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December 2009

Recession Refreshment: Saint-Meyland Brut, for New Year's!

Jayzchampagne "Cristal Forever, play the crib when it's mink weather."

When Jay-Z penned that way back in the mid 90's it felt like the truth, and sounded like a damn good plan, especially on New Year's Eve. Fast-forward a decade or so and the economy is in the toilet, Mr. Carter has declared war on the brand he made big, and nobody is buying Champagne. The boom years are over for the world's finest sparklers, and the fourth-quarter '09 has been so bad that many importers are sending the stuff back to France, to make room in their warehouses. After expanding vineyard sites, upping production and jacking up prices, the Champenoise are feeling the bitter bite of hubris this winter, and who's to say if and when they'll rebound?

But passing New Year's without the bubbly would be like celebrating without the ball in Times Square, or the increasingly awkward Dick Clark. So what are people popping these days to let the good times roll? Spanish Cava, like the ubiquitous Freixenet, and Italian Proseccos are a dime a dozen, and many can be had for less than 10 bucks. Unfortunately, many of these are on the insipid side, and often have an unpleasant cardboardy finish, not to mention the wicked hangover they leave you with the next day. No, for my money, French is still the way to go, and one of my all-time favorites, Saint-Meyland Brut, can still be had for a song.

SaintMey Made by Caves de Musigny in the region of Bourgogne, Saint-Meyland has most of the pedigree of it's high end cousins, without the price tag. Like Champagne, this wine relies heavily on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, and it is fermented in the same manner, using the methode traditionnelle. All bubbles are not created equal, and it is generally accepted that those attained by the Champagne method wherein the second fermentation occurs in the bottle, are by far the most long lasting and pleasant. Also, that second dose of yeast in the bottle imparts toasty, bready flavors to the wine, which are much harder to achieve through other means.

The upshot? Saint-Meyland comes pretty damn close to the good stuff. After popping, the wine pours a pretty lemon yellow with golden highlights. Toasty pear notes dominate the nose, with mild notes of quince and apple sauce. More apple flavors accent the attack, which is carried by a fine mousse of tingly, well-formed bubbles. Bready yeast, cider, and black pepper lead the middle to a dry, lemony, herbaceous finish.

I picked up my bottle at Connecticut Avenue Wine and Spirits for $12.99, but it should be pretty readily available at most of your better local retailers. If you're looking for a last minute selection that won't break the bank, keep an eye out for this bright blue label. To end a year where even ballers aren't partying like ballers, Saint-Meylandis super appropriate. Drink up, and Happy New Year!

Washington DC Restaurant Week, Winter 2010

Restaurant-week It's that time of year again, folks! DC Winter Restaurant Week has been announced for January 11th - 17th. Almost 200 area restaurants are participating this winter, offering a three-course dinner for $35.10, or a three-course lunch for just $20.10. RW offers a great opportunity for local residents to explore places they've never been, and to taste the best the city has to offer for a fraction of the price. As always, DCFoodies will be offering up this season's menus as we receive them -- but don't wait! A lot of restaurants play it close to the chest, not releasing their special menu until days before the event, when most of the better tables are already booked. Here's a few tips for booking early:

1) Avoid places that already offer special pre-theatre menus, and the like. You can experience these places on the cheap anytime, sometimes at a better price than the RW offering. Of course, a lot of these places have been known to throw a free glass of wine into the deal...

2) Go for the big and pricey! Hey, when is the next time you are gonna get a meal at Ruth's Chris for less than $40? Look for the $$$s and $$$$s on OpenTable and go for broke, though bear in mind, those ones book up fast.

3) Some restaurants put more into Restaurant Week than others. Some offer a bare-bones selection, hardly indicative of what they really can do. On the opposite end of the spectrum, a few offer the entire menu, giving diners the option of tasting everything the chef has to offer. Though one can never be sure ahead of time, take a look at last year's menus, as they should give you a good idea as to who goes all out for the occasion.

4) Many places extend the Restaurant Week pricing for additional month or two. If your time is short and you wanna cram a lot in, again, take a look at last year's menus, and hold off booking those places that extended the deal, as they are more likely to do so this year as well.

