This weekend, one of my absolute favorite people — my college bestie Laura — came to DC for a packed weekend of cherry blossom-visiting, belated birthday celebrating, city-exploring, Metro-riding, and … wine drinking! While she was in town (from all the way in an unnamed Southern city — gotta keep a little anonymity in this Age of the Interwebs, kids), we hit up a great combination of touristy good times and foodie fun.
Pennsylvania Avenue is home to more than just, y’know, that little White House at good ol’ 1600. When you take Pennsylvania Ave. in the opposite direction of the White House, heading southeast, you hit the heart of the Hill.
Er, Capitol Hill, that is! One of my favorite neighborhoods in town, the Hill is home to many a fun food shop, fresh market, and tasty restaurant. Hill’s Kitchen and Eastern Market are in this neck of the woods, as are two restaurants I’ve recently tried – Spike Mendolsohn’s Good Stuff Eatery on Pennsylvania, and DC-3 Hot Dogs, just off of PA Ave on 8th SE.
While these two foodstuffs establishments are a few blocks apart, they epitomize – to me, the not-quite-native-but-not-a-newbie resident – the fun flavor of Capitol Hill. It’s business in the front, party in the back: a kind of mullet-of-a-neighborhood with great bars and restaurants in the shadow of the seat of one of the most powerful governments in the world. Fun, hip, down-to-earth – what’s not to like?
For starters, Good Stuff is likely the wider known of the two, mostly due to its founding chef’s celebrity pedigree. Spike Mendolsohn competed on Top Chef in a former life, and now spends his time opening DC restaurants, including Good Stuff and its pizza-serving twin, We The Pizza (I know – THE PUNS!) next door. Good Stuff focuses on what Spike sees as just that – the good stuff, a.k.a. juicy burgers, homey & dressed-down fries, and a milkshake or two (or more).
While their impressive mayo and sauce bar may get a lot of publicity, along with sandwiches featuring fried eggs or those named after a certain Mr. Obama (featuring bacon, horseradish and Roquefort cheese), it’s the unsung heroes of the menu that got my attention. On a visit to Good Stuff with my visiting sister, I sunk my teeth into a Michelle Melt (the Mrs. Obama burger, featuring “Southlawn Herb Garden Mayo” and Swiss cheese) and was surprised to note the patty’s protein of choice: turkey.
Now, normally, turkey burgers have a reputation for being culinary hockey pucks. Still, I order them on a regular basis, in an attempt to eat less saturated fat and out of the erstwhile hope that the turkey burger won’t suck. This time? To quote the Good Stuff motto: Goodness. Gracious. The juices dribbled down my chin. The spices tickled my taste buds. The combination of mayo, cheese, turkey, lettuce, tomato & bun so perfectly married in my mouth that you’d think divine intervention had a hand in the union.
My sister’s standard turkey burger, topped with creamy avocado and a slew of veggies, was just as delicious. I think we both said, “Excuse me for a minute; this burger and I are having an intimate encounter” at the same time.
In short, when you check out Good Stuff, don’t just hit it up for the touristy benefit of Spike’s endorsement (or the fact that the place has been featured everywhere from the Food Network to the pages of “Every Day with Rachael Ray,” which prompted my mom to ask, “Honey, have you gone to that … Good Stuff place?”). Go for the turkey burger. (And maybe one of those toasted marshmallow milkshakes.) Your taste buds will thank you, even if your cardiologist has a few choice words for your arteries.
The second Capitol Hill joint I hit up recently was DC-3, a humbly outfitted hot dog joint right on 8th street, in the mini-neighborhood known as Barracks Row. 8th SE is a quick right turn from Pennsylvania, and features some of the city’s most interesting and quirkiest restaurants. DC-3, with its old school, pilot-and-plane-themed décor, proves no exception.
I had previously scouted the place through Yelp (always a risky move – you never know who got paid to say “the roach on my salad really added to the experience” or whose hyperbolic praise masks real-life health code violations), and discovered that their 16-item “Regionals” menu focused on famous dogs from around the U.S., including the rarely seen outside of Arizona “Sonoran Hot Dog.” They also reportedly had a classic Chicago-style hot dog on the menu, and this former Midwesterner was too intrigued to pass up the place.
No waiters, no muss, no fuss: at DC-3, patrons simply order up a dog at their vintage-style counter, and dogs come in a red plastic basket lined with wax paper. DC-3 does indeed sport both Sonoran and Chicago-style dogs, as well as their most popular and most legendary frank: the Q’s Seoul Bulgogi & Kimchi.
