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May 2010

Greeking Out

GreekFest1 Being the EU's deadbeat debt-dodgers du jour, the Greeks haven't been getting a lot of love lately, making me all the more grateful for the love they have been sending our way this spring. For it is Greek Festival season once again, when Greek Orthodox churches around the country break out the stripy tents and roasting spits and make with the Bacchanal (or is Dionysisal for the Greeks? Whatever.).

GreekFest2 If you spend any time traveling up and down Wisconsin Ave, you no doubt will have seen the large banner advertising St. Sophia's festival, which took place a couple weekends ago; some friends and I swung by that Saturday. Though lacking in the rides and pig-racing departments, the event had a carnival atmosphere, with an unsurprising Greek twist. Along with the obligatory sand art and crafts for the kids, there were dozens of vendors, hawking everything from fine art to garage sale rejects (I got a wallet of dubious origins for five bucks!). In the main tent, a band played and sang songs in, presumably, Greek, while patrons danced and milled about the silent auction tables.

GreekFest3Of course, the central focus of any such festival is the food. The smell of roasting lamb permeated the entire outdoor space, and rotating spits cooked the meat for the thousands of gyros they must have sold that weekend. Greek beer and wine flowed freely, featuring the classic retsina, a distinctive Greek wine flavored with pine resin. Since we made the intelligent decision to arrive at 5:00 pm, the hot food line was just too long a wait -- thankfully, there were several vendors selling the innumerable, delightful pastries for which the Greeks are known and loved. We got the obligatory baklava, and a dozen of these great honey-coated donuts called loukoumades me meli, which were being fried in huge batches throughout the festival.

METAXA1 The best part about the whole affair was that I bet on something in the silent auction, and actually won! The prize in question was an old-ass bottle of Metaxa "Seven Star," and 22 pieces of something called "Galaktoboureko," a custard filled pocket of phyllo dough.

Metaxa is a Greek brandy producer, who are probably most well known for their whimsical bottles. I had never thought to pick up a bottle before, so I am glad fate kinda through one in my lap. The Star Series (Three, Five, and Seven) are barrel aged brandies mixed with a portion of sweet white wine. The end result is something like a tawny port, with lots of old, dried fruit flavors and some spice and honey, but drier, and with a good deal more kick, coming in at 92 proof. I have heard that the Three and Five Star are similar, with the Five being a bit drier, and that all are now cut to 80 proof.

The galaktoboureko is much less dense than it's more well known cousin, baklava, though similarly flaky. The sauce is not overly sweet, and has an interesting contrast of spicy cinnamon and citrus flavors, both of which compliment the creamy custard center. The spicy aspect is amplified when served with the Metaxa, whose mild sweetness mirrors well that of the pastry. Very tasty! I consider the gamble a rousing success.

Want to recreate the experience at home? Metaxa products are available at most comprehensive liquor stores (ie, Schneider's, Ace Beverage, Calvert Woodley, etc), and should run you between $20 and $40 a bottle, depending on your selection. And here is one of the simpler recipes I could find for the pastries.

GreekPastry1 Galaktoboureko
(Adapted from

1 lb phyllo dough

2 pints milk
6 ounces sugar
6 ounces fine semolina
1/2 cup butter, melted, divided
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pinch salt
6 eggs

12 ounces sugar
1 1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon lemon juice or lemon peel
1 cinnamon stick

In a saucepan over medium heat add milk, sugar, semolina, 2 ounces butter, vanilla, salt and a sliver of lemon peel. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly, until mixture thickens. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.

Beat eggs in a separate bowl then stir into milk mixture. Set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Line a 9 X 13 buttered baking pan with half the sheets of phyllo, brushing each sheet with the melted butter and allowing the edges to overlap the sides. Spread custard evenly over phyllo. Cover with remaining sheets of phyllo, brushing each sheet with the melted butter. Trim the edges and fold in carefully to seal the filling. Brush the top with melted butter and seal edges with a bit of cold water. Bake 45 minutes or until golden.

