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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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Nov 16, 2010

Must Haves: El Pollo Rico's World Famous Peruvian Chicken

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Must Haves focuses on some of D.C.'s best dishes.

No restaurant epitomizes the concept of doing one thing well like El Pollo Rico.

You know El Pollo Rico. People in Guam know El Pollo Rico thanks to Tony Bourdain. And if you know El Pollo Rico, you know the chicken is fantastic. So fantastic, in fact, that you ignore the miserably bland fries and crappy cole slaw that every order comes with. You ignore the awkward location, the ugly interior and the owners' legal troubles.

You ignore all that because that chicken, coated in Peruvian spices (ground Inca and cocaine) and rotisseried round and round, is absolutely amazing.

DSCN5799 I've probably eaten hundreds of chickens in my lifetime. After all, it's the first white meat. Yet, I remember the first time I had El Pollo Rico. My buddy Columbo brought a few earth-friendly Styrofoam containers full of half chickens and fries over to my girlfriend's efficiency near Virginia Square. I still remember tearing into the chicken and being blown away by the flavor and thinking, "Wow, these fries really suck."

That's the thing, though, the fries don't matter. The fact that the restaurant is located between Wilson Boulevard and Fairfax Drive, and yet can't be seen from either doesn't matter. The fact that the rest of Clarendon has transformed into a dining destination for hipsters and the well-heeled doesn't seem to matter either.

That damn chicken made El Pollo Rico an Arlington institution a long time ago. And as long as they keep cranking out that magical Peruvian bird, it'll remain an institution, crappy French fries and all.

El Pollo Rico
932 Kenmore St.
Arlington, Va. 22201  

Categories: Arlington, Chicken, Must Haves, Regional Food
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Thanksgiving Turkeys, Get your orders in while you can

This is just a friendly reminder to everyone not to wait too long to get your fresh turkey order in!

In my personal experience, a fresh turkey from a farm is much better than any of the frozen birds you can get at a grocery store. The benefits of a fresh bird are The cook time is almost half that of a frozen turkey and the turkey comes out much better tasting and juicy. Even at the farmers market, if you pick it up at the  farmers market, many times the farmer the bird is still frozen before they give it to you, which really kind of defeats the purpose of getting it from the farmer. In any case, check with the farmer or vendor before you order it to make sure it will be delivered fresh and not frozen.

The problem is sometimes it's a hike to get to a "local" farm. So if driving out to one of the farms listed below isn't an option for you, check with your local Whole Foods, Moms Organic Market, or the Organic Butcher in McLean and ask to make sure the turkey you order will never be frozen. But just remember that you will pay a premium for the convenience.

If you're wondering where these farms are, I've created a page where with a listing of them. 

 

Categories: Farms, Fresh Turkeys, Local Food, Regional Food, Thanksgiving
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May 12, 2010

Half-Smokes on the Grill and 21A IPA in the Can

DSCN5298 Around here, half-smoke sausages and Ben’s Chili Bowl are as synonymous as Nixon and Watergate. You just can’t think of one without the other.

There’s good reason for that. Ben’s makes a good half-smoke. But Ben’s is more than the dog. It’s historic. It’s famous. And it’s nearly as iconic as 1600 Penn.

But with all due respect, Ben's doesn’t produce the best half-smoke sausage in town. You do. Or at least you can.

A few weeks ago, the DC Foodies brain trust and their families got together at my place for an afternoon barbecue and beers. For the occasion, I ordered a 6-foot lamb sausage from my buddy Carlos at Canalas Quality Meats. (You might recall the 5-foot bratwurst I picked up a couple years ago). I noticed that there were a couple bins of half-smokes (hot and mild), so I picked up a couple mild ones for the kids.

The next day, I tossed all the sausages on the grill. The half-smokes finished first and were cut up into bite-size pieces. When the lamb was finished, I followed everyone into the kitchen to start setting everything out to eat. As I was preparing the plates, I noticed a stray piece of half-smoke and popped it in my mouth.

It was the best thing I ate all day.

