kind of mom and pop place that should specialize in a great Cubano. The sloppy steamed sandwich (pictured left) I had was the worst of the bunch.

The Disney inspired Cuba Libre offers an Ybor-style Cuban sandwich. Ybor City is the historic district in Tampa. Hey, I grew up in Tampa! I know Ybor! I’ve been there many more times then I remember. This should be great, right?! Right? Nope. The sandwich is too small, too expensive ($16!) and the flavors are too muddled. It’s a so-so sandwich at a Holy Shit! price.

And then there’s the Cubano flatbread at ChurchKey. I know it’s not a sandwich, but Kyle Bailey is a talented chef and I’m a fan of ChurchKey. Unfortunately, the Cubano flatbread is terrible. It may have pork, pickles and Swiss, but it doesn’t taste anything like a Cuban sandwich. Frankly, it doesn’t even taste like a good flatbread.

I could go on (Banana Café, Lima), but you get my point.

DSC_0006 In a strange twist for D.C., though, Jeff Tunks, chef and owner of Ceiba, uses all the right ingredients in his Cuban sandwich (well except Cuban bread, but he gets a pass because no one uses real Cuban bread). However, instead of yellow mustard, he uses a mayonnaise and mustard remoulade sauce. Rather than cured Danish ham, or sweet Virginia ham, Tunks uses a pungent smoked ham. And the Swiss cheese is replaced by its brawnier, more flavorful cousin, gruyere.

Tunks says the real difference is the pork shoulder that he marinates in citrus, garlic, cumin before slow roasting it. When he put the sandwich on the menu 8 years ago, he used pork loin, but switched to the fattier, more tender shoulder after a few months. Since then, the sandwich has remained unchanged. These days, if the pork sits too long in the kitchen before getting sliced, his staff will pick off pieces until the shoulder looks like it was worked over by piranha.

He’s right, the pork is good. The slow-cooked shoulder is juicy and the spices he uses are delicious and authentically Cuban. To me, though, the roasted pork isn’t the difference maker: it’s the smoked ham and remoulade.

DSC_0024 As I write this sentence, I can still smell the smoke on my since washed hands, and I can still taste the remoulade despite the other ingredients. When you bite into the sandwich, the smoke hits you. It’s confusing at first, because it otherwise looks like a traditional Cubano. But the smoked ham is a new element that gives the sandwich a flavor it’s never had before. And it works beautifully.

Then you notice that the bite from the mustard has been replaced by something smoother, richer. Until I talked to Tunks, I couldn’t figure it out. Somehow, the sandwich was more savory. The remoulade, which used a grainy mustard, was the unctuous secret.

Those ingredients added to an otherwise very well made Cubano resulted in one of the very best sandwiches D.C., or Tampa, has to offer. Sure, $13 is a lot to pay for a ham sandwich, but I’d pay twice as much. And if you order it off the late night bar menu, you can get it for half price.  

David Guas doesn’t like the remoulade. A Cuban sandwich needs yellow mustard. And he prefers more pork and less ham, though the smoked ham works for him. Guas’ opinion on Ceiba’s sandwich matters because he helped put it on the menu eight years ago.

DSC_0016 Today, Guas is the owner of Bayou Bakery in Arlington, and specializes in red beans and rice, boudin and has Abita on draft. But a couple days a week (Wednesdays and Thursdays usually) the kitchen will offer hot pressed Cuban sandwiches (pictured above) along with the muff-a-lottas. Guas may be a native of New Orleans, but his father was a native of Havana, Cuba.

Guas’ grandfather left Cuba to attend Loyola University, but returned with a wife and law degree. His grandmother’s ties to Louisiana led her to send Guas’ father and uncle to boarding school in Bay St. Louis, Miss., an hour north of New Orleans.

The city might be famous for po’ boys, but Cubanos were easy to find, Guas said, thanks to New Orleans’ Cuban community. And thanks to his extended family, Guas spent a considerable amount of his youth in Miami where the sandwich is a staple.

So the man from southeastern Louisiana knows from Cubanos.

Guas’ sandwich is fat with pork (that’s a good thing), but not so much so that the other ingredients get drowned out. Although Guas also uses a smoked ham, the flavor is much subtler than the ham Ceiba uses.

Both Guas and his former boss Tunks are big on the French bread they use for their Cubanos (Tunks’ comes from Cardinal, Guas’ comes from the French Bread Factory), but Guas’ roll carries the day thanks to the prodigious amount of butter he spreads on it before toasting it in panini press. The sandwich is crisp and almost flakey on the outside. Unless someone starts using Cuban bread, you’re not going to do better than Guas’ French roll. And at $7, you’re not going to find a better Cuban at a better price.

6 Tunks and Guas may make great sandwiches, but they are not alone in the Cubano trade. Within D.C., there’s also the El Floridano food truck. Parked along a curb in a neighborhood near you (maybe), the El Floridano offers up The Fidel (pictured right).

The Fidel is about as close to a traditional Cuban sandwich as you’ll find in the District. The El Floridano doesn’t do anything fancy (which is also good) and makes the sandwiches fresh. At the order and pick-up window, you can see the small flat-top lined with Cubanos held down by sandwich presses. For $7, you can get as good a sandwich as you’ll find in Tampa or Miami.

Fast Gourmet reminds me of some of my favorite Cuban sandwich spots in Tampa: gas stations. However, gas stations in Tampa don’t look this nice. The Cubano produced in the small kitchen near the corner of 14th and U streets is just as attractive. The crispy, panini pressed bread is stuffed with succulent, slow-roasted pork, ham, Swiss and pickles. Although the menu says the sandwich also comes with mustard and mayo, which isn’t uncommon, skip the mayo. It’s applied too liberally and drowns out whatever mustard is on the sandwich. For $8.50, you also get a side of shoestring fries. Don’t let that deter you from ordering the plantains (maduros). They’re soft, sweet and hot, and come with crème fresh.

