Alexandria

Church! The Best Places To Watch Football

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Port City Brewing Company: The DC Area's Newest Brewery (For Now).

PORTCITYSIGN After years of drought, craft beer is certainly on the ascendancy in Washington, DC. It was a bit of a rocky start, but with the advent of SAVOR, and major advocacy by beer lovers, DC is now a primary market for America's finest microbrews. But in terms of real local beer, we have kinda gotten short shrift. Sure, there are a number of brewpubs, and the small and plucky Shenendoah Brewery is still out there, but inside the Beltway, that's about all she wrote. Soon, that will all change, with the approach of Chocolate City Beer and DC Brau, both District-brewed beers which are expected to launch in the next couple months.

PORTYCITYBAR In the meantime, a third Beltway Insider has beaten them to the punch: Port City Brewing Company of Alexandria. Named in honor of Alexandria's colonial status as the fledgling nation's most important seaport -- and later, home to one of the nation's largest breweries -- Port City started brewing late last month, and slowly but surely, have seen their product trickle onto the market. A couple weeks ago, I visited their facility for a quick tasting and tour.

Port City's spacious tasting room was pretty well packed when we arrived. We pushed ourselves forward to the bar, and managed a quick sampling of the wares, before the tour got going.

PORTCITYFLAGS Three of Port City's four inaugural beers were up for tasting that afternoon: The Optimal Wit, Essential Pale Ale and Porter. Due to various jostlings and general hubbub, I wasn't able to take pictures or notes, but I can say that I was duly impressed.

The Wit came first. This hazy, light golden beer is made in the Beligian style, with Belgian yeasts, and flavorings of coriander, grains of paradise and orange peel. PC's was definitely less aggressively flavored than many, with the spices adding a light PORTCITYAVAIL counterpoint to the mild yeastiness. Though not likely to impress lovers of the real heavy continental stuff, this beer is balanced and refreshing, and a perfect beer with which to blitz the market at the beginning of Spring.

The Essential Pale was next, and came as a bit of a surprise. This golden ale -- which I expected to be on the light-handed side -- had an aggressive hoppiness on the front, followed by clean, malty flavors. We're not talking IPA levels of IBUs here, but the Essential was no shrinking flower, despite being the most "basic" beer on tap.

 The Porter was my favorite. This powerful beer boasted a complex melange of dried fruit, dark chocolate, coffee grounds, and, again, surprisingly abundant hops. This beer is very nicely balanced, and not overly heavy and syrupy given its relatively high alcohol (7.5 %).

PORTCITYTANKS After the whirlwind tasting, we were escorted through the back to the brewery floor. PC's cavernous facility boasts a brand-new 30 Gallon brewing system, which can produce some 8000 pints per batch. Brewery owner Bill Butcher took us through the whole process, from grain to keg. To all but the truly geeky, a description will not translate, so I highly suggest you visit yourselPORTCITYBREWERf, especially if you have never seen a working brewery (hours listed below).

  One cool thing about the tour, though, is that we were allowed to sample the brewery's then soon-to-be-released Monumental IPA, straight from the tank. I was surprised to find it just barely hoppier than the Essential Pale we had sampled earlier, but the beer was due for another six days of dry-hopping, so I will forgo judgement till I taste it from the keg.

PORTCITYBOTTLELINE Perhaps most exciting was PC's bottling line, just purchased from Southern Tier Brewing Company. Though not much to look at, this little guy can bottle at a rate of 50 bottles per minute, and means that Port City should be hitting store shelves by as early as next week!

Barely a month old, Port City has a healthy list of clients for their kegs (note picture above), and sells growlers on premises. Keep an eye out for those bottles, though, and hang onto a sixer for your grandkids. When the DC area is once again one of the great brewing centers of the country, you can show them that six pack, and say you were there at the beginning.

Hey, it could happen!



Port City Brewing Company
3950 Wheeler Ave
Alexandria, VA 22304
703-797-2739

Tasting room hours:
Friday 4-8pm
Saturday 12-5pm
Sunday 12-5pm

Public tours begin at 2pm and 3pm on Saturday, no reservations required. Cost is $5, which includes a tasting glass to keep and a full tasting of each beer on tap.


Bourbon Peach Pork Chops On the Grill: A Meal Fit for Terrapin Beer

DSCN5059 Typically, when I do these posts, I come up with a theme or dish to focus on and then find a beer to pair with whatever I grill. Today, though, I'm doing it the other way around. Today, I'm starting with the beer.

Last year, we were lucky enough to see the arrival of Terrapin beer, in Virginia anyway. As the South's craft beer culture continues to develop, a few bright stars have emerged, including the Athens, Ga., brewery. It may not be as big as Abita, the granddaddy of Southern craft beer, but Terrapin is a brewery to be considered.

(Quick aside; Terrapin is brewed locally by Flying Dog in Frederick, Md., yet you can't buy Terrapin in the state of Maryland. Kinda funny when you consider that the mascot for the state university is a Terrapin. Does this mean that Maryland fears the turtle? I think it does.)

I first came across Terrapin a few years ago while living in North Carolina. At the time, the brewery's flagship beer, Rye Pale Ale, was one of the few rye beers available, at least in Chapel Hill. As a beer, it's fantastic. The malt and hops balance out that signature tart rye bite, resulting in a rather crisp ale.

It's also somewhat remarkable to have a rye ale as your signature beer. The style isn't for everyone. While challenging beers, such as Saisons, barley wines and double IPAs, are increasingly common styles for craft breweries these days, back in 2002, relying on a rye ale to be your bill-payer beer was ballsy. Sam Calagione may be known for making unique beers, but he keeps Dogfish Head's lights on with his easy drinking Shelter Pale Ale and the 60 Minute IPA.

Fortunately, Terrapin's gamble paid off when founders Brian Buckowski and John Cochran picked up a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival just six months after putting their Rye Pale Ale on draft.

