As much as I love me some Target-scoping or Home Goods exploring, big box stores have their limitations. One, they tend to be low on quirks. (Fun fact: small business owners are just quirkier people.) Two, your neighborhood friendly sales rep is just as likely to hate their job (“Angst. Angst. Angst”) as they are to know the answers to your queries. And three, they’re often less aesthetically pleasing. (At least on the outside. Can’t say I envy the look of concrete blocks topped by … concrete blocks.)
Which is why, in restaurants and in shopping, my bias is often in favor of the “little guys” – the small businesses, the locally owned joints, the places whose owners could just as easily be your second cousin or high school buddy. When it comes to kitchens, cooking and foodstuffs, these sorts of establishments tend to be fiercely local. Can’t say I mind that.
My favorite kitchen-stuffs establishment (and I say “kitchen-stuffs” specifically – this is a food-free establishment, and I’m only just beginning my tours of DC’s gourmet food shops. Review of the Cowgirl Creamery is pending – a mini-review in two terribly punny words? Holy Cow!) in the District is Hill’s Kitchen. Hill’s Kitchen (heh heh, get it? Love.) is located, not-so-surprisingly, in Capitol Hill. Specifically, it’s just across Pennsylvania from the entrance to Eastern Market, in a strip of D Street shops between 7th and 8th Streets SE. Easily accessible by Metro, Hill’s Kitchen is open Tuesday through Sunday, and their wares have served me well.
My first purchase – after a few scouting trips, during which I spent most of my time drooling over what hey had to offer – was none other than my cast iron skillet. The salesgirl I spoke with was super-knowledgeable about the ins and outs of cast iron, instructing me in how to care for my new friend and season it properly. [She also warned me about its flesh-frying properties, which – in hindsight – I probably should have remembered better!]
Regardless, knowing that the proprietors are affectionately familiar with their wares gives me confidence in buying from them. It’s the opposite of my experience in most big box stores, which – while this frugal gal loves her some chain-store-sized discounts – can sometimes lack a human element. When Target gives you the option of scanning your own merchandise to figure out prices when no red-wearing employees are to be found, I start to feel like our devolution into cyborg-osity is only that much closer.
My second purchase, then, was a SWEET silicone cover that’s designed for the handle of – you guessed it – my cast iron skillet. In addition to devices that will save me from future scarring, they carry pretty much anything you’d want in your own midgie (or not-so-midgie) kitchie at respectable prices. Highlights include specialty honeys, oils and vinegars; an excellent array of cookbooks; every possible decorating tool for frosting a cake, cupcake or even overly-decked-out-s’more; and a great collection of cute and cheeky tea towels.
Could you find the same item for less on eBay or Amazon, or even in the hallowed fluorescent aisles of Target and Wal-Mart? Maybe, but if you shopped there, could you have a chat with your salesperson about the exciting prospect of taking the store’s own knife skills class? Nope.
Yep, that’s right – on the Hill’s Kitchen web site, they list a number of cooking and kitchen-based classes that you can take right on their property. If you check this page, you’ll see one-session courses in knife skills, farmers’ market-based menus (how fab does THAT sound?), and no-cook pasta sauces. Sounds like they’re right up this girl’s alley.
So if you find yourself in the vicinity of Eastern Market and are looking for fun shopping diversions, head to D street and poke through Hill’s Kitchen. Who knows – you might find your next big culinary adventure.