Meanwhile make the syrup; In a small saucepan combine the sugar, water, lemon juice, cinnamon stick and sliver of lemon peel and boil for 10 minutes. When Galaktoboureko is done and still hot from the oven, spoon syrup over a little at a time until absorbed by the pastry. Cool completely, cut into diamond shape and serve.

This is best made the day before it is needed. It gives the pastry time to absorb the syrup and the filling to become firm.

Assuming you aren't feeding the cast of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the twenty-odd pastries yielded from this recipe are gonna last you awhile. They freeze well, and can be reheated at 350 for about 10 to 15 minutes. The sauce keeps fine at room temperature.

GreekFestFlyer1 Of course, if you don't feel like running your oven for an hour in 90 degree heat, I guess I can't blame you. Fortunately, there are several local Greek festivals coming up in June, so you can get yourself a smaller, more concentrated dose of Greekiness, with less effort. Get your Opa! on the weekend of June 4th at St. Katherine's out in Falls Church, or check out The Greek American Directory's comprehensive state-by-state list of upcoming festivities.

Do It Yourself: A Tale of Two Beer Tastings

There is certainly no shortage of places to drink beer in the D.C. area. ChurchKey, Pizzeria Paradiso, the Galaxy Hut; the craft beer revolution has greatly improved our options all the way around.

But you don't have to go out to try great beer. You can do so at home, too. (Hold the "no shit" comments and stick with me.)

DSCN5351 Hosting a wine tasting has been a favorite pastime of oenophiles for years, while beer tastings still seem to be limited to brewpubs and specialty beer bars. But the idea is the same -- a bunch of folks get together to experience their favorite beers or some new ones -- and the event can be just as interesting (if not more so). And if you do it right, you might just expose a few people to the revolution.

So in this post, I'll share a few tips on holding a successful beer tasting. Trust me, it ain't that hard.

There were no novices at the beer tasting I recently attended or held. A couple weeks ago, The Washington City Paper's Lagerheads -- Tammy Tuck and Bruce Falconer -- invited me and a couple other local bloggers (PJ Coleman of DC Beer and Eric Axelson of DCist) to their place for a beer tasting. A week later, I held a tasting with Tammy (Bruce was sick), as well as fellow DC Foodies writer Rob Rutledge, Franklin's brewer Mike Roy, and my wife Trish.

Tip 1. Have a theme. Even a loose one will help focus the event.

DSCN5354 In this case, Tammy and Bruce based their tasting around Batch 19, a new "old" lager that Coors made from a recipe the company says it used prior to prohibition. The beer is being test marketed around the country, including in D.C. In turn, PJ brought Straub, an American-style lager out of Pennsylvania, Eric brought the Silver Bullet itself, Coors Light, and I contributed Anchor's Liberty Ale, the first modern American IPA (Yeah, it's not a lager. Yeah, I didn't read Tammy's instructions very thoroughly.).

The theme for my tasting was a little more loose. Some friends of mine from Tampa recently brought me a few bottles of Cigar City's Humidor Series IPA. As a homer who likes to spread the word about his hometown's craft brewers, I offered it up for the tasting. Everyone else was to bring something "interesting," too. Like I said, it was loose.

DSCN5337 Tammy brought a bottle of Van Twee Belgian Ale (a 7.5 percent dark Belgian ale made with cherry juice), Rob brought a bottle of Lost Abbey's Avant Garde, and Mike contributed a growler of his Hop Zen, a hopped Scotch ale, and Old Salty Barleywine from 2004. With a tasting of such big, distinctive beers, preferences were all over the map.

Of the beers we "officially" tasted, I liked Mike's Hop Zen the most, followed by Cigar City's Humidor Series IPA. However, the beer that won the crowd was the J.W. Lees Harvest Ale aged in Lagavulin Scotch whiskey casks, which Rob offered up after the tasting. It was a very good beer. (Yes, we had a post-tasting tasting. Technically, we also had a pre-tasting tasting of my homebrewed IPA.).