Since then, Buckowski and Cochran have rolled out an impressive line of craft beers, including Gamma Ray, a barley wine made with wheat; Hopsecutioner, their big, bitter, hop-stinky IPA; and a coffee oatmeal imperial stout called Wake 'N' Bake (I have no idea what the name refers to, but I feel compelled to point out that the brilliant artwork on Terrapin's labels is done by Richard Biffle, who did cover art for such bands as the Grateful Dead, Carlos Santana, and Jerry Garcia. Again, I don't know why this is relevant.).

The only bummer here is that if you live in the District or Maryland, you're going to need to head into Virginia to find any of these beers (I bought the ones for this post at Total Wine in Alexandria). I'm sure there's a perfectly reasonable explanation for why a Georgia beer can't cross the invisible borders of D.C. and Maryland, while I can get a beer from Denmark (WinterCoat) on draft at Birreria Paradiso in Georgetown. To think otherwise could mean liquor laws are arbitrary, contradictory and antiquated.

DSCN5063 So all this is to say, Terrapin makes some fantastic beer. In honor of that -- and to have an excuse to talk up the brewery -- I decided a tribute to Georgia was in order. And you can't think about Georgia without thinking of peaches and pork. (Well, you probably can. I certainly can. But bear with me.)

Now, it would be fair to point out that we are not in peach season. That's why I'd wait until peach season to try this recipe, or use canned peaches. What you don't want to do, is use the "fresh" peaches from Chile like I did. They're completely flavorless. I should've gone with canned peaches as I initially planned. Like canned tomatoes, canned peaches can be just as flavorful as truly fresh peaches. And because the peaches are roasted and added to barbecue sauce, it doesn't matter that they're skinned.

I also used sweet yellow onions. Ideally, I would've used Vidalia onions (grown in southern Georgia), but we're a couple months away from their short season. In the meantime, sweet yellow onions, or red onions, are a decent substitute.

Basically, this is a post I should do in June, but have done in March. What can I tell you? I lack patience.

Setting aside my poor peach pick (ah, alliteration), the menu of grilled, thick-cut, bone-in pork chops, grilled sweet potato fries and cornbread works really well with Terrapin's Rye Pale Ale (not to mention the India Brown Ale, Big Hoppy Monster imperial red ale, and the Hopsecutioner).

The beer wasn't the only thing I headed into Virginia for. I picked up the chops at Let's Meat on the Avenue. Steve Gatward runs a great little butcher shop in Del Ray. While you can buy bone-in pork chops at any grocery store in the area, Steve will cut them as thick as you want (I chose "very") and french the rib bones so they'll look good when photographed. Good butchers like Steve are too rare a commodity.

Making a run to Virginia for pork chops and beer might seem like a bit much, but a couple pints of rye ale and a two-inch thick chop glazed with peach barbecue sauce will make the excursion seem well worth it.

And who knows, maybe one day Terrapin will make its way into D.C. and Maryland, saving me a little gas and time. With any luck, peaches will actually be in season.

Grilled bone-in pork chops with bourbon peach barbecue sauce
(Makes four servings)

DSCN5041 4 bone-in pork chops, thick cut
3 sweet potatoes
1 large Vidalia onion or sweet yellow onion
2 peaches, in-season fresh or canned without syrup
1 1/2 cups ketchup
1/2 bourbon
2 tbs. dark brown sugar
3 tbs. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. liquid smoke
3 tsp. of garlic powder
1 stick of salted butter
Honey, optional to drizzle on the cornbread
Salt and black pepper to taste
Barbecue seasoning, optional

I made corn bread to go with the pork chops and sweet potatoes (naturally). I always follow the recipe for sweet cornbread on the side of the corn meal package. It has never failed me. The cornbread takes about 20 minutes to prepare and bake, so feel free to take care of it while you're waiting for your grill to come up to temperature.

If you're going to make the barbecue sauce, do so the night before. Halve the peaches, coat them lightly with canola or vegetable oil and roast in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. In the meantime, combine the ketchup, bourbon, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, liquid smoke, and garlic powder in a pot and bring to a simmer. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.

After 30 minutes in the oven, the peaches should be incredibly soft. Carefully remove from the tray and place in a bowl or, preferably, a food processor. Puree the peaches or crush in the bowl. Add the rest of the barbecue sauce, combine and taste. If the peaches aren't sweet enough, you may have to add a bit more brown sugar. Adjust the seasonings until the barbecue sauce is to your liking. Once you're happy, cover the sauce and stick it in the refrigerator until you need it.

The morning of the barbecue, season the pork chops with a barbecue rub. Steve Raichlen has a great recipe for an all-purpose barbecue rub. If you don't have a rub of your own, I highly recommend his. If you don't want to use a barbecue rub, make sure to season the chops with salt and black pepper before putting them on the grill.

DSCN5036 An hour before you're ready to grill, pull the pork chops out of the refrigerator so they can loose some of the chill. If the rib bones were frenched, wrap them with aluminum foil so they don't blacken. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. This will be for your sweet potatoes. Either quarter the potatoes by cutting them from end to end, or break them down even further by halving the quarters. Place the sweet potato slices on a baking sheet, cover with a little olive oil or canola oil, salt lightly and pop them in the oven for 45 minutes. This will fully cook the potatoes. Their time on the grill will allow them to pick up some additional color and flavor.

DSCN5022 As for the grill, set it up for off-heat cooking. That means you need to have a hot spot, where the coals or burners are concentrated, and a cool spot where you can move the food after it has seared. When the grill is ready, place the pork chop on the hot spot and cook for about 5 minutes, or until grill marks form on the meat. Flip and sear the other side for about five minutes. Move the chops to the cool spot and glaze with the bourbon peach barbecue sauce. Close the lid and allow the chops to cook for about three to five minutes, depending on how thick they are (the thicker the chop, the longer the cook time).

Open the grill, flip the chops and glaze the other side. Now, place the sweet potatoes directly over the heat and close the lid for three minutes. Lift the lid and check the sweet potatoes pieces. When char marks form, turn the pieces. Also, flip the chops and glaze again. Close the lid and cook for another three minutes.

When the sweet potatoes are ready, the pork will be ready. Remove, plate and eat. Just make sure you do so with a Terrapin.