This monstrosity is a testament to the Korean-American story in the best heartburn-on-a-bun way possible. A crisply toasted, simple white bun is topped with the ubiquitous dog; then, a hefty serving of bulgogi, a classic Korean beef dish; and finally, the spicy, funkalicious kimchi. The kimchi gleams with fluorescent orange and muted green, and the ends of the dog just barely peek through below the monstrous toppings. It is, in a word, delicious.
Other DC-3 highlights include the Maine Red Snapper (with white sauce and onion relish), the Seattle Pike Place Ultimate Fish Dog (just fish, no fish-and-dog combo, which is probably for the best), and a falafel-fest known as the California Left-Winger.
If you find yourself on the Hill and feeling a bit noshy, check out either Good Stuff or DC-3. Both are delicious, and both are shockingly wallet-friendly for a town that seems to prize itself on pricey dinner menus. Both places make for a great take-out lunch, too – after ordering from both establishments, I ate my lunch in the shadow of the U.S. capitol, sitting on a park bench and enjoying the summertime sun as it made that majestic white dome gleam.
Disclaimer: I am far too mainstream to be any sort of legitimate hipster. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
2nd Disclaimer: Today I am consumed with college football. These photographs were taken last weekend. Can’t say I was at a farmers market while Notre Dame was playing Navy at 9am this morning. I was, however, at the only open watering hole in the DC metropolitan area. #Breakfastofchampions.
It’s been a while since I wrote a farmers market post, and after my recent venture to the Columbia Heights and Mount Pleasant farmers markets here in DC, I felt inspired by seasonal goods and local vendors. Both markets are within a mile or so of each other in Northwest DC, easily accessible on the Yellow and Green Metro lines (Get off at Columbia Heights to hit up the CoHi market on 14th, then walk less than a mile due west to Mount Pleasant’s Lamont Square). Win!
We’re now in that delicious late summer phase, when some of the summer’s best seasonal veggies are making their debuts (or singing their swan songs) at farmers markets. First, I found …
…watermelons! So beautiful and in-season, watermelons can be used in more versatile ways than just slicing up a wedge for a summer night’s dessert. Try topping a tomato-based gazpacho in diced watermelon for a sweet crunch to balance the soup’s tangy flavor, or dare to be … daring with this excellent Watermelon Feta Salad recipe from the folks at PBS.
Next, I spotted these beautiful heirloom tomatoes.
While heirlooms can be a bit pricey, their flavor is unmatched and so unique from tomato to tomato. (Tomato, to-mah-to, to-tasty…) I recommend slicing them, salting them lightly, and adding to a grilled cheese sandwich with something distinct and flavorful — say, shredded Gruyere or a slice of soft, lovely Fontina? They’re also phenomenal in salads — try this lovely-looking take on a Panzanella (read: best use for stale bread aside from French Toast EVER) Caprese salad from Bites Out Of Life, using diced or sliced heirlooms.
After that, I spotted these lovely little pints of raspberries. They looked fresh and juicy, ripe (heh heh, puns … oif.) for the taking.
Raspberries have about a million excellent uses in various recipes — top your morning yogurt and granola with raspberries and a drizzle of honey for a tart-sweet topping, or stir them into warm oatmeal with a drizzle of maple syrup for a pink-tinted breakfast treat. For a surprising twist, try this savory raspberry sauce with garlic, chicken stock and even jalapenos (!) over pork chops. Thanks to Amy’s Cooking Adventures for such a killer recipe.
I also discovered — hurrah! — some great-looking oyster mushrooms.
Oyster mushrooms impart a savory flavor to any dish, such as a stir-fry (add them towards the end — they’ll cook very quickly) or a rice bowl (cooked brown rice + sauteed mushrooms + 1/2 cup chicken broth + soy sauce + chopped green onions and sesame seeds = MMM). They’re best in the fall, and will likely keep showing up at your local farmers market for weeks to come. Here’s a slide show of recipes using oyster mushrooms from Martha Stewart, including a divine-looking Mushroom Soup.
Lastly, I spotted these plums at a great price, which is clutch when they’re in their peak late-summer season.
Plums might be one of my top 3 favorite fruits, which is saying a lot for this fruit-and-veggie-loving gal. Try them in my Skillet Upside-Down Cake for a lovely dessert, or if you’re in more of a savory mood, this decadent Chanterelle, Bacon, and Plum Salad with Blue Cheese from Jaden Hair at Steamy Kitchen. Wow!