Tip 2. Organize the tastings.

For the Lagerhead's tasting, we did a traditional blind tasting. After talking about what we brought and posing for photos, Bruce took the beers into the kitchen and poured four tasting glasses. Without knowing what was what, the rest of us observed the color and body the beers, as well as the aromas, before tasting. Once the beers made their way around the table, we proffered our guesses and discussed the results (the Liberty Ale was easy to identify, Batch 19 was Ok, Coors Light had no flavor and Straub was surprisingly good).

Blind tastings are good when you're tasting the same or similar style of beer (like American lagers) because it allows you to taste the beer without the bias of knowing the beer.

DSCN5341For my tasting, I didn't bother doing it blind. All the beers were quite different, so there was nothing to be gained by not knowing the brewery when tasting. The intent was to try a new beer or a favorite of one of the participants. So I organized the tasting from malty to hoppy (I figured going from sweet to bitter would help preserve everyone's palette) with the Old Salty leading things off. From there we moved on to the Lost Abbey, the Van Twee, Hop Zen, and finally Cigar City.

Tip 3. Swallow, don't spit.

When you're tasting beer, you really should swallow. A lot of the flavors occur at the back of the tongue and in the throat. So if you spit -- as many people do with wine -- you're going to miss out. If you're worried about driving home afterward, have a designated driver or call a cab.

Tip 4. Have food.

DSCN5339 Food will also help mitigate the drunkenness, as well as serve as a palette cleanser. How much food to provide is up to you. Bruce and Tammy provided crackers and spread. I set out snack mix and pretzels. No muss, no fuss at either tasting. If you want to make it a more involved event, provide some snacks during the tasting and then fire up the barbecue afterward (you can find plenty of recipes here). I just wouldn't eat a full meal before the tasting. If you do, you might not be as interested in trying a bunch of different beers.

Tip 5. Have something on hand when you wrap it up.

The tasting is going to last an hour or two, so unless you plan to kick everyone out once it's over, make sure to have a few beers on hand. Bruce and Tammy were nice enough to pop open a bottle of Lost Abbey's Red Barn Ale (it's good). Rob cracked open the J.W. Leeds, which became the hit beer of the night.

Once the bottles were empty and the conversations ran their course, everyone headed home. By then, all I had to do was load the recycling and fill the dishwasher. Easy, easy.

(Bonus!: There are a number of shops in the area that carry a number of great craft beers and imports, including Chevy Chase Wine and Spirits, Connecticut Avenue Wine and Spirits, Schneider's of Capitol Hill, D'Vines, Rodman's, and Whole Foods in D.C.; Westover Market, Whole Foods, Total Wine and Lost Dog Cafe in Virginia; and Gilly's, Franklin's and The Perfect Pour in Maryland.)

Screwtop Wine Bar

SCREW-SIGN I've been waiting for awhile to write about Screwtop, this new addition to my neighborhood some six months back. I have visited Screwtop many times, and after each trip I'd start writing, and then stop. From week to week, something there seemed different, which in fairness should be no surprise in any new establishment. After several tumultuous months, though, the place seems to be finding its footing.

SCREW-INSIDE4 Screwtop is the ambitious creation of Wendy Buckley, a former internet exec who ditched the Net for a run in wine sales and cheesemongering, all in preparation for opening up this bar. Of course, Screwtop is more than a bar; it is a multi-concept space incorporating a retail wine and cheese shop, wine bar, and 40-top restaurant, all crammed into about two thousand square feet.

SCREW-INSIDE3 The space itself is pleasant -- with several large floor to ceiling windows letting in plenty of light, and shiny new dark wood bar -- but rather schizophrenic. While the retail area is airy and wide-aisled, the bar/main dining space is absolutely packed with chairs and tables. Thank goodness standing at the bar is discouraged, as when the place is bumpin' (which is often), the effect is nearly as claustrophobic as the nearby college hangouts.