Rustico: Best beer bar or church of the hopped and malted? Both, actually.

Rustico1

I am not a man of faith, but I have heard the word. I have gotten religion.

I have spoken with Greg Engert.

If ever there was a revivalist pushing the gospel of quality hops and barley, Brother Greg would be that man. His church would be Rustico.

For the past three years, Greg has been beer director for the Alexandria restaurant. In that time, his passion for beer -- craft and otherwise -- has turned the neighborhood eatery into one of the area's best beer bars.

Rustico5 The day I arrived to talk to Greg, he was getting the restaurant and his staff ready for Rustico's Oktobeerfest and the 3,000 eager beer drinkers who would descend on the place the next day. It looked like they were gearing up for a military campaign. Kegs, many, many kegs, of pumpkin beer and other fall seasonals were double stacked in the walk-in and along the bar's back wall. Out back, tables, coolers, taps and tents were stacked in the parking lot, ready for assembly.

This is the third year Rustico has put on the event and Greg was expecting the masses. He knows these people. So in addition to the Maerzens and harvest beers, Greg set up a couple cask condition ales. He was gilding the lily. The beer geeks and drinkers who'd show up the next day would be more than happy with 14 craft beers, but the two cask ales would put them over the top.

Greg knew this because it would put him over the top, too.

Rustico2 I realize Rustico is a restaurant, but look at the beer menu. Actually, when I sat down with Greg to talk about Rustico's beer program, he popped out of his chair to show me the menu. Rather than organize beers by style (pilsners, stouts, IPAs) or geography (British, German, etc.), Greg organizes them by flavor. Want something crisp? Try a Brooklyn Lager. How about a beer with a roasted flavor? Have a Founder's Breakfast Stout.

In fact, Greg's fingerprints are on all of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group's (NRG) properties. So if you like the beer lineup at Columbia Firehouse, thank Greg. EatBar? Thank Greg. And then there's the much-anticipated Birch & Barley and ChurchKey, an incredibly ambitious beer bar NRG is opening in D.C. Its success or failure will depend mightily on Greg.

Though these outlets, Greg has quietly spread the word about good beer. Beer enthusiasts who trek down to Rustico know there's a lot of craft beer to be had. But the people heading over to Vermillion can opt for craft over cocktails. The guy who'd be just as happy to have a Bud with his burger at Columbia Firehouse can try a better American beer instead.

And soon, all of us will have a lot more access to a lot more quality beer when Birch & Barley and ChurchKey opens on 14th Street. In a way, Birch & Barley and ChurchKey is the result of Rustico's success and Greg's meticulous work as beer director (Speaking of ChurchKey, check out the blog Greg launched. There's 2,000 words on glassware. This guy is into beer).

Talking to Greg about beer is like talking to Baptist minister about sin and Jesus Christ. He wants you to know why he does what he does. He wants people to enjoy the beer and Rustico as much as he does. Birch & Barley and ChurchKey may be the next big thing, but Greg fully intends for Rustico to remain a destination for beer geeks and regulars.

Although Rustico was launched in March 2006 as a restaurant and beer bar, for the first few months there wasn't consideration given to the beer selection. It lacked focus. The NRG folks recognized this and recruited Greg from the Brickskeller to improve the lineup.

He did.

Rustico3 Today, Rustico has 24 American crafts and imports on draft, as well as a beer engine, because they know from good beer. Local beers regularly find their way onto the taps (Clipper City's Big DIPA Double IPA was on the hand pump the last time I was there), but Greg doesn't necessarily emphasize them. Again, it's about the flavor.

In an effort to strike a balance with Rustico's beer line up, Greg maintains a steady rotation of flavors on draft and in the cooler. So the Hop, Roast, Malt, Smoke and other flavor categories may feature Troegs, Flying Dog and Starr Hill one day. And they may feature Samuel Smith, Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier, and Left Hand the next. It all depends.

Speaking of Rustico's cooler, there's a lot of beer in there. More than 200 different beers as a matter of fact. And the cases of beer stacked on an upper shelf near the ceiling in the back? They haven't been forgotten. Rustico rigged the air conditioning system to keep the rare reserve bottles cool.

All this is well and good, but Birch & Barley and ChurchKey will have 50 beers on draft, and four different beer coolers will be kept at different temperatures to ensure that the beer stored inside will be at the optimum temperature, and the draft-line system will look like a great big beer organ. So why the hell would anyone in the District hump down the damn George Washington Parkway when they have all that right there?

Because it won't all be at the ChurchKey.

Sure, there will be a lot of different, very special beers at the new D.C. spot, but some things -- like the beer Greg brewed at the Sierra Nevada brewery -- will only be available at Rustico. And events like Oktobeerfest, brewer's dinners, private beer dinners and launch parties, will continue at Rustico. So will Greg.

Birch & Barley and ChurchKey is a big project, which Greg is personally and professionally invested in, but he plans to continue overseeing the beer lineups at all of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group's properties, including Rustico. And as long as Brother Greg is at the pulpit of the beer bar he made grand, that place is going to be alright.

Rustico4 Now, Rustico might be a great beer bar, but it ain't perfect. First, Rustico is a restaurant. As I've said before, I like my beer bars to be bars. Chef Steve Mannino might be doing some good work in Rustico's kitchen, but I'd prefer more division between the bar and restaurant. As it happens, Greg and Steve work to bring them together. In fact, Greg is quick to acknowledge the fact that Rustico is a restaurant first and a beer bar second.

Then there are the bartenders. This might be where the most work can be done. One night, the bartender is eager and friendly, introducing himself and attentive to our questions and needs. Another night, another bartender meanders behind the bar. When he gets around to taking our orders or to check our drinks, the 1,000 yard stare is locked in place. The guy may be there, but he's definitely not there. If Greg had a cadre of bartenders working as hard as the first guy, he'd have a hell of a team. As it is, he has a pretty mixed group: some mediocre, some outstanding.