5) Though it may be tempting to pick the trendy new spots on this year's list, consider giving it a pass. Restaurants have enough troubles within their first six months without taking Restaurant Week into consideration -- those that take it on too quick often prove unfit for the task, with lackluster service and questionable food being the end result. Give it some time, and stick to the tried and true -- if they are any good, the new guys will be around for this summer's Restaurant Week.

For a full list of participating restaurants, please visit the official website here. Stay tuned, as we will be rolling out the menus as soon as they become available.

Lost Dog Café: Neighborhood pizzeria has been a best beer bar for a quarter century

Lost Dog Pizza Deli
It’s good days around here lately. With the proliferation of bars and restaurants serving quality craft beer and imports, we are clearly in the throes of a beer renaissance.

In the past five years alone, we’ve seen the establishment of The Black Squirrel, Rustico and its sister establishments Birch & Barley and ChurchKey , Birreria Paradiso and the expansion of Pizzeria Paradiso in Dupont (which basically made room for the bar), Franklin’s, RFD, and the Belgian invasion. Other restaurants, restaurants that you don’t equate with beer, have gotten on board. CityZen offers a beer course as part of the wine pairing that accompanies Chef Eric Zeibold’s tasting menu, and Michel Richard imports Blusser for his restaurant Central.

What did we have before that? Most people would rightly point to The Brickskeller. For half a century, the granddaddy of DC beer bars has boasted hundreds of beers on hand, while other bars and restaurants offered little more than Bud and Miller on tap. But I wonder if most people – most beer lovers – realize that there’s a neighborhood pizzeria just across the river in Arlington that’s been offering up well over a hundred beers for the past quarter century?

The Gourmet Pizza Deli Home of the Lost Dog Café (Lost Dog to most of us) has been cranking out pizzas and sandwiches, and pouring beers – lots of beers – since 1985. When Lost Dog opened a quarter century ago as a carryout and delivery pizza joint on Washington Boulevard, it had more than a hundred beers on the menu.

DSCN4721 Ross Underwood, who opened Lost Dog with his partner Pamela McAlwee, said he opened the pizzeria when pizza delivery was the hot new thing. Seeking a location to open shop, and escape their “boring” jobs with Marriott, Ross and Pam came across a wine and cheese shop in a small Arlington shopping center that happened to have a rather large beer selection. The pair bought the place and turned it into a pizza shop, but Ross recognized the uniqueness of the beer selection and kept it.

So in the days of the Noid and “30 minutes or it’s free” pizza, Lost Dog was delivering Anchor Steam and Weihenstephaner with its pies (in fact, it still does).

Now, before I continue this best beer bar profile, I should point out that Ross is not a beer guy. Oh, he likes beer, and for years he tasted all the beers he sold (even when his numbers climbed to 350), but he is by no means a beer geek. Yet, he has owned and operated one of the D.C. area’s longest running, most successful beer bars for 25 years.

Lost Dog Pizza Deli MenuToday, Ross has more of a taste for the wine he stocks and Pam spends most of her time on the animal rescue foundation (more on that later). The 180 or so beers and 16 taps are overseen by the Lost Dog’s five managers, with occasional input by Ross. He still spends seven days a week at Lost Dog, and The Stray Cat Café he opened in 2005 a few doors down, but he’s usually gone before noon. As most restaurants limped through the recent economic downturn, Ross bought the laundromat next door to the Lost Dog and closed it all for two months to expand and update the restaurant. Despite the additional space, the place was as jammed as ever when I stopped by recently.

That really is one of the more remarkable things about the Lost Dog. It is always busy. Always. I sat down with Ross around 10:30 one morning to talk about his business and the beers. When the doors opened a half hour later, the first customers were waiting. Whether it’s effort or luck, or both, Ross and Pam have built a very successful business that shows no sign of fading.

As a sign of that, Ross and Pam have begun franchising the Lost Dog brand. Four of their former employees opened up a Lost Dog Café on Columbia Pike, across from the Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse, and are planning another location in McLean. The off-shoot has all the trademarks of Ross’ and Pam’s original (canine motif, pizzas and sandwiches, a large beer selection). However, it doesn’t have Ross or Pam. No, they’re happy with the original Lost Dog and Stray Cat. They also have the foundation to focus on and Ross mentioned something about a house in Mexico.