Don’t get me wrong, the lamb sausage flavored with rosemary and oregano was great. But the half-smokes were incredible. Even chopped up, the sausage was moist with fat, a little spicy and perfectly smokey.

Like I said, Ben’s makes a good half-smoke, but the fresh ones I grilled were better.

DSCN5295 For this recipe, I also made a grilled tomato and shallot relish that you can use in place of ketchup. If you don’t use ketchup, no worries, these half-smokes certainly don’t need any help. And because I treated the half-smokes as sausages rather than hot dogs, I added a little mayo and stone-ground mustard as well. To each their own.

To go with the half-smokes, I picked up a six pack of 21 Amendment’s Brew Free or Die IPA. IPAs are my favorite style of beer, but their bitter, hoppy flavors make them tough to pair with food. So what do you do? Pair the beer with something spicy and very flavorful, like half-smoke sausages.

Thanks to the craft beer revolution, there are plenty of IPAs to choose from. Locally, we have Flying Dog’s Snake Dog IPA and Dogfish Head’s 60 Minute IPA. I chose an IPA brewed 3,000 miles away in San Francisco because 1) it’s a great beer, and 2) I was brain washed into it.

You see, I listen to two beer-themed pod casts (yup, I sure do): Beer School and The Brewing Network’s Sunday Session. The Sunday Session is co-hosted by Shaun O’Sullivan, co-founder of the 21st Amendment Brewpub and Brewery. He’s also friends with John Foster and Motor, the hosts of Beer School. John and Motor are also friends with Nico Freccia, the other co-founder of the 21st Amendment Brewery (or 21A for those in the know), and a frequent guest on The Sunday Session. As you can imagine, the 21A comes up A LOT on these shows.

DSCN5301When their beers started showing up in the area a few months ago, I had a strange urge to try them. But just to show I’m not too brain washed, their most popular (beloved) beer, Hell or High Watermelon Wheat, isn’t really to my liking. But the 21A IPA is excellent, as is the Monk’s Blood Belgian Dark Ale. I also dig the card-board packaging and the fact that all their beers come in cans.

About that IPA, it comes in at a robust 7% ABV and pours a clear golden wheat color. It’s certainly a fully hopped beer, but not nearly as aggressive as other left coast IPAs like Green Flash’s West Coast IPA and Stone’s Ruination IPA. And thanks to the fact that it’s in a can, it’s less susceptible to skunking and you can take it places that otherwise prohibit bottles, like national parks and church.

Half Smokes and Grilled Tomato Relish
(Makes 4 to 8 servings)

4 to 16 half smokes (two per person) from Canalas Quality Meats
1 to 2 packages of hot dog buns
1 pint of cherry tomatoes
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
2 shallots, pealed and halved
2 tbs. balsamic vinegar
2 tbs. olive oil
1 tbs. lemon juice
1 tsp. sugar
Kosher Salt and black pepper to taste

For the half smokes, pull them out of the refrigerator 30 minutes before you plan to start grilling so they can warm up some. For the relish, you’ll want to break out the grilling stir-fry basket. Otherwise, skewer the tomatoes and be careful not to let the shallots slip between the grates. Lightly coat the tomatoes and halved shallots with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

DSCN5292 You’ll want to create a hot spot and a cool spot on the grill. When the grill is ready, place the shallots in the basket or directly on the grill, just slightly off the hot spot. Place the half smokes on the hot spot and close the lid. Grill for 5 minutes. Open the lid and check the sausages. If one side is nicely browned and charred turn them over. Also, flip the shallots over and add the tomatoes to the basket or grill. Close the lid and grill for another 5 minutes. (Check the tomatoes at about 3 minutes. If the skin is already charring and starting to split, move them to the cool spot.) Now, open the lid and move the sausages over to the cool spot (if you haven’t already). If the tomatoes have started to burst, they’re ready to come off.