Finally, there's the beer. Certainly, Rustico has one of the best selections of taps and bottles in the D.C. area. But I do have a few quibbles. Let's take the beer engine. My love for this machine is a matter of record. It's one of the greatest devices Western Civilization has ever created. However, it does require a skilled hand to operate. That might explain why during one visit when I ordered a cask ale, the bartender poured half my pint from a pitcher in the refrigerator and finished it off with the pump. When I asked why he did that, I was told it was to reduce waste. That didn't make sense to me then and it still doesn't now.

Also, I don't understand why there isn't a more specific focus on local breweries. One of the great things about the craft beer movement is the emphasis that's placed on supporting local brewers. To Greg's credit, I've always found a few local beers on draft, if not in the bottle. However, being local doesn't assure a brewery a spot in Rustico's lineup. I would hope that it would.

Score: 16 of 20 (beer: 7 of 8, atmosphere: 3 of 5, bartenders: 4 of 5, other elements 2 of 2)

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

Want to see more photos of Rustico? Check them out here.


West End Farmers Market

Broccoli at J&W On the first Sunday in June, I headed out to Alexandria to visit the West End Farmers Market.  The market is located in Ben Brenman Park, adjacent to the Cameron Station complex of condos and shops.  It struck me that a park was a fantastic place to host a farmers market and I wondered why there weren’t more park/farmers market collaborations.  As you’re driving into the park, you can immediately pick out the familiar white tents indicative of farmers markets the world over.  The background of the lush green grass that only seems to grow in state funded parks made the tents pop out all the more.  The market, in its third season, was originally conceived by Julie Bryant, a former coffee shop owner, with the assistance of Susan Birchler.  Since its inception, the market has grown to 25 vendors, ranging from fresh produce and meats to homemade chocolates and Virginia wines from North Gate Vineyards.  As I walked around, it was apparent this was a regular community gathering place, as vendors greeted customers by name and chatted about their plans for the upcoming week.  Water bowls were left out for dogs by the vendors, a welcome treat considering the warmth of the day.  And the vendors themselves were all happy to chat away about their offerings, giving serving suggestions and telling their own little stories.  A real sense of community has been created in this market and it is a shame it’s not more metro accessible.  By car, it’s a quick trip outside of DC and well worth the drive.

My first stop was J&W Valley, where the two ladies manning the table were shelling English peas.  While they had the peas for sale in the pods, they were also shelling them for their customers’ convenience.  Their easy manner and the table’s set up reminded me of the many farm stands that dot the Georgia landscape (I’m a Southern Girl, what can I say).  It was at J&W’s stand that I spotted the first broccoli of the season.  Considering my love of stir fries, I was quite happy to see the lovely green bunches.  I picked up a large container of the shelled English peas (I may be from Georgia, but the city has softened me…no shelling of peas for this girl) and about two pounds of the broccoli.  I resisted the temptation to pick up some of the spring onions and beets, opting to pace myself for once. 

Grubby Girl Lotions As I continued on, I noticed there were a number of local artisans with booths at the market.  I later learned most of the artisans only sell at West End on the first Sunday of every month.  A man was setting up his collection of paintings and sketches not far from a woman with various crafts on display at her own booth.  A cute booth accented with wooden shelves caught my eye, so I wandered over to find out more.  The shelves were peppered with glass bottles of oils and artisanal soaps, vaguely reminiscent of a Bath and Bodyworks.  The vendor, Grubby Girl, sells handcrafted bath and body products made from all natural ingredients grown on Meeting House Farm.  The farm is home to over a dozen bee hives and a garden of herbs and vegetables, all of which are used to make the Grubby Girl line of products.  The soaps are hand crafted into shapes ranging from flowers to stars and with names like “redneck” and “farm person”.  Unfortunately, no one was manning the booth when I walked by, but I remembered the name so I could look it up online later.  Their products are sold at farmers markets and specialty stores throughout Virginia. 

Fleurir Chocolates I stopped dead in my tracks when I stumbled upon Fleurir Hand Grown Chocolates, mostly because I saw the word “chocolate” on their sign.  Another customer was standing at the table when I walked up, so I quietly listened as Robert Ludlow, the chef behind Fleurir’s chocolates, rattled off the various flavors in each four piece box.  The flavors include standards like caramel and 85% dark chocolate but are mostly unique combinations created by Ludlow himself.  The cheesecake flavor tastes exactly as if chunks of the dessert have been dipped into chocolate and served on a platter.  The almond amaretto starts out as a simple chocolate.  Just when you’re thinking “so where’s the almond”, the flavor of almonds hit your taste buds and then mellows into a lovely finish.  The most unique flavor combination is the Ginger Rogers, a dark chocolate infused with mint and dotted with bits of crystallized ginger.  The chocolates are all made from locally sourced ingredients and use fresh cream and butter.  Sold in boxes of four assorted flavors, the chocolates aren’t cheap ($8 a box) but they’re great for an indulgent, occasional treat. 

I had heard about Tom’s Amish Store through various local food blogs, so I was happy to see his sign at West End.  The booth is littered with homemade jars of jams and jellies, loaves of fruit breads and other goodies made from the Amish.  Tommy Tompkins, the Tom in Tom’s Amish Store, has a friendly and easy demeanor that reminded me of someone’s kindly grandfather.  When I first walked up, he was talking with a woman he obviously has known for years.  Joking back and forth, the two could have easily been mistaken for a married couple.  She asked him about the cheeses he had that week and he cut off a piece for her to try (while slyly putting in a compliment about her appearance).  He gave me an easy smile as the lady decided on which cheese she wanted.  He managed to make her not feel rushed while acknowledging me, something many vendors can’t easily do.  With a wave and a promise to get together soon, she headed off with her cheese and he turned his attention to me.  I asked him about the cheeses he had and he first showed me an 18 month aged soft cheddar.  Like all the products he sells, the cheese is crafted by the Amish and aged in a cave Tommy helped them build.  The cheese had a silky texture and a robust flavor, perfect for a picnic of cheese, a baguette and fruit.  I got a block of the cheese, surprised to find out it only cost $3.50. 