That’s all for this farmers market roundup. Get excited for fall produce! I’m seeing lots of dark greens in your future …
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.
Note: “R&R” is an easier “abbrev” for Review and a Recipe. Helps keep things simple.
From the wordsmiths at http://www.thefreedictionary.com:
Noun1.portmanteau – a new word formed by joining two others and combining their meanings; “`smog’ is a blend of `smoke’ and `fog'”; “`motel’ is a portmanteau word made by combining `motor’ and `hotel'”; “`brunch’ is a well-known portmanteau”
My favorite portmanteau, by far, is brunch. Brunch, I might argue, is epitome of the good things in life. Sleep in late? Time for brunch. Can’t decide between breakfast food and lunch food? Time for brunch. Got a hankering for scones AND a sandwich? Time for brunch, indeed.
DC, luckily enough for this lady, is VERY into the brunch scene. Maybe those politicos and high-powered government folk like to blow off steam over coffee, omelets and Monte Cristo sandwiches. (If Texts From Hillary were still going, I like to imagine one pic might reference Hil noshing upon pancakes at a DC brunch joint and running the world.) This love is pretty evident all over the Interwebs, including here, here, and here; Yelp and Urbanspoon also have lots of message boards and lists related to DC’s epic brunch offerings. Booyah.
I recently hit up one of the DC outposts of Le Pain Quotidien for brunch with an out-of-town friend who was visiting the DMV. Le Pain Quotidien (French for “The Daily Bread”) is something of a hybrid between café-type joints like La Madeleine or Panera, with their fast-casual approach, and a sit-down-with-a-menu restaurant. With communal wooden tables, a rustic color palette, and a simplistic approach to style, Le Pain Quotidien really lets the food – and particularly the bread – sing.
On an earlier visit several weeks prior, I was on the hunt for a refreshing afternoon snack. Their 100% vegan-friendly Chilled Gazpacho, made with a tomato base, loads of red peppers, drizzled with olive oil, and chock-full of fresh herbs and a sprinkling of cucumber, was the answer to my prayers. Served with a side of rustic wheat peasant bread and a Mint Lemonade, it hit the spot.
On my brunch visit, I decided to explore more of the menu’s options. My friend and I planned to split their Breakfast Basket, a selection of breads and pastries served with jams and a chocolatey, nutty spread, but due to a brief power outage the night before (sheesh, DC – there wasn’t even a storm!), few of their breads were available. The staff still lent us the spreads, however, and whatever bread they could scramble. Their wheat bread was a perfect base for the Apricot and Raspberry jams, and that Chocolate spread? Let’s just say I contemplated swiping the jar and running out the door.
Their brunch offerings include the full lunch menu (featuring salads, tartines [open-faced baguette sandwiches], and various seasonal offerings), as well as a selection of breakfast goods ranging from Steel-Cut Oatmeal and cups of fresh berries to various omelettes and Riz Au Lait, a sort of breakfast rice pudding that looked delicious. In the end, I ordered a Tofu Scramble with soy cheese, mushrooms and herbs, and my friend thought their Asparagus and Parmesan Frittata, a seasonal item, looked like a winner. For the full menu, click here. It’s worth checking out for the photos alone!
My friend’s frittata was light and fluffy, chock full of asparagus and a generous helping of aged, nutty parmesan. My scramble was a bit of a gamble (tee hee, rhyme time – I kill myself); while I enjoy tofu in most forms (particularly marinated and stir-fried), I’d never had it “scrambled” like eggs before. Would the scramble be as light and fluffy as the eggs I love? Or would it simply turn to egg-colored mush?
Like the men of “The Hangover” during that imitation-“Rain Man” scene, my tummy and I were richly rewarded for our gambles. The beauty of the dish was its creamy, so-totally-egg-like texture and flavor. It maintained that subtle soy character while taking on additional flavors in that beautiful way that tofu can do. Softly sautéed mushrooms, nutty soy cheese, and various herbs all played their part in making my breakfast something extraordinary. While it was a hefty portion, it disappeared from my plate in a manner of minutes.
I sipped my little pot of coffee (all coffee is served in an individual white ceramic pot, which was charming), enjoying the delicious flavors and good company. We were there for about two hours, and the staff never once rushed us through our meal. It did take me a good 15-20 minutes to get a spoon for stirring my coffee mix-ins, but that’s a pretty insignificant quibble in the grand scheme of things.