If your cool spot is well away from the coals, you can leave the sausages on the grill to stay warm. (If you’re using a gas grill, just close the lid and turn off the heat.) The easiest way to do the relish is in a food processor. Basically, add the shallots first and pulse until they’re well chopped. And then add the tomatoes, garlic, vinegar, sugar, lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Pulse the ingredients and taste. When you’re happy, it’s ready to go.

If you don’t have a food processor, just rough chop the shallots and tomatoes and combine all the ingredients in a bowl.

Now, pull the sausages off the grill and stick them in some buns. Finish with the relish and your condiments of choice. I hear Cosby likes his with mustard and onions.

Categories: Beer, Do It Yourself, Eastern Market, Grilling, Regional Food
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Nov 17, 2009

Maryland brewery tour: Frederick and Flying Dog

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I love me a brewery tour. Maybe it's the chance to see how my favorite beverage is made. Maybe it's the chance to meet the brewers. Maybe it's the beer.

It's probably the beer.

Aside from the brewpubs we have in D.C., the District is devoid of any beer makers. However, our northern neighbors have two outstanding breweries, each just a 45 minute drive away: Flying Dog in Frederick, Md., and Clipper City in Baltimore. And once you're done at the breweries, both cities offer other great destinations, including brewpubs (pace yourself).

A few years ago, my wife and I toured Scotland by Scotch distillery. It gave us the excuse to visit a number of small towns and villages, including Oban and Pitlochry, that we would've otherwise driven through or avoided altogether. I'm applying the same approach to visiting Frederick and Baltimore.

I don't know about you, but it's hard enough for me to find a reason to wander into Bethesda or Alexandria. So Frederick and Baltimore might as well be in Maine. But the promise of checking out the inner workings of two outstanding craft breweries is enough to draw me out of the District.

For this two part series, I'll first focus on Frederick, Md., and Flying Dog Brewery, followed by a look at Charm City by way of Clipper City.

FD2 Flying Dog is one of the very best craft beer makers in the country. These are the good folks who brought us Gonzo Imperial Porter, Double Dog Double Pale Ale, and Raging Bitch (not making that up), their new Belgian-style IPA. Ralph Steadman, the man who illustrated Hunter Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 , illustrates Flying Dog's beer labels. And the brewery was just named the 2009 Mid-Sized Brewing Company of the Year.

Oh, and they have a hand pump in the tasting room and will soon begin offering one-offs of their beer exclusively in the tasting room (first up: chocolate Belgian stout). People, if you haven't headed up to the brewery yet, why?

(A quick -- bitter -- aside. For the past couple months I've been working on a piece on bars in the D.C. area that have hand pumps. So I dropped a few F-bombs last Wednesday when I saw that the Washington Post had two - two! - articles dedicated to hand pumps and cask ales. Blake Gopnik and Greg Kitsock did a nice job on both articles, though Kitsock didn't mention District Chophouse in his rundown of bars with beer engines. Take that, old man! Anyway, enjoy all the shots of hand pumps I took. Damn it.)

By all rights, Flying Dog should still be in Colorado. As big a fan as I am about many of our East Coast breweries, Colorado and Oregon are the twin Meccas of American craft brewing. Until a few years ago, Flying Dog was located in Aspen, Colo., where George Stranahan and Richard McIntyre launched the company as a brewpub. In time, the Flying Dog folks realized most of their business was on the East Coast. So in 2006, they left Colorado and moved into Frederick's Wild Goose brewery, which they had purchased a few years earlier to handle their East Coast accounts. Today, the brewery produces not only Flying Dog beers, but also Wild Goose, Terrapin and a few other micro beers on contract.

FD3 You wouldn't know that walking into the tasting room. The room at the front of the brewery looks like a Ralph Steadman art bar. Steadman's paintings and illustrations hang behind the bar and around the room, while the tap line is full rundown of Flying Dog's sizable array of beers. In addition to the regular taps, the tasting room's bar has a nitrogen tap and the aforementioned beer engine. Outside, the windows are ringed by hop vines and the trellised patio almost makes you forget you're drinking in an industrial park.