Outside D.C., Cuba de Ayer is Havana via Burtonsville. The little Cuban restaurant hidden in a shopping center off Old Columbia Pike offers a great Cuban sandwich. What makes the drive to Burtonsville worth while, though, is the mojo you can order on the side. Dipping the warm and crusty Cubano into the garlic and olive oil mixture makes a good sandwich phenomenal.

Closer in is Cubano’s. What the Silver Spring restaurant lacks in polish and focused service it makes up for in a good Cuban sandwich (skip the fries and get the sweet maduros on the side). I wouldn’t go too far out of my way for Cubano’s, but if I was in the area, I’d be in the dining room.

There may be a lot of great restaurants, and food trucks, in the D.C. area, but there are only six that can make a proper Cuban sandwich. They are:

Ceiba: 701 14th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20005; (202) 393-3983; Cubano: $13
Bayou Bakery: 1515 North Courthouse Rd., Arlington, VA 22201; (703) 243-2410; Cubano, a once a week special (Wednesdays and Thursdays usually), $7
Cuba de Ayer: 15446 Old Columbia Pike, Burtonsville, Md. 20866; (301) 476-8013; Cubano $7.50 (mojo $0.75)
El Floridano: moves daily; Cubano $7
Fast Gourmet: 1400 W St N.W., Washington, D.C. 20009; Cubano $8.50 (plantains $2.50)
Cubano’s: 1201 Fidler Ln., Silver Spring, Md. 20910; Cubano $14.95 (maduros $4.95)

Categories: Arlington, Capitol Hill, Caribbean, Cuban Sandwich, DC, Downtown, Eastern Market, Local Food, Maryland, Pork, Regional Food, Sandwiches, Silver Spring, Virginia, Washington, DC
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Apr 11, 2011

Spike Mendelsohn Doesn't Make Tiny Pizzas

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If variety is the spice of life, then D.C.'s pizza scene is bland.

In fact, it's boring.

Want a pizza in D.C.? Here's what you'll get: an over analyzed 8 inch pie, cooked to a crisp in a 7,000 pound stone oven hand carved by Sicilian grandmothers, blessed by the Pope and shipped to America by the decedents of Amerigo Vespucci. The toppings, what few there are, will be sustainable, local and if you're lucky, "interesting."

The foodie culture - in which I am a participant - has transformed the simple pizza pie from a meal into social discourse. And every now and then, that's fine. I like the pies at 2 Amy's and Pizzeria Paradiso (to say nothing of the pizza at RedRocks, Matchbox, Pizzeria Orso, Ella's, Lost Dog, Seventh Hill, Il Canale, Comet Ping Pong or Pete's Apizza), but I can't tell the difference between a Neapolitain-style, New Haven-style and a thin crust pizza (if there is one). And every now and then I want a slice of pizza that I don't have to think about and can't finish in two bites. Sometimes I just want a slice of pie and a cold beer.

Spike Mendelsohn gives me that.

94770023Instead of precious pizzas for one, Mendelsohn's Capitol Hill pizza shop, We, The Pizza, peddles in large pies and large slices. The pizzas are the size of traditional New York style pies, but thicker, which the Top Chef alum refers to as Capitol Hill style. Although he likes New York-style pizza, the additional thickness helps support the toppings. Yet, they're not so thick that you can't fold them.

The toppings range from cheese and pepperoni to roasted potato and pancetta. And while Mendelsohn is quick to note that he sources locally, uses fresh ingredients, makes his sauces in-house, etcetera, etcetera, his slice of pepperoni glistens with enough pork grease to make me not care. The 30 kids lined up at the register don't care, either. It doesn't matter to them whether Mendelsohn pronounces mozzarella correctly or whether the cheese came from a grass-fed buffalo or cow. They want pizza, not a culinary experience (unless you count gawking at celebrity chefs).

Pie2 What I like most about We, The Pizza is that it manages to be different by being familiar. They're not cranking out the best pies I've ever had (Geno's East), but they are producing solid, tasty pizza. Look at the photo to the left. Where's that pizza from?* RedRocks? Pizzeria Paradiso, maybe? 

That's the problem, isn't it? When everyone is making the same pie, the only thing that separates them is quality (which is relative), location (which is relative to where you are) and for me, beer selection (that's why I like Pizzeria Paradiso so much). Otherwise, there's no damn difference between most D.C. pizzerias. Their pies are as redundant as they are flimsy. After a while, I get tired of the delicate little pizzas that cost me $20 a pop (and if I'm dining with my wife, let's make that $40, because I'm 6'2", 195 pounds, so the one pie ain't going to cut it).

I'll say again, I like the many of the pizzas served around town (sit down Jumbo Slice and Pizza Mart, you make mediocre pizza for twentysomethings too drunk to know better). I just want a few options, and that's what We, The Pizza gives me.

94770020Mendelsohn agreed that the District is oversaturated with Neapolitan-style pizzas, which created a market for his New York-cum-Capitol Hill pies. Although his pizzas are considerably bigger than the Neapolitan-style pizzas, his stainless steel ovens are easier to use and maintain than the wood-burning pizza ovens that are de rigueur for the typical D.C. pizzeria. Besides, for all the fire and fuss, Mendelsohn said most Americans don't like the Neapolitan-style pizza's soggy, soft crust.

He's right. Most folks aren't as wrapped up in the authenticity of the pizza experience. They just want a good slice of pie.

Every Friday night, my wife's parents enjoy a couple of beers and a pizza at ABC Pizza, a small pizza chain in Florida that's as authentically Italian as Popeyes. It's their thing. While they've enjoyed the pizzas at 2 Amys, and my mother-in-law raves about Pizzeria Paradiso, they still love their Friday night pizza at ABC. Sure it's familiar. Sure it's simple. But it's good pizza, and that's what keeps them going back every week.

94770001"When you go into the pizza business everyone thinks you have to be Italian. We have a few Italian touches here and there," Mendelsohn said, "but this is a true American pizzeria."

It is a true American pizzeria. It may have taken a Top Chef to give D.C. a simple, American pizzeria, but we're better for it. 