SCREW-INSIDE1 Screwtop's proximity to said meatpits has made it a bit of a boon to the local tipplers. Indeed, a major part of Screwtop's raison d'etre seems to be to build a bit of a community for Clarendon area drinkers of the older, more reserved persuasion (and those with aspiration to such). One of the more interesting features is their wine club, which offers two bottles with a matched cheese for $40 / month. Members receive discounts on food and drink and are encouraged to attend the month pick-up parties, to meet and mingle. As often as not, a book club or similar group has called dibs on one of the two big tables set off in the retail area, where I assume they meet on a regular basis. Screwtop also has a very active Facebook and Twitter SCREW-INSIDE2 presence; followers and fans are the only ones to know about their Tuesday Happy Hour and "Wino Wednesday" specials, which can be very generous.

So Screwtop gets top scores on engaging their clientel; the food is a bit more mixed of a bag. The central focus of the menu is the cheese and charcuterie, which may be had for $6.50 a pop, $17 a SCREW-CHEESE1 threesome, or $33 a sixer. The 20 or so selections are varied and change frequently; one week I had one of the richest duck liver pates I have ever had; two weeks later grocery store favorite President Brie was a feature. On first visit the portions seemed ginormous, but they have adjusted down to a par-for-the-price size. Though the accompanying fruit and nut crackers are quite tasty, I am disappointed that Screwtop asks a sizable upcharge for any sort of condiments, including cornichons and mustard, which are often served gratis. The staff isn't stingy with the free truffle-salted popcorn, though, so I guess ya gotta take the good with the bad there.

SCREW-BUFF1 Screwtop also offers more filling fair in the form of sandwiches and salads. I haven't sampled a lot on this end, but on last visit I finally ordered the much touted Buffaloaf sandwich. Based on Wendy's mother-in-law's secret recipe, this big-ass combo of ground buffalo, cheddar cheese, bacon crumbles, sun-dried tomatoes, and chipotle aioli was as decadently awesome as it sounds, but fluffy despite the fat. At $13 this was easily enough to feed two, and the chips and $3 side salad that accompanied, though clearly store-bought, were more than fine.

SCREW-BAR2 And finally, on to the drinks. Though hard liquor is verboten,  Screwtop offers an impressive 35+ wines by the glass, along with two draughts, and numerous beers by the can and bottle. Prices range widely from about $7 to $15 or so a glass, beers about $5 to $10. In a word, the wine list may be described as eclectic. Selections hail from well-worn areas like California and Argentina, to the more obscure like New York, Moldova, and even Michigan. Though undeniably interesting, the wine list is also, unfortunately, rather difficult to read. Wines are split into categories SCREW-BAR1 based on clever but unhelpful puns, with nothing listed but appellation and price. The helpful and always friendly staff is more than willing to let one sample anything they like, but this feels like a bother when the bar is crowded. It would be nice to see a bit more info there, and maybe more pours in the lower price range, as those $7 glasses are rare. That said, the ever changing three-glass flights are a bit more well-structured, and they often proffer a taste of some real rare and pricey wines for a song. If you like what you've tried, you can get a bottle for home at 5% off, which is a nice touch.

I fear I may have come off a bit more negative here than I had intended. I don't really mean to crap on Screwtop. It's got some really great innovations going on, and always enjoy myself there. The concept, ideal, and much of the execution are great. Hell, they couldn't have happened upon a worse time to open, what with Snowpocalypse I and II occurring in their crucial first months (Eliza and I took refuge there in the December storm, during which they valiantly stayed open, and we had a blast). I criticize because I love, and I genuinely hope Wendy and her crew to do well. With a little bit of wine and cheese work, and maybe a bit of furniture moving, I could see Screwtop becoming a long term Clarendon fixture.

1025 North Fillmore Street
Arlington, VA 22201-6701
(703) 888-0845

Must Haves: Poutine at ChurchKey, aka the Disco Fries

Must Haves focuses on some of DC's great dishes.