FD4 For $5, Brian Arnold (left), Chet Hopper or one of Flying Dog's other staffers will walk you through the brewery and pour you five 6 ounce samples (in truth, I got six samples when Brian offered everyone a taste of Doggy Style Pale Ale straight from the bright tank). For the most part, a brewery tour is a brewery tour, so I'm always interested in the little details. At Flying Dog, it was the pairs of boots hanging off a pipe over the brewing floor. Apparently, when Flying Dog staff leave the brewery, they get to toss their boots over the pipe. You have to like that (well, that and the beer from the bright tank).

After the tour and samples, I headed into downtown Frederick. Thanks to Bryan Voltaggio, Frederick is on the foodie map. The Top Chef contestant's restaurant Volt made it into the Washington Post's Dining Guide and the chef's table - Table 21 - is booked into next year (my reservations are for April 2010).

FD5 On the day I was visiting, Frederick was holding its In the Street festival, an event celebrating the city's historic downtown. Flying Dog had three booths spread out across the festival, one of which was in Volt's parking lot. That's where I ran into Stephanie Hinote, the brewery's marketing director. She was making the rounds to Flying Dog's booths where they were passing out samples of Raging Bitch. Like the tour, the booths were manned by Flying Dog's brewery staff, including brewer Larry Pomerantz, who made the Colorado to Maryland move with the brewery, and cellar tech David Kozloski, who worked at Virginia's Breaux Vineyards before joining Flying Dog (left and right in the photo, respectively).

Why the Flying Dog roll call? Because I thought it was nice that Larry, David and the other Flying Dog folks were hanging out at the festival, drinking a few beers and pressing the flesh with their Frederick neighbors. The brewery could just have easily recruited volunteers. They didn't and good for them.

Now, Flying Dog is the big brewery and Voltaggio is the big star, but there's a lot more to Frederick. There's Brewer's Alley. If it weren't for Flying Dog, Brewer's Alley would be Frederick's destination for beer geeks. And unlike the big brewery, Brewer's Alley serves food.

FD6 The brewpub produces 15 year-round and seasonal beers and offers a menu that ranges from bar fare (burgers, barbecue, pizza) to fancier options (London broil, bone-in pork chops, house-smoked Atlantic salmon). Try the two dozen raw oyster for $20. It's tough finding quality raw oysters that cheap in this area, so take advantage of the deal.

Oh, and try the IPA. It's excellent with the oysters.

A tip from Stephanie led me a block down Frederick's main drag, Market Street, to Firestone's. Like Brewer's Alley, it offers an upscale pub menu. Unlike Brewer's Alley, it pours other people's beer. It's a good place. Try the burger and truffle fries. The fries were salty, earthy and garlicky, while the burger was big, juicy and as bloody as I ordered it. Now you could wash it all down with one of the craft beers off their beer menu, or you could get a Flying Dog draft. At this point, I leave it up to you.

So there you go: a Top Chef chef, a quaint downtown, and a great dining scene, all less than an hour's drive away. If you haven't visited Frederick yet, maybe a tour of Flying Dog and its tasting room is just the excuse you need.

Additional photos of Flying Dog and Frederick are available here.

Categories: Beer, Frederick, Regional Food, Travel
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Dec 02, 2008

Tea Time in Annapolis

Capital_teas_entrance In the shadow of the State House building in Downtown Annapolis sits a quaint, unassuming little shop.  On one of my recent visits to Annapolis, I stumbled upon Capital Teas while meandering down one of the many side streets jutting off of Fleet Street.  As soon as I walked in, the strong aroma of pumpkin filled my nose.  One of their autumn tea blends, Pumpkin Spice, was brewing in a lovely crystal teapot fitted with a loose tea infuser.  This was no ordinary tea shop – this was a tea shop for tea lovers. 