We, The Pizza
305 Pennsylvania Ave., S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20003
(202) 544-4008

*Comet Ping Pong

Categories: Capitol Hill, DC, Gourmet Pizza, Pizza, Washington, DC
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May 06, 2010

Biergarten Haus: A Whole Lotta Deutschland on H Street

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The word from Aaron McGovern is that Biergarten Haus will open this Friday, June 11.

Thirty-five hundred square feet of outdoor seating.  Thirty mahogany brown tables with bench seating to accommodate around 200 people ... outside. A kitchen cranking out the best of Germany's wurst, as well as locally baked pretzels and rolls. An upstairs bar and dining room with multiple flat-screen TVs airing live coverage of the 2010 World Cup. Three bars, 12 taps, 20 to 30 bottles all showcasing the brewing prowess of the German and Austro-Hungarian empires.

02480008 As cocktails and craft beer continue to dominate the D.C. drinking scene (not a bad thing), H Street's newest restaurant and bar is going to keep it simple by keeping it very German (not bad either).

There will be polka.

The Biergarten Haus is set to open May 14, and it will be big.

In fact, it's the size of the location that gave co-owner Aaron McGovern (pictured above) the idea to open a biergarten in the Atlas District. Aaron and his business partner Arturas Vorobjovas, who co-own the Russia House, have talked about opening a biergarten for years, but didn't have a location until they came across an old five and dime shop on H Street.

When Aaron saw the two-story building with its large patio space, he knew he had the ideal location for a biergarten, Germany's quintessential outdoor watering hole.

"As a young boy I grew up in Falls Church, Virginia, with three German families as neighbors," Aaron said via e-mail. "Having traditional family style meals every weekend opened my eyes and palate to this wonderful cuisine. The weisswurst, weinerschnitzle, sauerkraut, to name a few, were always my favorites."

02470015 While German cuisine will be on the menu, Aaron and Arturas don't plan to go too over the top with the theme. They are planning to have live polka music and are considering hiring an accordion player to come in from time to time, but don't expect to see the staff wearing dirndls and lederhosen.

Chris Chambers, regional director for the Russia House and Biergarten Haus, said the idea is to keep things simple so folks can enjoy themselves. So customers can come for the German food and beer (apparently they're working on a massive "King's Platter" of sausages and sides that is clearly aimed at the 'Skins offensive line), or to grab a beer and watch a soccer match on TV (they hope to be come a destination for D.C. soccer fans).

02470007 Chris also noted that the Biergarten Haus, near the corner of 13th and H streets, is a 10 minute cab ride from the Verizon Center, giving Capitals and Wizards fans a fairly close destination before and after games. For now, cabs and cars will be the means of transportation for most Biergarten Haus customers. The nearest Metro station, New York Avenue, is a long walk down H Street, and the trolley car line is at least a year away from completion. And until the trolley line is finished, H Street will remain a hot mess of construction crews and jersey barriers.

Aaron is taking the long view.

02470009 "We are only a year away from having DC's first European-style trolley, the road construction is rough but the construction crew are making progress daily," he said in his e-mail. "In the past seven months numerous new restaurants have opened, numerous abandoned buildings have been brought back to life. I find that the atlas/capital hill neighbors are very loyal to their business as well as very active the the continuing growth of the neighborhood."

Chris said the rent on the space is reasonable, which should help them get through their first year if the construction limits their customer traffic. In fact, the affordable rent led Aaron and Arturas to lease a space two doors down from the Biergarten Haus location where they plan to eventually open a European market that will offer a few things from the restaurant's menu, as well as sandwiches and other items.

02470023 As for those taps and bottles, Aaron has pulled in the Belgian beer knight himself, Bill Catron. The beer list is still be finalized, but expect a variety of beers from German stalwarts Spaten, Paulaner, Gaffel Kolsch and Eggenberg. However, Bill said he also plans to bring in some "gems," like Paulaner Pilsner, and is looking at ordering a few firkins.

"When you do go to drink beer, you want something a little bit extra," he said.

While the beers that Bill brings in will surely be good, the little bit extra most folks will be interested is the lot of outdoor space that will make the Biergarten a biergarten.

Well that and the beer. And the wurst. And the schnitzel. And maybe, just maybe, the polka.

Biergarten Haus
1355 H St., N.E.
Washington, D.C. 20002

Categories: Beer, Capitol Hill, Coming Soon, DC, H Street, Patio Dining, Restaurant Openings, Washington, DC
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Nov 17, 2008

Turkey Time: With All These Options Why Buy Frozen?

Thanks_goodeatsroastturkey_lg With Thanksgiving less than two weeks away, some of you have probably already selected the bird for your holiday feast.  Who am I kidding?  Some of you more dedicated foodies probably picked your bird soon after it was hatched and tracked its growth all season long!

For those of you who are still searching for that ideal turkey, however, we're happy to provide you with a pretty extensive list of options.  Last year, Ramona walked you through the essentials of selecting a bird for your Thanksgiving feast.  If you didn't read it then, take a few minutes and check it out.  Once you've got a better handle on what you're looking for, check out the list below to find the purveyor that works best for you.

We found that prices can actually vary significantly from farm to farm and even between the farm and retailers for the same turkeys, so you may want to take convenience into consideration as you make your choice.  Is it Img_1095 worth a twenty-minute (or more) trip to save a dollar or two per pound?

Once you've made up your mind, do yourself a favor and call to confirm the details - you may even be able to place your order over the phone right then and there.  That way, you'll maximize your chances to get a turkey that is roughly the size you want.

If you've got any questions about what we've found, feel free to leave a comment and we'll do our best to resolve them for you.

Enjoy...and save a drumstick for us!