When the Lost Dog was still a carryout, Pam started to bring home stray dogs. And so it went for years. In 1996, as Ross and Pam were expanding the Lost Dog into a sit-down restaurant, Pam’s interest in rescuing strays expanded into a full-fledged rescue operation, saving dogs from being euthanized. Five years later, she and Ross founded the Lost Dog & Cat Rescue Foundation, which now finds homes for more than 1,500 animals a year. Because Pam and Ross support the foundation using proceeds from the Lost Dog and Stray Cat, don’t sweat that second (or third) beer. The money is going to a good cause.

DSCN4725 I’ve been going to the Lost Dog since I moved to the area in 1998. The wife and I even have a ritual of hitting the Lost Dog anytime I have to take her to Dulles, or pick her up from work, or if we’re itching for a pie and a few beers (fine, it’s not so much a ritual as a habit). The beer selection is outstanding, but the food is solid too. I love me a sandwich, and one of the best I’ve ever had is Lost Dog’s Surf 'N Turf (beef, crab, brie) with spinach and plenty of Tabasco (top five sandwiches, easy). I know this is a beer bar review, but I can’t ignore a sandwich like that. I just can’t.

Ok, but this is a best beer bar review, so let’s talk about a few flaws.

First, the Lost Dog is not a bar, doesn’t want to be a bar, and will never be just a beer bar. Ross said 80 percent of his sales are food and although you can order a six pack of Founders with your delivery pie, very few people do. The Lost Dog is and will always be a neighborhood restaurant. Beer enthusiasts (including myself) may love the place, but families make up the regular clientele (the root beer is the most popular tap item, people). I also want to complain about the three-beer maximum, but no one else does and I really shouldn’t. With 25 consecutive years of success under their belt, there’s no reason for Ross and Pam to change their approach to please a few beer geeks.

DSCN4729 Ross prides himself on his staff, many of whom have worked at the Lost Dog for years. Some of them even know a few things about the beer. That’s the problem. Some of the employees are well versed in the sizable beer selection and some clearly are not. Consider this: Scott Stone is the manager of the new Dupont Circle restaurant Eola. He used to be the bartender at Palena. But before that he was the bartender at Lost Dog. I spent more than a few afternoons hanging out with Scott at the bar. He was a great bartender and knew the beers he was serving. (He’s also a Bucs fan. Good guy, that Scott.) On the other hand, the last time I visited Lost Dog, it took two or three attempts to explain the beer I wanted. They had the beer (I saw it when I walked in), but the server clearly had no idea what I was talking about. I eventually just ordered a draft. And unfortunately, the bartenders in the post-Scott era have also been pretty poorly versed in the beer selection. Ross and Pam should either educate their staff about the beer selection or put together a beer list (like the Columbia Pike location did). Honestly, they should put together the list anyway. If you’re going to offer 180 bottles and 16 drafts, you need to help your customers navigate the selection.

Finally, there’s the noise. This is actually a recent problem. Before the expansion, Lost Dog was as noisy as any busy restaurant filled with families. But now that they’ve expanded the dining area, effectively opening it up, the noise level is nearly unbearable (and by unbearable, I mean like Marvin). The last time I was there for dinner, my group left early because we couldn’t hear each other and couldn’t take the noise. Ross said he doesn’t plan to do anything about this, but I strongly recommend he does. Otherwise, his regulars might become less regular.

I love the fact that it’s easier than ever to find American craft beer and quality imports. As a beer geek, these are the best of times. But it’s good to know that there’s been a little pizza shop in a quiet Arlington neighborhood fighting the good fight long before this renaissance ever began.

Score: 12 of 20 (beer: 6 of 8, atmosphere: 3 of 5, bartenders: 2 of 5, other elements 1 of 2)

The Best Beer Bars so far: Birreria Paradiso (17 of 20), The Galaxy Hut (16 of 20), Franklin's (14 of 20), and Rustico (16 of 20).