Open for a little over a year, Capital Teas brings the traditions of co-owner (and Maryland resident) Manelle Martino’s family to life.  Tea planters and merchants for five generations, Manelle has continued in her family’s footsteps by opening Capital Teas in the heart of Downtown Annapolis.  Buying from wholesale tea distributors from around the world, Manelle has created a vast and varied selection of teas from which tea connoisseurs can choose.  Herbal, green, black and infused teas line the shop in crystal and silver tins, inviting shoppers to smell the various blends.  Dotted among the loose teas are a wide array of tea pots, tea cups, infusers and decanters.  A mug fitted with it’s own ceramic infuser and lid is emblazoned with an Asian inspired design, the Capital Teas logo or simply in one of many solid colors.  An art deco tea kettle fitted with its own tea infuser comes in bright, vibrant primary colors, including red, yellow and blue.  Silver tins labeled with various teas populate the shelves, often in gift towers wrapped in a single brown ribbon embossed with the Capital Teas name.  And presiding over all things tea sits a painting depicting the tea party in Alice in Wonderland, Mad Hatter and all.

Tea_selection_on_the_right When I first walked in, I was immediately drawn to the assortment of black teas, my personal favorites.  I was pleasantly surprised to find a nice selection of organic black teas among the many crystal jars of loose teas.  These blends included Organic Irish Breakfast, Darjeeling, Berry Berry and Rooibos blends, along with an Organic Oolong tea oddly called Slimming Tea (according to Capital Teas, this blend is “a fat burning tea with hints of orchid-like flavor”).  I picked up the Berry Berry and could immediately smell roses and a hint of hibiscus.  The robustness of the aromas filling the jars spoke to the strength and quality of the tea leaves.  While there were the standard Earl Grey blends (both regular and organic), there were also such variations as Versailles Lavender Earl Grey and Cream Earl Black.   The shop is also known for its three signature blends, Annapolis Treasures, Queen Anne’s Pearls and Sailor’s Delight.

Annapolis Treasures is a blend of green and black teas, accented with the flavor of peach.  Opening the jar and taking a whiff, the notes of peach became very apparent.  Trailing slightly behind, however, was a lovely hint of vanilla.  The Queen Anne’s Pearls blend has a more nutty flavor interwoven amongst the green and black teas.  The sales clerk told me it was almond I was smelling when she saw the puzzled look on my face as I tried to place the aroma.  When I got to the Queen_annes_pearls_tins Sailor’s Delight, my mouth instantly watered at the fresh smells of strawberry and papaya permeating the tea.  Also a green and black blend of teas, the Sailor’s Delight is one of the shops best sellers. 

All the other teas fell to the waste side when my eyes fell upon a jar labeled “Rose Tea”.  Growing up in Germany, rose and rose hip teas were common blends found in many households.  When we moved to the States, my mother had a harder time finding good quality rose hip and rose teas, even in the grocery stores on the Army bases.  The blends are either have weak rose flavors or are overpowered with an almost bitter after taste of burnt flowers.  To find a good quality blend of rose tea is difficult, even in this age of the Internet.  On my first visit to Capital Teas, I only bought 2 ounces of the rose tea blend because I wasn’t sure of its quality.  When I got home and brewed my first cup, I was in heaven.  The loose rose tea is populated with dried rose petals, giving it the right amount of rose flavor without overtaking the black leaves.  Even though it was cold outside, my thoughts immediately went to incorporating these flavors into an ice cream.  With my handy little automatic ice cream maker, I set about trying to recreate the rose tea in the form of a frozen treat.

Finished_rose_teaRose Tea Infused Ice Cream
1 cup whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup sugar
2 to 3 tablespoons loose Rose Tea (2 if you want a lighter rose flavor and 3 for a stronger one)

In a medium saucepan on medium heat, combine the milk and cream.  Pour in the sugar, whisking until it has dissolved into the liquid.  Stir in the vanilla and then add the loose tea.  Stirring consistently (this is to keep the loose tea from sticking to the bottom of the pan), allow the mixture to steep for 5 to 10 minutes (steep longer for a stronger flavor).  Keep an eye on the flame to keep the mixture from boiling.  Once the mixture has steeped long enough, remove it from the heat.  Using a sieve, separate out the tea leaves from the milk and cream mixture and pour the mixture into a bowl.  Refrigerate it for at least thirty minutes, allowing the mixture to completely cool.  From this point, follow the manufacturer's instructions for your ice cream machine.  Once the mixture has churned into an ice cream, place it in a freezer safe container and allow the ice cream to harden to your preference.