Washington-Area Sources for Fresh Thanksgiving Turkeys:

Local Retailers:

Capitol Hill Poultry
Eastern Market's new East Hall
7th Street between Pennsylvania and North Carolina Avenues, SE
Washington, DC  20003
(202) 544-4435
Cost: $2.79 per pound with a $10 or $20 deposit

One of the two poultry vendors at Eastern Market, Capitol Hill Poultry can be found at the far end of the temporary East Hall.  They'll be bringing in fresh Maple Lawn turkeys in sizes from 10 to 30 pounds for pickup on the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving.  They require a deposit or $10 or $20 depending on the size of the turkey you order, and your best bet is to stop in to fill out the request form in person.  Alternatively, you can call in your order at the number listed above.  At roughly a dollar more per pound than Maple Lawn is charging for on-site pickup, this is a pretty minimal markup to get your bird right on Capitol Hill.

Let's Meat on the Avenue
2403 Mt Vernon Ave
Alexandria, VA 22336
(703) 836-6328
Cost: Local = $3.25 per pound; Eberly organic turkeys = $5.45 per pound

Boutique butcher Stephen Gatward's Del Ray shop will be selling both local and organic turkeys and will be taking orders until Thursday.  He expects most of the birds he brings in will be between 10 and 14 pounds, but the earlier you order the better your chances of getting the size you desire.  His local turkeys are free-range, raised without steroids and hormones.  The Eberly birds come from Pennsylvania, and they are the same organic turkeys that Balducci's is selling.

Market Poultry
Eastern Market's new East Hall
7th Street between Pennsylvania and North Carolina Avenues, SE
Washington, DC  20003
(202) 543-7470
Cost: $1.99 per pound

The second vendor at Eastern Market, Mel Inman and son are selling local turkeys from Hillside Farm and Eastern Shore for $1.99 per pound in weights ranging from 8 to 28 pounds.  They'll be taking orders through next Sunday.  If you've always wanted a fried turkey but worry about your fire insurance, they will also be selling fried turkeys up to 14 pounds for $1.99 per pound plus a $30 frying charge.  To order a fried turkey, stop in and pay the $30 as a deposit and place your order before next Saturday.

Organic Butcher of McLean
6712 Old Dominion Drive
McLean, VA  22101
(703) 790-8300
Cost: Natural = $3.49 per pound; Organic = $4.49 per pound; Local = $6.99 per pound

Offering two size ranges (8-13 pounds and 13-18 pounds), the Organic Butcher of McLean will be bringing in three different types of turkeys for every taste.  If you want a local turkey, you'll need to get your order in by the 24th.  For an organic bird, you should be able to walk in purchase one right up to Wednesday, the 26th.  Very convenient for anyone whose Thanksgiving plans end up coming together at the very last minute!

National Retailers:

Balducci's will be offering all-natural turkeys from New York's Plainville Farms for $2.59 per pound and organic turkeys from Pennsylvania's Eberly Farms for $3.99 per pound.  They also have several oven-ready and pre-cooked options available.

Marvelous Market has one option for your holiday turkey: a maple-thyme roasted turkey breast for $69.99.

Trader Joe's will be offering brined all-natural turkeys for $1.79 per pound and Glatt kosher all-natural turkeys for $2.29 per pound.  Both will be delivered fresh (not frozen) to their stores, who are keeping sign-up sheets.  Stop in to pre-order.

Whole Foods has natural free-range turkeys for $2.49 per pound and organic turkeys for $3.49 per pound.  Check out their "Holiday Table" section for a wide range of oven-ready options and ask in your local store if you want to know the provenance of their turkeys.

Local Farms:

Ayrshire Farm
c/o The Home Farm Store
1 East Washington Street
Middleburg, VA
(540) 687-8882
Cost: 10-12 pounds = $135; 14-16 pounds = $165; 18-20 pounds = $180

By far the most expensive option out there, Ayrshire Farm's turkeys are "Free-Range, Certified Organic and Certified Humanely-Raised and Handled Heritage Breed."  They are "produced without hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, insecticides, herbicides or artificial fertilizers.  Our birds are free-ranging with full access to the outdoors and are fed 100% certified organic feeds without animal by-products."  If you live in Hunt Country and Middleburg isn't too far a drive for you, this is certainly a top-quality option.  You can order by phone or online (email [email protected]) and pick up in store from 10 AM to 5 PM Monday through Wednesday the week of Thanksgiving.  They require a non-refundable $50 deposit to hold your turkey.

Eco-Friendly Foods
3397 Stony Fork Road
Moneta, VA  24121
(540) 297-9582
Cost: $3.85 per pound<

Eco-Friendly will be bringing their locally and humanely-raised turkeys to the Courthouse and Dupont Circle farmers' markets next Saturday and Sunday, respectively, but you need to pre-order to pick one up.  You can pre-order online by emailing [email protected] with your name, phone number, email address and the approximate weight range you'd like.  You'll also need to pre-pay a $40 deposit, payable via Paypal.

Fields of Athenry
38082 Snickersville Turnpike
Purcellville, VA  20132
(540) 687-3936
Cost: $7.25 per pound

"Truly all-natural, free range, broad-breasted birds" are offered by Fields of Athenry, in weights from 15 to 35 pounds.  You can order via email by filling out this form and sending it to [email protected].  Be sure to include a credit card number for the $40 deposit.  You can pick up your bird onsite on Monday 4-7 PM, Tuesday or Wednesday from 9 AM to 7 PM.  A word to the wise - the Organic Butcher of McLean has indicated that some of their local turkeys, which will be selling for $6.99 per pound, may be coming from here.

Jehovah-Jireh Farms
7033 Ed Sears Road
Dickerson, MD  20842
(301) 874-6181
Cost: $3.79 per pound

Jehovah-Jireh will be offering pastured turkeys in weights ranging from 10 to 18 pounds for pickup onsite the week of Thanksgiving.  You can arrange to pick up your bird on Monday or Tuesday from 1 to 7 PM or Wednesday from 9 to 5 PM.  They can't guarantee a specific sized turkey, so you may want to show up as early as possible to improve the odds of getting just what you want.