This probably isn't the best time to talk about something to do with Canada.

Listen, as a life-long Bucs fan, I know what it's like to get your hopes built up, only to watch them get slapped away, like so many Ovechkin shots on goal. It sucks.

But hear me out, because there's a bowl of gravy-covered Canadian happiness down at ChurchKey that will help you get past you're anger at the great white north and learn to love those maple suckers once again.

Or you can order it by it's American name.

The Poutine, aka Disco Fries (I have no idea why), may well be the greatest Canadian export since a washed up Wayne Gretzky joined the LA Kings. The dish is nothing more than French fries covered in sausage gravy and cheddar cheese. It's nothing less, either. Maybe Canadians need to bulk up for the winter. Maybe they hate life. Either way, covering fries in sausage gravy makes you wonder why we've been screwing around with ketchup this whole time.

(By the way, I assume ChurchKey also calls them Disco Fries as an homage to decidedly unhealthy coke -fueled late 70s. I don't know this, but it kind of makes sense.)

DSCN5276 Now, I do have a conspiracy theory about poutine. Having grown up in the South, I've had more than my fair share of sausage gravy. Biscuits and gravy is easily my favorite Southern breakfast, and gravy can be found at every meal of the day. So, how is it that a region that puts gravy on everything from biscuits to fried chicken never thought to pour a little on fries? It just doesn't add up. And while I haven't spent much time north of the border, the Canadians are not a people known for eating prodigious amounts of gravy (they mostly limit themselves to puffins and whale blubber ... I think.). Yet, YET, they've nationalized this fantastically Southern style dish and then add cheese to it. Adding cheese is what we do! Us! The Americans! The fat ones! So I don't buy it that a Canadian came up with gravy-covered French fries. No. Either some poor bastard got lost between Chickasaw and Tuscaloosa, or the Underground Railroad had a border crossing. One or the other.

If you still haven't bought into what I'm talking about here, let me be perfectly clear: Chef Kyle Bailey takes a perfectly good bowl of crispy, hot French fries, plunks in some bits of cheddar cheese and covers the whole damn thing with creamy sausage gravy. It's horrible for you, but my god is it tasty.

And if you just can't bring yourself to order the Canadian national dish, remember that they can be Disco Fries until next year, or the year after, or whenever the Caps find a way to win in the playoffs.

Paradise Springs: Fairfax County has a Winery!

  ParadiseOutside2 Last weekend I took a trip out Route 50 with a buddy of mine to visit Chrysalis Vineyards, one of my all time favorites, out in Middleburg, VA. The wines were good, as always... but that's not the story. While sipping a glass of rose out on the patio, I flipped through the new 2010 Virginia Winery Guide, and saw a new little dot in the Northern Virginia Region marked Paradise Springs. "Holy Crap," I exclaimed, "Fairfax has a winery!" Seeing as how we were wild and crazy guys out on a manly adventure, we promptly downed our sweet pink wine and hit the road.

Paradise Springs is on the outskirts of the tiny village of Clifton, just northeast of Manassas. Clifton itself is such an odd little place; driving through toParadiseoutside1wn on Route 645 is like passing through an upscale Mayberry, with its general store and wooden churches, interspersed with Victorian manors and high end eateries, like Trummer's On Main. We headed through town and south, past newer mansions that would give those by Great Falls a run for their money, and down a winding one lane road to a sizable log cabin that was our destination.

  As we would ParadiseBack1soon learn, the cabin is an early 19th century construction built on a property that has been in the owners' family since the early 1700's. In 1955 the cabin was refurbished by a protege of famed architect Frank Llyod Wright for use as a summer home. Jane Kincheloe and her son Kirk Wiles inherited the property some years ago, and in 2007 followed through on a long discussed family plan to turn the 36 acre estate into a farm winery. Though the wines are all presently made offsite, Paradise Valley just broke ground on their own winemaking facilities this past Saturday, which they hope to have up and running by year's end.