Fresh Garlic - Westmoreland Farm I had gotten so distracted by the baked goods, cheese and chocolates, I almost forgot I was there for produce.  That’s when I hit upon Westmoreland Berry Farm’s stand, the same vendor I bought my first strawberries of the season from back at the opening of the Crystal City Farmers Market.  The farm, located in Oak Grove, Virginia, hosts a wide variety of “on the farm” activities, including tours, wagon rides and a “goat walk to the stars”.  The farm also allows people to come pick their own berries during their harvest months.  Known for their sweet berries, Westmoreland also sells peaches, apples, pumpkins and gourds from their orchard.  The stand wasn’t just a testament to berries though.  They also had garlic, onions and other greens.  I had already picked up a big batch of strawberries earlier in the week, but I couldn’t resist the first garlic of the season, so I picked up a bunch along with some onions (still attached to their green stalks). 

On the Gourmet Olive Oil Perched at the end of the market was a truck, festooned with big chalkboards.  One chalkboard touted their meat offerings, which included ground bison!  I noticed people going in and out of the truck, which confused me until I realized the vendor was On the Gourmet.  On the Gourmet is a mobile purveyor of local meats and dairy products and gourmet chocolates, crackers and oils and vinegars (to name just a few of their offerings), offering home delivery to locations up to 20 miles of Vienna, Virginia.  I have heard about On the Gourmet from other DCFoodies writers, as well as the boards on Don Rockwell, but had never actually seen the truck myself.  When I stepped inside, I was reminded of a tiny general store, with artisanal products artfully arranged to catch the eye.  Retro bottles of soda are juxtaposed with high end products like truffle infused olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar.  Boxes of Lucy’s Cookies, gluten and dairy free cookies, in varying flavors were stacked together next to a basket of “deep discount” items.  I dug through the deep discount basket, finding chocolates, cookies and crackers, among other things.  I picked out a box of olive oil and sea salt artisanal crackers (to go with my cheese, naturally) and headed out of the truck.  I could have easily stayed inside for hours, perusing their products and sampling; the truck seems designed to encourage foodies to explore its offerings.  Although I was tempted to pick up practically everything I saw, I stuck to the crackers and a few pounds of the ground bison. 

 Just before we headed out, my boyfriend Rick nicely pointed out he was starving.  A table weighed down with baked goods caught our eye, so we stopped to see what she was selling.  The vendor, Treats by Gale, had a selection of homemade scones that looked rather tempting.  Gale King, the Gale behind Treats by Gale, began selling her baked goods on a small scale before making it a full fledged business.  Her treats include chocolate chip and white chocolate cranberry walnut cookies, brownies, scones and even a Caribbean Great Cake.  The scones were only a dollar and were the perfect size for a morning snack.  Rick picked up a cinnamon apple scone and I opted for a blueberry one.  She wrapped up our scones and encouraged us to pick up her business card, saying she sold her treats online too.  We thanked her and headed home, bags filled with more than just produce.  The West End Market has managed to create a neighborhood bazaar, offering a wide range of locally grown and made products in the middle of a suburban park. 

 New produce seen around the markets:

•    Garlic bulbs
•    Raspberries
•    Blueberries
•    Broccoli


Beet, Turnip and Goat Cheese Tortellini Beet, Hakurei Turnip and Goat Cheese Tortellini

For the pasta:

3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
4  large eggs
1 tablespoon olive oil
Pinch of salt

For the filling:

1 bunch beets
1 bunch Hakurei turnips
1 container Chevre goat cheese

Cut the beet and turnip bulbs from their stalks and wash them thoroughly.  Place the beets and turnips into separate pots filled with water.  Bring the pots to a boil and continue to let them cook until the beets and turnips are tender, about 20 minutes.  Drain the beets and dice them into small pieces.  Drain the turnips and scoop out the flesh, mashing it in a bowl.  Add the beets and the goat cheese and stir until everything is mixed together thoroughly.  Cover the mixture and put it in the refrigerator until ready to fill the tortellini.

Place the flour and salt in a large bowl and make a well in the middle of it.  Crack the eggs into that well and add the olive oil.  With a fork, work the liquid ingredients until a dough forms.  Take the dough out of the bowl and place it onto a surface dusted with flour.  Knead the dough until it becomes smooth and then form it into two round discs.  Wrap the discs in plastic wrap and allow the dough to sit for an hour.  Using either a pasta machine or a rolling pin, roll out one of the discs until it’s about as thin as a quarter.  Cut the pasta sheet into 2 inch squares.  Place 1/2 teaspoon of the beet mixture onto the center of a pasta square.  Take one corner of the pasta square and fold it over to meet the other corner, forming a triangle.  Pinch the sides of the square together, sealing the filling in.  You may need to wet the sides of the dough square a bit before sealing the tortellini.  If any filling squeezes out, simply wipe it off and make sure the tortellini is sealed.  Take your pinkie finger and wrap the pasta triangle around it, creating the tortellini shape.  Pinch the ends together to finish off the tortellini.  Place the tortellini on a plate dusted lightly with flour.  Repeat this until all the squares from both discs of dough are used. 

Once all the tortellinis are formed, bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it.  Add the tortellinis to the water carefully.  Cook until the tortellinis start to float to the top, about 3 to 4 minutes.  Remove from the water with a slotted spoon and serve with a simple sauce of browned butter and fresh herbs.

The West End Farmers Market is located at 4800 Brenman Park Drive in the heart of Ben Brenman Park.  The market is open on Sundays from 9 am to 1 pm.


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 orders@homefarmstore.com) 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 letsmeat@ecofriendly.com 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 MElaineBoland@aol.com.  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 maplelawnturkeys@comcast.net.  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.


Eamonn's - A Dublin Chipper

Eamonns_fish On the corner of King and S.Washington St. in Alexandria, stands Eamonn's, the small fish and chips "joint" that brings bold flavor to a normally bland dish. If you're expecting something grandiose or luxurious because it's associated with the Armstrongs, just forget about it. As I was sitting there waiting for my food to come out, a guy walked in the door, looked around, and said "This is it?!" What were you expecting dude?