Maple Lawn Farm
11788 Scaggsville Road (Route 216)
Fulton, MD  20759
(301) 725-2074
Cost: Hens (smaller) = $1.95 per pound; Toms (larger) = $1.75 per pound; Smoked = $4.50 per pound

Maple Lawn Farm provides free-range turkeys to a number of local retailers, but you can't beat the price if you're willing to pick them up on site.  Even with the $3 per bird 'drawing charge' - the charge to clean and prepare your bird for cooking - you're still saving a dollar or more per pound relative to what you'll pay if you buy from a retailer in Washington.  Pickup is available Monday through Wednesday from 7 AM to 5 PM, and you can email your request to [email protected].  Check out their site for ordering information.

Springfield Farm
16701 Yeoho Road
Sparks, MD  21152
(410) 472-0738
Cost: Natural broad-breasted white = $2.75 per pound; Pastured broad-breasted white = $4.00 per pound; Pastured heritage or broad-breasted bronze = $5.75 per pound

Springfield Farm raises several breeds of turkeys, including a few of the more prized heritage breeds.  If you're looking to try a taste of classic Americana, these turkeys promise deeper, richer flavors than your average roaster.  To order in advance, you can call or email - just be ready to drive north of Baltimore to pick up your turkey next Saturday and Sunday.  Added bonus: the world headquarters of spice giant McCormick is located in Sparks!  No word on whether they offer tours or free samples, but it's something else to do while you're up there.

Want to see if there are other sellers that might be more convenient to you?  The Maryland Department of Agriculture offers a more comprehensive list of Maryland farms selling turkeys directly to consumers at http://www.mda.state.md.us/md_products/md_turkey_farms.php.

Categories: Alexandria, Capitol Hill, Farmers Markets, Local Food, Regional Food, Thanksgiving
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Oct 24, 2008

Catania Bakery: Fresh-Baked Italian Bread and Pastries Since 1932

Catania_van_panelIt's hard to think of a business that's been around for more than 75 years as a well-kept secret, but somehow Catania Bakery has managed to stay largely under the radar as the ranks of DC Foodies have continued to grow.  Maybe it's the location, or maybe the fact that the lion's share of their baked goods go to restaurants who fail to credit their source, but a search for them online reveals their website, a quick note about their croissants from the Post and a few neighborhood blogs that have posted about their baked goods.  You really won't find the profusion of coverage that you might expect about a place that has served the community since 1932.

Though you've probably never visited Catania's actual shop, there's a good chance you've tasted some of their goods.  If you've ever eaten a sandwich from A. Litteri or Mangialardo & Sons on Capitol Hill, or if you've tried the biscotti at one of several Italian restaurants throughout the city, then you've had Catania.  This is authentic baking, and it stands in stark contrast to the national chains' offerings in terms of crumb, crust and taste.

Catania_interiorWith restaurant sales providing their bread and butter, you might think they would be too busy to sell directly to the community.  But Catania Bakery continues the traditional retail aspect of the business that the Caruso family started back in the day, opening at 6 AM on Saturday mornings to sell pastries, croissants and muffins in addition to their biscotti and breads.  The smell of fresh baked bread and rich, buttery croissants draws you in from the street, reassuring you that you've found this out-of-the-way gem.

Catania_biscotti Walking in the door, you'll likely find yourself greeted by a friendly face.  It may even be Nicole Tramonte, who bought the business from the Carusos back in 1978.  She has run the bakery for the past thirty years, building up their restaurant clientele without forgetting the neighborhood.  Take the time to chat with whomever greets you and you'll learn plenty about the baked goods piled in front of you.  If you're in the mood for something sweet, try a pastry or pick up a bag of biscotti for snacking.  But if you're looking for quintessential Italian bread, complete with a dusting of semolina flour that rubs off in your hands, you'll need to get there early.  Once supplies are gone, that's all for the week.  Call it a reward for getting an early start to your weekend! 

Catania_exterior Getting to Catania is easier said than done, but it's well worth the trip.  The bakery is still located in its historic home at 1404 North Capitol Street, which is on the south-bound side of North Capitol just before you come to New York Avenue.  If you're coming by Metro, your best bet is to take the Red Line to New York Avenue and then walk along New York until you reach North Capitol.  If you're driving, do yourself a favor and take Florida Avenue to North Capitol and then head south, making sure to stay to the right as you approach the point where the North Capitol passes under New York.  Look for the sign in the window and another across the entrance to the building next door, and then head for the open door between them.

Catania's fresh baked goods are delicious, bringing back memories of growing up at the Jersey Shore.  They may not have access to the water that New Yorkers and Philadelphians swear give such distinctive tastes to their local breads, but it seems that Catania's has been doing something right for three quarters of a century.  Their low prices are an added bonus - you can walk out of Catania's with a half-dozen pastries, a bag of biscotti and a loaf of crusty Italian bread for less than ten dollars.  Good luck pulling that off at one of their competitors with locations throughout the city (or the country).

One word of caution before you go rushing out this weekend - call ahead to make sure they'll be open.  Unfortunately, Catania's was robbed (again) this past weekend and could not open last Saturday.  Hopefully they'll have everything squared away in time for this weekend, but there aren't a lot of other options in the neighborhood if you show up and find them closed.

Catania Bakery
1404 North Capitol Street, NW
(202) 332-5135
www.cataniabakery.com
Open Saturdays, 6 AM until sold out

Categories: Capitol Hill, Italian
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Oct 01, 2008

Wine Not: Beer and Cheese Pairing at Sova Tomorrow

Wine_cheese When it comes to cheese pairings, most of us automatically reach for wine.  It's hard to deny the complementary effects that wine and cheese have on each other, and the idea is reinforced throughout the media.

But wine is not the only adult beverage that can be paired with cheese, and the folks at Sova Espresso & Wine are hosting an event tomorrow evening that will demonstrate just how well beer and cheese can go together.  They will be pairing five distinctly different cheeses with five complementary beers as part of the Atlas District's First Thursday celebration on H Street, NE on Oct 2nd.