Lost Dog Cafe
5876 Washington Blvd
Arlington, VA 22205
(703) 237-1552

2920 South Columbia Pike
Arlington, VA 22204
(703) 553-7770 

Hoppy Holidays: New Winter Bombers for 2009

The holidays are upon us, folks -- so Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Super Solstice and Kick-ass Kwanzaa to one and all! With the holidays come certain annual traditions: some bad, like those soul crushing Garmin commercials, and some good, like seasonal beer! All the usual suspects are back this year; Delirium Noel and Sierra Celebration are great as always, and the Sam Adams Winter Classics 12 Pack contains the same fun bunch it always has. Over the course of my travels this past few weeks, I've come across some new and lesser known holiday big boys (well, at least I'd never seen them before), that I thought might strike a cord with the festive yuletide wassailing crowd. Got a stocking that still needs stuffing? Here are a few of the highlights!

JKSOLSTICE J.K.'s Solstice Farmhouse Organic Hard Cider (22 oz.)
Spiced Apple Cider
6.90% Abv
Purchased at Arlington Whole Foods for $8.99

The J.K.'s Scrumpy, made from organic apples at the Almar Orchard in Michigan, has always been a favorite of mine, thanks to its great balance of sweetness and acidity. The Solstice is Almar's winterized edition, infusing the classic with the flavors of maple syrup, vanilla and cinnamon.This cider pours an opaque golden brown, and displays a hint of maple and spice on the nose. Tangy apple fruit dominates the front of the palate, with a mild sweetness accented by the additional cinnamon. The vanilla comes into play on the finish, rounding out the natural acidity, making the Solstice smooth, buttery and full. Fantastic cold, but also great served warm.

BlueGrandCru Blue Moon Grand Cru 2009 (24.4 oz.)
8.20% Abv
Purchased at Schneider's of Capitol Hill for $8.99

Apparently New Year's Eve 2010 will coincide with a blue moon (ie, a second full moon in the calendar month), a very rare event, indeed. In honor of this momentous occasion -- which will not occur again until 2028 -- Coor's has released the Blue Moon Grand Cru, a special edition spiced Witbier, flavored with coriander and orange zest. This beer pours a hazy yellow brown with white bits in suspension. Lots of lemon, orange and mild yeast come through on the nose, along with just a hint of spice. More citrus notes persist on the front of the palate, proceeding to a pleasantly creamy, medium bodied, mildly sweet middle. The finish is surprisingly dry and lingering, leaving persistent flavors of bread dough, orange, and earth. Though flavorful and balanced, this beer is not nearly as potent as its Belgian cousins, making it a great gift for those just breaking into Belgian-style beers.

YuleTide Clipper City Heavy Seas Yule Tide (22 oz.)
Belgian Style Tripel
10.00% Abv
Purchased at 1 West Dupont Wine for $7.99

Baltimore based Clipper City always gets top points for their clever packaging, and definitely gets credit for running with the pirate theme before it was a meme. The Yule Tide pours a hazy yellow-gold with a short, off white head. The nose is big, featuring raisins, butterscotch, bready yeast and brown sugar. Lots of candied fruit feature in the attack, along with cloves, honey, and cinnamon, and the beer finishes with the pleasant flavors of molasses, dried leaves, and old red wine. Though kitschy on the surface, this is a serious beer, and might turn off the novice. But, if you've got a son who is an IT nerd and a bit of a beer geek to boot? Jackpot!

Krampus Southern Tier Krampus Imperial Pilsner (22 oz.)
Imperial Pilsener
9.00% Abv
Purchased at 1 West Dupont Wine for $7.99

In Scandanavian lore, Santa Claus has a shadow, the Krampus, who would follow the jolly old elf, beating naughty children with chains and sticks. Sounds awesome, no? Well, so is this big Pils from Southern Tier. The Krampus pours a pretty russet brown, with a short, light head. A slightly hoppy and malty nose leads on to more hops and roasted grain on the front. Over time the beer evolves, expressing notes of banana, honey, and cherry. On the finish this beer is surprisingly dry, and lingers long with notes of orange juice, green hops and spice. This beer is big for a pilsner, but also more approachable than most Christmas beers. A great pick for those that appreciate cool, ironic packaging and a dry, hoppy, heavy beer.