Eamonn's is anything but your fine dining establishment, but that doesn't mean that the food will leave you disappointed. I recently went there with Mike Bober, another one of the writers here at DCFoodies.com, and we basically ordered the entire menu (relax, it's not very big). Here's what our experience was like.

Eamonns_menu If you didn't get the point already, the dining room is very small (four tables in total and a bar with 3 seats) and the seating is first come, first sit. Don't sit at a table when you first come in, but go up to the cash register and order. The menu is on the chalkboard about the cash register, and to your left, you'll see the sole tap of Guinness ($5.25 for 16oz in a plastic cup). 

The menu is simple with Chips, Fish, Sauces, "Other Stuff", Fried Sweets, and Booze, and everything is a la carte although you get one container of sauce per fish or "other stuff" you order. Chips come in small  ($2.50) or large ($3.50) and aren't crispy and light like Belgian frites, or even your local fast food place. Quite the opposite, they're thick cut and greasy. I don't know if the point is to try to be authentic chips, I wouldn't know because I've never been to Britain, but I didn't care much for them.

The day that Mike and I were there, they had a grouper special so we ordered that instead of the regular cod. The grouper had a nice texture and flavor, not too fishy and was meaty enough to hold together when we dipped it in the sauces. We also has some of the Ray (or Stingray), which comes with the bones in it. The bones are more cartilage than hard bones, but you'd best pick them out before attempting to eat the fish. We found that the ray was rather difficult to eat. The breading on the fish could've been crispier in the end.

Eamonns_food We also tried the fried battered "burgher", which is exactly what it sounds like. There are no cheese or bun options, but the burger is deep fried in batter and very well done. But that doesn't matter much because it's absolutely amazing and decadent, and I thought it was the best thing we ate there. The sauces are really what make the meal at Eamonn's. Our favorite was the spicy curry sauce, which wasn't too heavy or creamy at all. I was half expecting a curry mayonnaise, but this really not that thick. All of the sauces were pretty good, but our favorites were the Marie Rose (think McDonald's special sauce) and the Fronch (French).

To finish off our meal, I couldn't help but get the deep-fried Snickers. This was my first deep-fried Snickers and until I had one, I really didn't know what I was missing. They batter and deep-fry the Snickers, and then dust it with cinnamon sugar. It comes out hot and oozing, is nothing pretty to look at, and is messy to eat, but it's worth the trouble.

At about 7 PM, I noticed the person who was running the front reach up and up some of the prices about $0.25 and $0.50. It seems that if you get there before 7 PM, they give you a discount. Perhaps it's a happy hour special.

Eamonns_afterfood After the meal, we exiting Eamonn's and attempted to get into PX, which lies upstairs from The Chipper, but alas, we were rejected like the common scum that we are. Actually, they were fully booked so next time I'll think ahead and make a reservation. Instead, we walked down to the Restaurant Eve Bar and had a couple drinks there, which were probably just as good in the end.

As for Eamonn's, if I were a local to Alexandria, I'd probably be there quite often, especially given the other option of the Popeye's a few doors down. However, I don't think it warrants a special trip to Alexandria just for the fish and chips.

Eamonn's - A Dublin Chipper
728 King St
Alexandria, VA 22314
Map
207.299.8384
www.eamonnsdublinchipper.com

Details:
Dress Code: Casual, very casual
Parking: Street or Pay lot around the corner.
Smoking: Not Allowed.
Closest Metro: King Street
Reservations: Not taken
Baby-Child friendly rating: 2 diapers - no child seats or kids menu, but it's a casual environment so it's definitely a place you can bring small children.
Amy's Bathroom Rating - the provide all of the basic functions...


A stroll through Old Town...

This past Sunday, being an unseasonably lovely day (what global warming?), my girlfriend Eliza and I decided to take a walk about Old Town Alexandria. I don't make it down to this area nearly as often as I'd like, so it was interesting to see what has changed and what has stayed the same.

An interesting new addition to the Alexandria gourmet scene is Grape + Bean, a little shop right on South Royal Street just off of King. Ramona actually tipped me off to this place about a week ago, so when I spotted it out of the corner of my eye I thought I'd check it out.

Housed in a comfortable little space with a very 'Old Town' feel (wide-planked hardwood floors, exposed brick, etc), the Grape + Bean specializes in artisanal coffees and eclectic wines. Though the shop was full of browsers when I wandered in, I was immediately greeted by the barista (whom I assume is also the owner, given the nature of the business), who offered me a sample of several wines they were tasting at the time. Sipping on my Thorn Clarke Sparkler (which incidentally is a very nice, dry-finishing Australian bubbly, well worth the $15 price tag), I took a moment to peruse the shelves. The wine selection, while small, was actually very interesting: in a shop with maybe 50 facings, I was surprised to find such oenological oddballs as Lagrein rose, Rias Baixas Albarino, and various obscure wines from Iberia, all pretty reasonably priced. 

Amongst the wines were sprinkled a selection of high-end wine and food related knick-knacks— by and large the usual William Sonoma sort of affairs, though there was a fascinating looking salt well featuring a rainbow of colored rocks that reminded me how little I know about the mineral. The cold chest was a bit bare, but there were a some nice beers being offered such as Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA and Dale's Pale Ale out of Colorado, and amongst the several cheeses was Cypress Grove's Humboldt Fog, one of my favorites.

The coffee menu featured about 5 or 6 coffees from Counter Culture, a well known roaster out of Durham, NC, dedicated to sustainability, fair trade, and really good java. The descriptions were ample and detailed. After a good amount of consideration, I ended up selecting an Ethiopian, single-village coffee called Harfusa. Coffees are made on a cup-by-cup basis using the shop's single Clover unit. While the system is much touted for making coffee in the freshest, most correct manner possible, one thing the Clover machine is not is fast. From ordering to service, my coffee took 10 minutes to arrive— I didn't mind, what with more wine to sample. At about $4.00 a 14 oz. cup, the price was a little steep, but the coffee was quite tasty. This being my first experience with this type of coffee maker, I wasn't sure what to expect— the flavors were indeed fresh, but the texture was unusual, a more evident suspension than your average cup of joe; you could actually feel the particles in the liquid, as in espresso, but with less intensity.  It was very unusual, but a must try for any coffee nerd out there.