The event will run from 7 to 9 PM, and it costs $25 per person.  The tasting is being conducted by Jessica Wurwarg, a teacher at that cheese-lover's Mecca, Artisanal.  I had a chance to speak with Jessica, and she informed me that beer and cheese pairing events are a growing trend that can be attributed to the natural relationship that exists between the two fermented products.  "While wine and cheese can be either super-delicious together or the other extreme, beer and cheese are more easy-going."

Unlike wine and cheese pairings, which are often chosen for their contrasting yet complementary flavors, beers are most often paired with cheeses that offer similar characteristics.  The effervescence of the beer can cut through the fat in the cheese to allow a greater appreciation of its flavors - hence the need for a beer that won't clash with the cheese.  An example is the pairing of a sharp cheddar cheese with a crisp IPA - a situation where both are dry and tight on the tongue.

Beer_cheese Wurwarg warned that the main thing to keep in mind when pairing beer and cheese is to seek balance - don't let a heavy beer like a porter overpower a lighter, milder cheese.  The hardest pairings, she said, were for cheeses with complex flavors - washed-rinds and blues are particularly difficult to pair, but guests can expect one such pairing at Thursday's event.  Other likely pairings include a lighter goat cheese with a fruitier Belgian beer and a sheep's milk cheese paired with an amber ale.

First Thursdays are an opportunity for the bars, restaurants and entertainment venues of the Atlas District to showcase their own interpretations of specific themes.  This month - surprise, surprise - the theme is Oktoberfest, which inspired Sova owner Frank Hankins to put together this beer and cheese event.  Other venues' offerings include German specials and 'traditional Oktoberfest clothing' at Granville Moore's, a Beer & Brat special at the Argonaut, $3 Harpoon Oktoberfest beer at the Red and the Black, and $1 wursts (while they last) at the H Street Martini Lounge.  These evenings occur monthly, and each month brings a new theme.  Although this end of H Street is not served by the Metro, there is ample parking in the surrounding neighborhood.  But if you're coming for a beer tasting, you might consider picking up a cab at Union Station or riding the X2 bus line to avoid the need to drive home. 

SovaSova has been open on H Street since the end of last year, and Hankins has been slowly but steadily developing it into exactly the kind of place he first envisioned.  A relaxed neighborhood coffeeshop serving quality Intelligentsia coffee and espresso on the ground floor shares space upstairs with a laid-back wine bar featuring ten or twelve wines by the glass that go beyond the usual cabernet, pinot noir, and sauvignon blanc.  His latest addition is a range of gourmet panini and salads.  Sova is located at 1359 H Street, NE.

Categories: Beer, Capitol Hill, Cheese, Coffee House, Events, Wine Bar
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Jun 11, 2008

Top Chef's Spike Mendelsohn: Bringing 'Good Stuff' to Capitol Hill

TopcheflogoIn just over 12 hours, Bravo's fourth season of Top Chef will come to a close and a new winner will be revealed.  And although many DC Foodies will watch eagerly to see if Lisa gets her long-awaited comeuppance, the real excitement for Washington lies less in what is yet to come than in what has already come of this season - the emergence of Spike Mendelsohn as a celebrity chef on the national stage.  Even before the show had begun taping last year, Spike and his family were working to turn a Pennsylvania Avenue address on Capitol Hill into Good Stuff Eatery, a restaurant that will offer comfort food favorites like burgers, fries and milkshakes using fresh, local ingredients.  Last night, Elizabeth and I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Spike and his General Manager/housemate/longtime partner-in-crime Mike Colletti over mussels and frites at Granville Moore's.  I have to apologize to Colletti in advance, as I've tended to focus on Spike's comments in this writeup at the expense of our broader conversation.  For more of our conversation, check out Elizabeth's post on Capital Spice.

So did Spike give us any spoilers for tonight's finale?  We wish!  Let's just say that he would have no trouble securing a job as a press secretary on the Hill...he refused to give away any of the juicy details, but he was happy to tell us all about his experiences and to give us a sneak peek at what we can expect when Good Stuff Eatery opens later this month.

Spike told us about his audition process, which was more arduous than most of us might expect.  He was actually a finalist for Season 3, when he was invited to Los Angeles as one of thirty potential cheftestants before missing the final cut.  But he submitted a second application video (shot by Colletti) when Season 4 rolled around and this time he struck gold.

Top_chef_promo It becomes very clear when talking to Spike that he represents a new kind of Top Chef contestant - one who recognizes the inherent marketability of competing and who continues to work with Bravo to develop his 'brand.'  He went into the show eager to demonstrate his own style and to make sure he stood out from the crowd, regardless of the final outcome.  But he gives the show a lot of credit for the rigors they put the contestants through, calling it "similar to a French apprenticeship, where they give you a peeler on your first day and you have to work your way up."

The hats, the outsized personality...though he was always true to himself, he was thinking about how his actions would play on the air.  As a result, he has no complaints about how he was represented by the producers - in fact, he's pretty pleased with them.  He is proud of the fact that he has had more contact with Bravo since his episodes were filmed than any other contestant in the history of the show.  And although he couldn't say anything definite, he seemed pretty certain that Top Chef Season 5 would be filmed in New York City or New Orleans...do with that knowledge what you will.

Does Spike have a favorite for tonight's finale?  His positive comments about Stephanie's 'simple, soulful' approach and Richard's 'carefully considered' and 'focused' menus suggest that he would have been happy with either one as the winner, though he admitted to feeling like he worked with the best of the final four when acting as Richard's sous chef in last week's episode.

Spike_and_mike Now that he has settled down here in Washington, Spike is eager to become an active part of the local restaurant scene.  Though he wouldn't go into details, he suggested that several local chefs have submitted strong applications for Top Chef 5 and when he says that at least one of them has a very good chance of making it on the show, he seems to feel a sense of local pride.  He brushes off the machismo of one particularly aggressive local applicant with aplomb.  Spike admits to some favorites on the local restaurant scene, as well.  Even before Jose Andres guest judged and complimented him for his shrewd performance in Restaurant Wars, Spike was an early fan of Zaytinya.  These days, he adds Michel Richard's Central to his growing list of favorites, praising Richard for his smart approach to growing his brand and "really getting into every aspect of it as a chef.  You can see it in his hands and you can tell it in the food."