ParadiseInside2 The property itself is very pretty. Picnic tables litter a rustically manicured, hilly yard, bordered by forest on all sides. When we arrived, a band was finishing their set under a  white awning set just below a field of young grapevines. Inside, several people mingled in the comfortable, warm wood-accented and richly appointed kitchen area that serves as the winery's gift shop. The tasting room is in the basement; a super-cool, very low-ceilinged space evocative of the cellar of a French chateau. 

PV offers up a selection of eight wines -- four reds, three whites and a rose -- for the reasonable tasting fee of $7.00. Since their own vines are so young at this point, wines are made from grapes purchased ParadiseInside from a wide variety of locations around Virginia, and made by a team of consultant winemakers, including Chris Pearmund of Pearmund Cellars and The Winery at LaGrange. The wines are not cheap, ranging from $21 to $32 per bottle, but they are nearly all excellent. Though the Nana's Rose ($23) was a little sulpheric and kinda grapey, and the Vidal Blanc ($23) kinda bland, the rest were solid. Most displayed characteristics I've learned to be typical of Pearmund's wines; dry, balanced, and light on fruit and oak. The 2008 Viognier ($27) was classic Virginia, with a full body, mild oak influence, good acid, and soft pear and apricot fruit. The 2008 Cabernet Franc ($22) is aged in locally sourced oak, is a light and soft example of the type, with mild plum fruit, and just a bit of tannin on the finish. The 2008 Norton ($29) was hands down the finest of the lot. Though the most noble of American varietals, Norton still often comes off gamey or foxy; not so PV's, which has great balance, rich dark berry and earth flavors, and a lengthy finish, implying years of potential aging in bottle.

ParadiseBottle All the wines are available by the glass ($6-$8), and I am told there is light fair to be had, though I regret to say I didn't find it in my short stay. Almost worth the price of tasting is the rather large, high quality sampling glass that comes free with the sampling fee.

It was nice to discover that Fairfax's first winery seems to be a winner. The wines are really great, but of such low production that I doubt you'll see them much outside the tasting room, and the aforementioned Trummer's On Main. I look forward to seeing what they do when they get their vines start producing and the winery up and running.

Paradise Springs Winery
13219 Yates Ford Road
Clifton Virginia 20124
Tasting Room Hours:
Apr-Dec -- Wed through Sun, 11am - 7pm
Jan-Mar -- Sat & Sun, 11am - 6pm

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.

Biergarten Haus: A Whole Lotta Deutschland on H Street

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

Must Haves: Taylor Gourmet's Pattison Avenue Roast Pork Sandwich

Must Haves is a new series focusing on some of D.C.'s great dishes.

I'm obsessed with this sandwich. Absolutely and completely obsessed. I had it for the first time three weeks ago. I've had it three times since. I've told my friends about it. I've told my family. It motivated me to get on with this new series of dining shorts and it will be the inaugural one.

DSCN5273 Taylor Gourmet's Pattison Avenue roast pork sandwich is unequivocally one of the very best sandwiches I've had in D.C., maybe anywhere. It's six to 12 inches of roasted pork wet with the stock they soak it in, tucked into a warm hoagie roll with chunks of garlic and covered in melted provolone. As fantastic as all that is -- and it is -- that's not what makes the sandwich. Oh no, what makes the sandwich is the broccoli rabe.

Broccoli fucking rabe.

There are three other pork sandwiches on Taylor Gourmet's menu. None are as good as the Pattison Avenue. The only reason I can think of is that none of the other sandwiches include bright green shoots of spicy broccoli rabe.  

Driving home after eating one of these was the worst. It was also the best. Try as I did to wash my hands afterward, my knuckles and fingers still stank of pork and stock that soaked through the bread. It always soaks through the bread. It was intoxicating. I felt I owed my wife some sort of apology. It was as close to filthy sin as a sandwich will ever get you.

If it was sin, then this is my confession. I am obsessed.