Maryland brewery tour: Baltimore, Brewer's Art and Clipper City


What do we know about Baltimore?

It's our charming northern neighbor. It has a decent football team. It has a crappy baseball team. It's the setting for gritty, true-to-life crime dramas. It's the setting for Food Network shows about Gen-X bakers. Apparently crabs -- caked and steamed -- and diners are a big deal, as are overrated directors and literary giants.

What I didn't know until a few years ago was that Baltimore is a town for beer lovers (yeah, take that Virginia.). There's Max's Taphouse and Mahaffey's Pub with their wonderfully long beer lineups. There's The Raven Special Lager, which is the only style of beer Baltimore-Washington Beer Works makes - and may be the only style of beer Stephen Demczuk needs to make. It's good stuff.

And then there's Clipper City and The Brewer's Art; one a brewery and one a brewpub, and either reason enough to suffer the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.

BALT8 To go on a Clipper City brewery tour is to follow a wandering performance. Hugh Sisson, founder of Clipper City, has done a bit of acting in his day, which becomes immediately evident when he kicks off the tour with a dramatic reading. The man's a showman.

For a mere $5, you get a glass and stack of wooden nickels good for a few pints of Clipper City or Heavy Seas beers on draft in the brewery's tasting room. As for the tour and one-man show, that's free.

Clipper City is smaller than you think. At 13,000 barrels per year, the brewery produces less than half the amount of beer as craft brewing heavyweights like Dogfish Head, Stone and fellow Maryland-based craft brewery Flying Dog. But being Charm City's southern neighbor, we don't lack for access to Hugh Sisson's beer. Good thing. I like Hugh Sisson's beer.

As is the case with many craft breweries, Clipper City began as a brewpub, sort of. In 1989, Sisson and his father Al gave Baltimore its first brewpub since Prohibition when they began brewing house beers in the back of the family restaurant, Sisson's. Looking to get into commercial beer making, Hugh left the Federal Hill brewpub in 1995 to start Clipper City. Eight years later the Heavy Seas line set sail.

The Heavy Seas beers have taken over Clipper City. Touring the brewery with Sisson, you can't miss the Jolly Roger hung over the bottling machine, the stacks upon stacks of Heavy Seas beer boxes ready to be shipped, the labeling machine loaded with labels of the upcoming Yule Tide Christmas ale (It's a Belgian triple!), or the pallets loaded with kegs full of the fantastically delicious Big DIPA double IPA. Sisson still brews beers under the Clipper City and Oxford labels, but Heavy Seas is clearly his primary line (so much so that the company will soon switch names from Clipper City to Heavy Seas).

BALT5 Throughout the tour, you get a history lesson of Clipper City beer, craft brewing in Maryland and how Hugh is intimately involved with both. Hugh works the crowd, offers samples of malt and hops, and eventually leads the crowd back into the tasting room to finish cashing in their nickels. (During the week, the tasting room serves as the office for Sisson and his staff. On one side of the room is Hugh's desk, on the other side is where marketing director Kelly Zimmerman and the other staff work. Wearing a bright red cowgirl hat and pouring beers for the tour takers, Kelly told me that taps, bar and benches in between the desks stay right where they are Monday through Friday. My office sucks.)

If Sisson's was Baltimore's first brewpub, The Brewer's Art is its best. Hell, it's one of the city's best bars. I was introduced to The Brewer's Art years ago by some friends who lived around the corner. I've loved it since. The bright front bar and white-table cloth upstairs dining room and lounge serve as dramatic contrast to the catacomb bar downstairs.

BALT6 Every bar should feel like the downstairs bar at The Brewer's Art. With its mixture of nooks and low lighting, it's not hard to disappear into the space. If you're feeling a bit more communal, you can grab a seat at the V-shaped bar and order one of The Brewer's Art's many house beers, or order up a sample of the lot.