If Downtown Annapolis is too far, visit Capital Teas website where you can purchase teas and all things tea related to be shipped anywhere in the United States.  Capital Teas, located at 6 Cornhill Street, is open seven days a week (closing at 6 pm during the week and 7 pm on Friday and Saturday.  However, on my many visits, I have found the knowledgeable and friendly staff and the relaxing environment to be as much of a draw as the teas itself.

Categories: Local Food, Recipes, Regional Food, Tea Shop
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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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Nov 20, 2007

Cedarbrook Farm Scrapple

Cedarbrook_farm_table Whether you view scrapple as a humble use of otherwise “throw-away” leftover scraps or a culinary abomination, I hope you will consider this modest loaf of porky goodness. I did last Sunday during a visit to Cedarbrook Farm at the Dupont Farmers Market. It was an offal trip down memory lane.

Having grown up in Philadelphia, I am no stranger to scrapple. I was introduced to the pig “scrap” product as a youngster and I grew to like it long before I knew what was in it. Scrapple, when fried, is crispy on the outside and creamy in the middle. It marries well with fried or poached eggs and a piece of toast. It’s also pretty good with just a puddle of ketchup to dip it in. Later, like hot dogs, I would still eat scrapple but would not want to see it made. Well, maybe I still don’t, but I’m willing to be more secure in my quest for (not main stream) food choices which use the parts you won‘t see lining the cases of your local supermarket. Where once I thought fillet mignon was the king of steaks, I now prefer hangar or flatiron cuts. Not too long ago, I would not think to eat organ meat, until I had lamb kidney in Restaurant Eve’s Tasting Room. The kidney had the most intense lamb flavor I’d ever tasted. It was a revelation and something that many people are missing out on but would probably enjoy immensely (particularly when tendered by a chef like Cathal Armstrong) if they would embrace more parts of the animal.

Small_cedarbrook_pork_menu_2 Before it became foodie de rigueur and chic to eat organ meat, or before the movement which I like to call WWFD? (what would Fergus do?), frugal farmers had been using “nose to tail” practices to utilize all of the animal which they raised to produce food. Relating to scrapple, the pig was butchered, the blood sausage and liverwurst etc. were made, and what was leftover at the very end was made into scrapple. The epicenter of scrapple’s origin is reported to be in Eastern Pennsylvania, with either Dutch settlers who lived in Chester County (just outside of Philadelphia) or the Pennsylvania Dutch who settled in Lancaster County. In either scenario, scrapple is a product made by Old World German settlers (who made a related loaf called panhus) with New World ingredients. Scrapple also enjoys a strong local connection. George Washington’s Pennsylvania Dutch chef introduced him to this dish which he enjoyed all of his life. Today, scrapple can commonly be found throughout the Mid-Atlantic states.

If you don’t care to know what’s in scrapple, just skip on ahead. According to Wikipedia:

"Scrapple is typically made of hog offal, such as the head, heart, liver and other scraps which are boiled with any bones attached (often the entire head), to make a broth. Once cooked, bones and fat are discarded, the meat is reserved, and (dry) cornmeal is boiled in the broth to make a mush. The meat, finely minced, is returned, and seasonings, typically sage, thyme, savory, and others are added. The mush is cast into loaves, and allowed to cool thoroughly until gelled. The proportions and seasoning are very much a matter of the region and the cook's taste."

Small_scrapple_with_egg_4 Now, if you’re still with me, let me tell you what it tastes like. It is a cross between breakfast sausage(herbs) , bacon (salt) and polenta (cornmeal). As I wrote above, it is usually served at breakfast with fried eggs but is also eaten as a sandwich ( a Delaware tradition). Accompaniments to scrapple include ketchup, apple butter, apple sauce and maple syrup.

Now go enjoy your turkey and giblets.

Categories: Regional Food, Scrapple
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