Following his sister (who handles marketing for Good Stuff) and his parents to town, Spike is focused on launching a number of Good Stuff Eateries throughout Washington - and eventually even further afield.  Even before the paint has dried at their Capitol Hill location, they are close to locking in another venue on Adams Morgan's busy 18th Street corridor.  He has created a restaurant group, Sunnyside Group LLC, with an eye toward several other concepts that reflect his prior experience - an Asian establishment whose primary influence will be Vietnamese cuisine and a Mediterranean restaurant showcasing his Greek heritage are projects he is eager to tackle.

Good_stuff_shirtsBut first Good Stuff needs to take off on Capitol Hill, which shouldn't be any problem at all if the food lives up to the impressive billing Mike and Spike give it.  They can't help but smile as they talk about the process for making their fries, and their enthusiasm for aged Kingston potatoes that result in fries with a mashed-potato like interior is contagious.  Even with two full bowls of Granville Moore's delicious frites in front of us, I found myself eagerly visualizing what they were describing. 

Their burgers and salads sound equally appetizing, catering to a wide range of tastes with flavorful options that include the standard steakhouse burger and wedge salads, but quickly veer into uncharted territory with a spicy banh mi style burger and a mushroom burger that finds two kinds of cheese melted between two portobello mushroom caps.  Though they will provide ketchup and mustard for those who deem them inherent to any good burger, the guys were quick to point out that their burgers will feature a special sauce that should render lesser condiments unnecessary.  Vinegar and homemade mayonnaises for the fries will also be offered.  And hand-spun milkshakes made from fresh custard made on site daily will help to wash it all down.

Good Stuff Eatery will have seating for roughly 80 customers at a time, with outdoor space and a communal table that seats at least 12 upstairs.  Food will be made to order, so it will be interesting to see how they cope with the double-whammy of Spike's celebrity and the typical crush of Hill staffers on their lunch breaks during the day.

We won't have to wait long to find out - Good Stuff is anticipating an opening before the end of June, and you can bet that people will be lined up out the door from Day One to catch a glimpse of Spike and enjoy their burgers, fries and shakes (and salads).

Good Stuff Eatery
303 Pennsylvania Ave., SE
Map
(202) 543-8222
www.goodstuffeatery.com

Categories: Capitol Hill, Coming Soon
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May 13, 2008

Sticky Rice to Open on H Street Next Week: Sushi (and Tater Tots) Buzz

Sticky_ricePeanut butter and jelly.  Macaroni and cheese.  Dark chocolate and port.  Anything and bacon.

There are some classic food combinations that just work.  Sushi and tater tots have not previously been on that list in my mind, but I'm ready to be convinced.  And now Sticky Rice is ready to do the convincing.  As reported by THE source for all things on and around H Street, FrozenTropics, the Washington outpost of the popular Richmond institution is just about ready to open its door.  Though they are waiting on a few final details, they fully anticipate being open for business next week.

Sticky1 I had the chance to talk with the guys who will be running the show up here in Washington, and they took the time to tell me a bit about what D.C. foodies can expect at this eclectic eatery.  For those who are unfamiliar with Sticky Rice, the concept can best be described as "Asian-fusion," but that's only the tip of the iceberg.  The menu at Sticky Rice includes a wide range of sashimi and sushi (nigiri and rolls) as well as several noodle-based dishes that can be ordered with beef, chicken, seafood or tofu.  But they are not limited to the typical fusion offerings - a half-dozen sandwiches are available, as are appetizers including the hyped "bucket of tots" that is ready and waiting for late-night crowds coming from the Rock n' Roll Hotel, the Red & the Black and even the Atlas Theater.

Sticky2 Check out their website for a better idea of their menu, and while you're there be sure to notice just how much of it is Vegetarian and Vegan-friendly.  Quite a few of their menu items are inherently suited to Vegetarian diets (and noted as such on the menu), and even more of them can be easily modified to accommodate.

Unlike quite a few Asian-focused restaurants, Sticky Rice intends to offer a wide selection of suitable beers and wines, in addition to a hand-selected range of sakes that reflects the various styles that are available.  And because they recognize that many people aren't as familiar with sake as they are with other beverages, they plan to offer bi-monthly or monthly sake dinners that will feature different styles of sake paired with complementary dishes.

And just to whet your appetites a little bit further, here are some of the other things we can expect when Sticky Rice opens next week: 

  • Sticky3 NO IMITATION CRABMEAT - Though this is almost an unheard of practice among sushi purveyors in Washington, Sticky Rice will use 100% genuine crab in all of its sushi.  Although this results in a $5 California Roll, it definitely sets them apart from the competition.
  • Weekly specials will cover all courses - In other words, look for a sushi special, an appetizer special, an entree special, a sandwich special, etc. each week.
  • A Late Night 'Fry' Menu - Although the full menu will not be available, Sticky Rice will remain open until 2 AM Sunday through Thursday and 3 AM Friday and Saturday.   Once the main kitchen closes, a fry menu will feature tater tots, sticky balls, garden balls and other fried goodness.
  • Experienced chefs from the start - Four of the chefs from the Richmond Sticky Rice will be coming up to Washington for two months to make sure that the new kitchen delivers the way the original does.
  • Nightly events including "Sushi Heaven" on Mondays (half-priced sushi from 10:30 to 12:30 PM), Karaoke on Tuesday, Blingo (speed bingo) on Thursdays and trivia nights on Sundays.

Sticky Rice has seating capacity for roughly 100 people on two levels and an outdoor seating area on the second floor.  They will open from 5 PM every night, though the kitchen hours will vary from night to night.

Sticky Rice - Opening next week
1224 H Street, NE
Map
(202) 397-ROLL (397-7655)
www.stickyricedc.com

Categories: Asian/Sushi, Capitol Hill, Munchies, Restaurant Openings
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Apr 30, 2008

Cinco de Mayo in the District: Putting the Si! in DC

CoronaPop Quiz: What does Cinco de Mayo actually celebrate?