Although the cave-like basement would seem like the appropriate place to stick the brewing operation, the tanks are actually tucked into a room behind the first-floor dining room. Co-owners Volker Stewart and Tom Creegan clearly have an affinity for Belgian-style beers and a knack for brewing them. From the Ozzy to the Proletary Ale, these beers could be served in Brussels or alongside a plate of moules frites at Dr. Granville Moore's (In fact, Dr. Granville Moore's could serve The Brewer's Art's beers. The brewpub's Ozzy and Resurrection are brewed and bottled off-site, and available in the D.C. area, so ... you know, get on with it.).

BALT7 Whether you're upstairs or down, the brewpub's kitchen is there for you. In keeping with the nattier theme, the menu upstairs is upscale, featuring sweetbreads, Kobe pot roast and pan-seared skate. Downstairs, the menu offerings are more pub fare, including a reuben flatbread pizza, pork belly and a respectable portabella sandwich (Tip: You can order anything off the upstairs menu while enjoying your evening downstairs.)

Regardless of whether you go in for the skate or a burger, don't skip the rosemary and garlic fries. Those salty, garlic funky fries just make you want to order another Ozzy, and there's nothing wrong with that (especially when a pint will set you back about $3).

Clipper City is a great craft brewery and Hugh gives a lively tour, but to be honest, an evening at The Brewer's Art is all I need to know about Baltimore to make the trip north.

Want to see more pictures of Clipper City and The Brewer's Art? Check them out here.

Recession Refreshment: Aleph Cabernet Sauvignon 2002

Aleph Hmm... I wonder how accurate this column title is at this point. The economy is on an upswing, after all, and I am starting to feel a bit unpatriotic, dwelling our nation's shortcomings so. Maybe I should be calling these things "Recovery Refreshment," or maybe, "Boozehoundin' and Reboundin'?"

Anyway, I know I haven't gotten a raise in awhile, and cheap wine is always welcome, good times or no, so I've got a real winner for ya'll this week: Aleph Cabernet Sauvignon 2002, from Mendoza, Argentina.

I picked this one up on a whim at Schneider's of Capitol Hill last week, from a case stack near the front registers, priced at a mere $3.99. When I asked the sales guy for his opinion, I was informed that it was "great," and had garnered an 89 point score from the Wine Spectator, to boot! Here's what that rag's editor James Molesworth had to say about the Aleph, back in September of 2004:

High-toned berry, vanilla and floral notes are followed by red and black cherry and red currant fruit, with elegant toast and mineral notes as well. Gains flesh and length as it opens, with nice sweet fruit through the finish. Drink now through 2006. Score: 89. 750 cases made. Release Price: $20

(As is evident from the review, scores do come with an expiration date, which is part of the reason I think they are BS to begin with -- does the Aleph stay an 89 for its entire usable life, or did it drop to an 88 in 2004, then a 75 in 2005? Is it now a big fat goose-egg, or worse, poison?!)

Well, regardless of score, this one apparently did not sell as well as it might have, which is why Schneider's got it at such a deal, and is now marketing it now at a fifth of it's release price! After many years in bottle, this wine now exhibits a pretty dusty leather / mushroomy character on the nose, along with violets, raisins, and grapefruit. The black cherry on the pallate still holds over from this Cab's youth, as does a bit of vanilla, but the flesh and sweetness that Molesworth found have mellowed out, leaving it much softer and more mild than it had been upon release. Where it was once vibrant and bright, the Aleph has faded, but in the best possible way, retaining plenty of acid and fruit, and trading power and grip for those strange and wonderful flavors that only come with age.

(Note: Unfortunately, age also brings brittleness. As with many old wines, removing the cork on this one was a bit of a challenge, and it broke in half in the bottle neck, so exercise caution whilst opening.)

Considering the extremely small production run on this wine, I am not surprised that I have not seen it anywhere else, and I don't expect to. Schneider's had about four cases stacked on the floor, and probably has several more in their sizable warehouse. If you eschew the bold fruit and boozy strength of young wines in favor of something a bit more subtle, the Aleph Cab 2002 is an incredible buy for less than a fiver.

Schneider's of Capitol Hill
300 Massachusetts Avenue Northeast
Washington, DC 20002-5702
(202) 543-9300

Feeding a need this holiday season

The holiday season can bring out the best and worst in us.