After a refreshing cup of hot black coffee, I developed a hankering for seafood (obviously). Strolling a bit further towards the water, we stopped at one of those establishments that never seems to change: The Fish Market.

Ensconced in a 19th Century shipping warehouse constructed of old ballast stones, the Fish Market gives off a much "homier" vibe than many of the upscale eateries that have popped up on King over time. The dining room features the full complement of Neptune's bounty, in large portions, and you can "have it your way," broiled or fried. Homey, sad to say, does have its pitfalls. Those looking for a plethora of beer and wine choices to accompany innovative seafood dishes will be quite let down— the fare at The Fish Market is decidedly simple from both behind the bar and from the kitchen.

Fortunately, our tastes were leaning toward the simple side that day, craving nothing more than beer and oysters; in this department, the Market was unlikely to disappoint. What I wasn't prepared for was the bounties of happy hour (4 PM to 7 PM, Sunday thru Thursday). While nothing superb, the Market offers a small selection of 32 oz. beers for less than $8.00, and the wines are blah blah BLAH ... the oysters were 69 cents apiece!!! Normally $8.25 a half dozen, during happy hour that price is halved, making this the best shellfish deal I've come across, Ebbitt's and Hank's (blessed though they might be) be damned! And these Blue Points were huge, too, and perfectly sweet and briny even so late in the season (though to be fair, we did come across one gritty one in the dozen). The raw clams were similarly priced and also fresh, although the flavor did not make me a convert. Overall, I was truly impressed with the quality to price ratio. If you can find the time, make a point to swing by the Market before this best of all seasons runs dry. Trust me, Sam Adams tastes like ambrosia when paired with a dozen shucked oysters the size of your cellphone.

Grape & Bean
118 South Royal Street
Alexandria, VA
david@grapeandbean.com
http://www.grapeandbean.com

The Fish Market
105 & 107 King Street
Alexandria, VA
703.836.5676
fishmarket@starpower.net
http://www.fishmarketoldtown.com


Farrah Olivia

Bread_farrah_olivia_2 Ever had Afro- Franco-American fusion food before? Me neither, until I went to Farrah Olivia which refers to their cuisine as "Creative American". The best I've heard it described is "Southern American soul food with an African twist".

When I first dined at Farrah Olivia, it was Restaurant Week. (Actually, it was the week after Restaurant Week, and the restaurant had expanded their Restaurant Week offering for an additional week.) I was surprised at the casual atmosphere, given the pictures of the food that I saw on the Farrah Olivia web site. For some reason I was expecting a Sport-Coats-Required atmosphere, but it was anything but that. The first thing that sticks out when you see the pictures on the web site is the preparation, which is as close to art in food as I've seen.

Artful presentation is easily found in the seared scallop appetizer. A scant trail of bacon powder on one side, some bacon bits on the other, then a small pool of the melon seed milk surrounded by a drizzle of the berbere oil. In the center of all that, a single scallop perfectly rare but also perfectly seared with a crispy, caramelized layer on the top and bottom of the scallop.  Mixing all of the ingredients together gave a great contrasts in flavor and texture: Creamy and crispy, salty and sweet. This was literally the best scallop I've ever tasted, but the only problem is the price. For $15, you'd think there'd at least be two on the plate?!

By far, my favorite dish is so far is the lamb chop I had on my second visit. Like the scallop, there's only a single lamb chop on the dish, and there's probably only about 5 or 6 ounces of meat on the plate, but the texture of the lamb was tender and juicy -- it's been awhile since I let out a moan like that after tasting a dish. A dish that needs no special presentation is the Parmesan soup. The menu says it's silky and it's not kidding -- if you could call something liquid silk, this would be it.

Some dishes are creatively presented, but the flavor doesn't quite live up to it. The "shocked" tuna is one example of this. What does "shocked" mean? It means the tuna is dropped in boiling water for a minute then shocked in ice water. The tuna is then sliced in exactly equal potions and ends up looking similar to a seared tuna, but with a much nicer texture, leaving it very similar to sushi. The flavor ended up not being much better than regular old raw tuna though.

Another example of this was the Pantagonian Toothfish which was ok, but the white bean puree that was served on the side had an unpleasant chalky taste and texture. I didn't even know what Pantagonian Toothfish was at the time I ordered this dish, but a quick Google search fixed that when I got home. Per Wikipedia, a Pantagonian Toothfish is a large fish found in the cold, temperate waters (from 50 to 3850m) of the Southern Atlantic, Southern Pacific, Indian and Southern Oceans on seamounts and continental shelves around most sub-Antarctic islands.

If you're looking for the perfect combination of the key lime pie at Ray's the Steaks (or Classics for that matter) and the cheesecake at Cafe St. Ex,  look no further than the lemon cheesecake. And if you've never had either of those desserts, let me give you a little better description. Take a cheesecake with perfect texture, not too dense, but not too creamy, and add the flavor of lemon with just the right amount of sweetness so it's not too tart. This is all on top of a thick graham-cracker crust and topped with a crispy, sweet layer of bruléed sugar. The other desserts are all very good as well, but this one stands out.

Farrah Olivia is not a restaurant for the value-centric diner. My average bill for two people with four courses of food and a bottle of wine was about $200. (I never once left feeling hungry, but the portions are small enough that you need to get four courses.) But for those of you that are looking to be challenged by the food you eat and look forward to trying new combinations of flavors, then Farrah Olivia is probably the restaurant for you.

On another note, I overheard the manager talking about how she'd just ordered the patio furniture for the summer, which makes me look forward to what new things will be on the menu this summer at Farrah Olivia.