1)  Mexico's independence from Spain in 1810
2)  Corona's independence from the Gambrinus import company in 2007
3)  Nothing.  It's a play on the use of "fifth" to refer to a handle of alcohol, in this case tequila.
4)  Mexico's victory over French forces at Puebla in 1862

The answer, it turns out, is 4.  But the reality is that Cinco de Mayo celebrations in America most often resemble a sort of Mexican Saint Patrick's Day - a chance to consume alcoholic beverages in the name of cultural heritage.

Here in Washington, there is no shortage of Tex-Mex and Mexican restaurants where you can celebrate Cinco de Mayo next Monday.  Since we're enjoying the glorious mid-spring weather that brings mild temperatures and low humidity but lasts all of three weeks here in the District, I thought I would share some of my favorite places to enjoy margaritas and cervezas that will allow you to celebrate Mexico's military prowess in a variety of styles.

And, as a dedicated cheese lover, I can assure you that each of these places offers a variation on traditional Mexican queso-focused dishes - from the ubiquitous chile con queso cheese dip (most often made from good old American cheese) to more ambitious offerings like queso fundido con tequila at Oyamel and chiles rellenos at Cactus Cantina.  The best of these feature authentic queso blanco and other Mexican cheeses that are otherwise overlooked.

La Loma
316 Massachusetts Avenue, NE
Washington, DC  20002
(202) 548-2550
Img_4652Recommended for: Happy hour groups, especially young professionals on the Hill
This Massachusetts Avenue establishment serves up margaritas and sangria to a mostly Hill staffer crowd who appreciate the strength of the beverages and the outdoor patio seating as the weather gets warmer.  Although I'm no expert in Tex-Mex cuisine, friends have assured me that the menu here offers some of the most authentic flavors they've found in Washington.  Even so, the cuisine is not the best reason to check out La Loma.  That honor goes to the original margaritas (on the rocks with or without a salt rim), which are sweet and sour enough to cover the burn of the tequila.  Frozen margaritas are available, as are flavored options, but the original is king here.  Their sangria is sweet, with definite citrus notes and an unexpected kick that can sneak up on you unexpectedly.  If you can score a table on the patio, this is a great place to sit and celebrate Cinco de Mayo with a group of friends - but be prepared to get there early and share the space with other fiesta-minded groups.

Cantina Marina
600 Water Street, SW
Washington, DC  20024
(202) 554-8396
Recommended for: Casual dining and a unique waterfront perspective on Washington
Cantina Marina is celebrating its fifth anniversary this year, and they remain a slightly off-the-beaten-path option for anyone who's tired of visiting the usual bar scenes in Dupont Circle, Adams Morgan and Georgetown.  Cantina Marina's location over the water on the Southwest Waterfront provides great views of the Washington Monument while still creating the impression that you're somewhere outside the city, for a change.  Offering a menu that tends more toward pan-Gulf than traditional Mexican, they nevertheless serve up Baja-style fish and shrimp tacos alongside New Orleans-inspired gumbo and po'boy sandwiches.  Their margaritas come in four varieties ranging from $7 to $10 each, making them a pricier option than at some of your other options, but the Cadillac, which blends Cuervo and Grand Marnier, is a smooth ride for the money.  They will be celebrating Cinco de Mayo all weekend with specials on XX Lager, XX Amber and Tecate, and the Marina will open at 10:30 on Monday for a "Breakfast and Beer" special.  During the day, they will be hosting a live broadcast by WJFK's "Big O and Dukes" from 11 to 3.  Expect a lively crowd Monday night.

Cactus Cantina
3300 Wisconsin Avenue, NW
Washington, DC  20016
(202) 686-7222
Recommended for: Unrivaled swirled frozen margaritas and a history of solid Tex-Mex cuisine
Located just up the block from Two Amy's, Cactus Cantina is an old favorite among many people who crave Tex-Mex in Washington.  Fajitas and enchiladas are only the tip of the iceberg, with Mexican soup, chiles rellenos (stuffed with either beef or cheese) and pork ribs a la barbacoa giving diners quite a few options.  Although margarita purists might be put off by their emphasis on their frozen offerings (don't worry - originals are also available), their prices are hard to argue and the flavors, including strawberry, peach and mango,  are spot-on.  At less than $6 per mug (or $26 per pitcher), these really are frozen treats.  Cactus Cantina can easily seat more than 250 guests, making it a great option for those who might be looking for a sit-down dinner.  Their sister restaurant/lounge, Lauriol Plaza on 18th Street, is another option...though it is far more likely to be packed to the gills with a young bar crowd.

Oyamel Cocina Mexicana
401 7th Street, NW
Washington, DC  20004
(202) 628-1005
Img_4658Recommended for:  An authentic Mexican dining experience from the man who brought us Jaleo and Minibar
Grasshopper tacos?  Six kinds of ceviche and a full ceviche bar?  Moles?  Pepitas?  Oyamel is all of these things and more.  Executive Chef Jose Andres, the creative force behind Jaleo, Cafe Atlantico and Minibar, brings a taste of Mexico City to DC at Oyamel, and it really goes above and beyond just about anything else that is currently available in Washington when it comes to Mexican cuisine.  Chef Joe Raffa has been nominated for a RAMMY award by the Restaurant Association of Metro Washington as a 'Rising Star,' so you know the menu is in good hands.  If you're willing to be a little adventurous, this could be the best possible place for a DC Foodie to spend Cinco de Mayo - they've even got signature cocktails and margaritas to help you celebrate.  But you may want to move quickly to lock in a reservation...chances are they're going fast.

And for those of you who prefer something a bit bigger and more active, there is a street festival from 5 to 9 PM on Monday in the Downtown area of Silver Spring.  For more details, check it out here.

Feliz Cinco de Mayo!

Categories: Capitol Hill, Cathedral/Glover Park, Downtown, Mexican, Outdoor Dining
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