We reunite with family ... and remember why we moved away. We scour the stores to buy just-the-right gifts ... to assuage some deep-seeded guilt and rack up debt we didn't need more of. We eat, drink and get merry ... only to wind up fat and hung over in the new year.

Fortunately, there's still one holiday tradition that remains relatively unscathed: charity (admittedly, all the solicitations for donations get old quick). For all the giving and receiving that goes on, few acts mean as much or feel as fulfilling as giving of yourself to someone truly in need.

My wife and I have donated to charities over the years, but it wasn't until the Gulf Coast was devastated by Hurricane Katrina that I honestly believed our donations carried any weight. After watching a city and a region I know well ravaged by that storm, I realized that anything we could do to help would help. Every year since, we've given to charities along the Gulf Coast and in the city of New Orleans.

Every little bit, they say.

Now, that's not to say we don't have worthy causes here in the D.C. area. The Web site Charity Navigator is a great resource not only for finding local charities, but information about them. Unfortunately, you can't trust every organization that calls itself a charity. Organizations that should not get your money can range from poorly run nonprofits to complete scams. Make sure you know where your money is going.

Also, keep in mind that churches and other places of worship do a huge amount of charitable work during the holiday season.

This being D.C. Foodies, I've compiled a list of charities that operate in the D.C. area dedicated to helping feed the hungry during the holiday season and beyond. I've also included a list of homeless shelters, because let's face it; given the homeless population in the D.C. area, the shelters can use all the help they can get.

DC Central Kitchen: As DC Central Kitchen points out on it's mission statement, it's not a soup kitchen. The local charity not only feeds the homeless, but also gives homeless men and women the job training necessary to work their way out of their situation.

Capital Area Food Bank: Like the DC Central Kitchen, the Capital Area Food Bank provides those in need with more than a meal. But because hunger is a growing problem in our community, the Capital Area Food Bank is expanding to meet the need. Information about the 'Til No One is Hungry campaign is available on the food bank's Web site.

Manna Food Center: This Montgomery County food bank has been combating hunger through the distribution of food, education and advocacy for more than a quarter century.

So Others Might Eat: So Others Might Eat does it all. The charity feeds, clothes, rehabilitates and provides a litany of other critical service for our local homeless community, while helping them find a way out of poverty. 

Food & Friends: Sure, we already covered Food & Friends' Slice of Life campaign, but this charity has a lot more projects that could use a lot more volunteers and donations.

Share Our Strength: Share Our Strength is one of the largest and most high profile hunger relief charities in the country. Images of Guy Fieri shilling for the nonprofit aside, Share Our Strength is a worthwhile charity that helps people in our community.

Meals on Wheels: I used to work at a newspaper in North Carolina. Every holiday season the paper would run listings of donations for people in need. Each listing was no longer than a classified ad, and the ones from senior citizens seeking nothing more than a warm meal and someone to talk to on Christmas killed me. Every one of them. Meals on Wheels has been providing meals and comfort to senior citizens for 70 years. 


The following is a list of shelters in the D.C. area. All of them could use a few volunteers.

Central Union Mission: (202) 745-7118
1350 R Street, N.W. Washington, DC 20009

Gospel Rescue Ministries Of Washington DC: (202) 842-1731
810 Fifth Street, NW Washington, DC

Luther Place Night Shelter (202) 939-2076
N Street Village, 1333 N Street NW Washington, DC 20005

Sasha Bruce House (202) 547-7777
741 8th Street, SE Washington, DC 20003

And on a lighter note, next week, The Passenger will begin holding charity happy hours every Monday. The Brown brothers (Tom and Derek) will offer $5 wines, beer and a punch of the day, with 10 percent of the proceeds going to a different charity or cause.

Now if you're not into drinking (which means we can't hang), but are into burgers (Ok, maybe we can), you can head to any of the three BGR The Burger Joints and feed yourself and someone else. BGR is partnering with DC Central Kitchen for the ONE for ONE campaign. Throughout the month of December, for every burger BGR sells it will donate a burger to the DC Central Kitchen. You eat. Someone else gets to eat. Everyone's happy.