Farrah Olivia
600 Franklin St
Alexandria, VA 22314
Map
(703) 778-2233
Web Site

Details:
Hours: See web site
Dress Code: Business Casual
Parking: Street and free covered lot.
Closest Metro:  King Street
Reservations: Taken and recommended on the weekends although you might be able to walk in and find a seat at the bar if you're lucky.
Baby-Child friendly rating: 1 Diaper. I wouldn't be caught dead with my little guy here.


Restaurant Eve Bar

It's not every day that you walk into a bar for the first time, and get treated like a regular, but at Restaurant Eve, it seems to be the usual experience. Two weeks ago, Amy and I went to Restaurant Eve for the second time and sat at the bar instead of eating at the Bistro or Tasting Room. (Our first visit being for the chef's tasting room, where I had the nine-course tasting menu and nearly passed out from the amount of food I consumed.) 

We sat at the far end of the bar for a bite to eat and I observed the people at the bar, who all seemed like a regulars, carefully. This seemed odd to me. The bartenders were conversing with everyone at the bar like they had been there many, many times. I wondered what the likelihood was that all 12 or so people sitting at the bar were regulars.

It's probably not too significant, but it made an impression when one of the bartenders (her name was Tammy) came over to greet us, we didn't get the standard, "What can I get you?", but were greeted with "How's your evening going so far?" 

The bartenders even treated the insufferable woman sitting next to us with a level of patience that I've only seen once before at a restaurant. I won't go into too much detail about this person except to say that when you're sitting at a bar, and you talk to someone sitting next to you, please take a hint when they don't reply to you with anything other than, "Thanks, that's nice." Also, if you feel that it's your purpose in life to tell those sitting next to you what wine to order, and when they decide NOT to listen to you, please don't get all pissy and laugh under your breath about what they actually did order.

Ok, so do you get the point? The bartenders are cool.

Dsc00255 As the first night progressed, we went through our usual exploratory dining, sampling different dishes from the menu, and taking the bartender's advice on what food to get. A succulent softshell crab appetizer deep-fried in a light tempura batter and roast duck breast, duck sausage and with duck foie gras and were the highlights from this evening. However, the beef short rib entree that I had was fatty and skimpy on the meat. This was despite the fact that my friend told me the night before to order the beef short ribs because they "were the best short ribs he'd ever eaten." Perhaps I got a bad batch.

The other thing I remember vividly from that first night at the bar was that towards the end of ourDsc00263 meal, Tammy (who by the second course managed to tell us where she lived, what her neighborhood was like and the name of her dog) was making secret trips back to the wine cellar to "find the good stuff."  This made for an interesting night to say the least, and led to me having to spend another hour at the Starbucks sobering up before Amy or I could drive home.

My second trip to the bar at Restaurant Eve was probably one of the most decadent meals I've ever eaten. More hyperbole: the night began with some of the best fried calamari I've ever eaten. Rest assured, if you find something as common as fried calamari at Restaurant Eve, you'd better order it. I don't think I've ever tasted such tender Dsc00262 squid.

Ok, so fried calamari isn't so decadent. I'll continue.

For entrees, we had pan-roasted veal sweetbreads and confit of braised house-cured pork belly. My portion of sweetbreads was gigantic --if your normal portion of sweetbreads was a 9oz. filet mignon, this would be a 28 oz. porterhouse. I appreciated the preparation of the sweetbreads, pan-roasted instead of fried, you could actually taste the flavor of the sweetbreads. The pork belly, which Tammy told us was a "chef's specialty", was a very unique dish. While I thought that our serving could have been more tender, the complex, smoky flavor of the pork with the cannelini beans more than made up for that.

We returned a third time to Restaurant Eve, but I won't go into too much detail, except to say thatDsc00268 you should definitely order the monkfish if it's on the menu.. I'd say that of all the entrees I ate there, this was my favorite. Perhaps it was the uncharacteristically tenderness of the monkfish, or the complexity that the spicy chorizo sausage added to the ragu it was served in. I'm not sure exactly, but it was well worth the $28.50 that it cost.

Our desserts each evening were very good and changed every evening we were there, but my favorites were the chocolate mouse cake, which...ok, you just can't go wrong with a good rich chocolate mouse, and the strawberry panna cotta which had a very delicate flavor and pleasant texture.

Dsc00256 The cost of each of our meals at Restaurant Eve were pretty expensive -- ranging from $200 to $225 before gratuity. Keep in mind though, that each time we were there, we probably had at least three or four glasses of wine each, and with prices ranging from $8 to $15 or so per glass, this can have a serious impact for on your bill. Don't be a stupid lush like me. Ask the Sommelier to recommend a good bottle to go with your apps and entrees. So a normal person  -- who only drinks a glass of wine with dinner -- will probably be able to keep the cost of the meal down a bit, especially considering that most entrees are below $30 and the appetizers are between $10 and $15.

So I know that this is news to no one, but Restaurant Eve should be on everyones list of must-visit restaurants in this area. The food is original and unlike anything you'll get at other restaurants and you certainly won't be disappointed by your meals there.

Restaurant Eve
110 S. Pitt Street
Alexandria, VA
(703) 706-0450
Map

Hours:
Bistro
Lunch Mon - Fri: 11:30 AM - 2:30 PM
Dinner Mon-Sat: 5:30 PM - 10 PM
Tasting Room:
Dinner Mon - Sat: 5:30 PM - 9:30 PM
Bar and Lounge
Mon - Thu: 11:30 Am - 11:30 PM
Fri: 11:30 AM - 12:30 AM
Sat: 5:30 PM - 12:30 AM
Closed Saturday Lunch, Sundays and all major holidays

Dress Code: Business Casual
Parking: Street parking in Alexandria isn't too hard to come by, except on weekends. There are also parking lots all over the place. No valet.
Smoking: Not Allowed.
Closest Metro: King Street and it's a hike.
Reservations: Taken in the Bistro and Tasting Room and are recommended.
Amy's Bathroom rating: Very clean and well taken care of.
Baby friendly rating: 1 diaper. Yeah, babies don't belong here during dinner. The only time I think it may be appropriate to bring a baby is during lunch in the lounge.