In honor of my lovely breakfast, I’ve put together a recipe for my own Tofu Scramble. If you’ve never really tried tofu, this is a great “gateway” into vegetarian and vegan eats. Enjoy! Note: You can easily, however, substitute traditional eggs for the tofu. Just use 4-6 eggs as your base.
Not-Quite Vegan Tofu Scramble – serves 2
- ½ block extra-firm tofu, pressed for 4 hours at minimum. (Explanation below.)
- Cooking spray or olive oil
- ½ to ¾ cup sliced mushrooms
- ½ green bell pepper, diced
- ½ white onion, chopped fine
- 1 tbsp Bragg’s (vegan soy sauce) or traditional soy sauce
- ½ tsp garlic powder
- 1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
- ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ cup shredded soy cheese (or ¼ cup shredded traditional cheddar if you’re not going vegan). This takes the place of Gena’s nutritional yeast, a common vegan ingredient that adds creaminess and flavor to various dishes.
Here’s what you do:
Note: Pressing the tofu: Extra-firm tofu will taste better and absorb more flavor if you press it – removing the excess moisture – for an extended period of time. To press your tofu, layer it between two plates, lining each plate with a paper towel (the order being plate, paper towel, tofu, paper towel, plate). Top with a heavy jar or even a book, and leave in the fridge for 4 hours or more.
- When ready to cook, spray a sauté pan with cooking spray or drizzle with minimal olive oil, heating the burner to medium-low (4-ish on your stove dial). Sauté the mushrooms, green pepper and onion until the veggies are soft. Julia Child says “Don’t Crowd the Mushrooms,” and if you’re concerned about following the Gospel According to Julia (as I often am), cook them first, then set them aside and cook the green peppers and onions.
- Crumble the tofu into bits using your hands, adding it to the pan. (Here’s where it will start to look more like traditional scrambled eggs.) Stir-fry until the tofu has warmed through.
- Add your spices, soy sauce, and pepper, stirring to combine. Finally, add your soy or traditional cheese, stirring thoroughly until the cheese is well-incorporated and begins to melt.
- Serve with your favorite scrambled egg fixins. (Mine may or may not be good ole processed ketchup, which probably explains why I’m unlikely to ever go fully vegan!)
What are your favorite brunch spots in the DC area, or in your own hometowns? Are you fans of tofu and other vegan or vegetarian ingredients, or would you stick to traditional eggs?
Friends and fellow ‘90s children, do you remember “Home Improvement?” (Probably the best PR that the Detroit region has received in the last 20 years beyond those “Pure Michigan” commercials.) Tim Allen, a.k.a. Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor, used to rev up his Binford power tools with more and more electricity, happily grunting “More Power!” to his “Tool Time” fans.
“More Power,” funnily enough, is what I find myself wailing to the high heavens, now that my power’s been out for 3 days.
Whether or not you’re a big “watch the news” person, you may have heard about a little storm that recently blew through the DC area. It was, according to the History Teacher – a trivia master if I’ve ever known one – a derecho, which he says means “straight ahead” in Spanish (and is closely related to the word derecha, which means “right.” Remind me to never ask for directions in a Spanish-speaking nation). The derecho is a tornado-esque storm that travels in a straight line, rather than spinning in a whirling dervish of destruction. Scary. And, well, very destructive.
The long and short of it is this: the DC area is experiencing spotty electricity and Internet access, due to the lasting effects of this sudden and unexpected wind-and-rain-filled storm. A major heat wave is also in town, raising the heat index to the high 90s and low 100s throughout the week. Thus, my now “steamy” kitchen has been rendered impotent by the vindictive gods of no-electricity and incessantly cold water. (Yep, no electricity means no hot water in my kitchen. 95 degree weather necessitates cold showers anyway.)
But what to cook? Does the electricity-free chef have to suffer through a combination of peanut butter sandwiches, un-toasted Pop Tarts, and a wallet-emptying series of meals eaten out and daily grocery store trips? To face this challenge, I got creative with a basic recipe for Mexican Caviar.
According to one of my old roommates (who taught me this delicious recipe), Mexican Caviar is a salsa-like blend of black beans, corn, tomatoes, green peppers, onions, chiles and spices that’s best eaten as an hors d’oeuvre with tortilla chips or crackers. I’ve made it for parties before, adding various spice blends, freshly squeezed lime juice, and even fresh cilantro if I’ve had it on hand. (Read: If I miraculously hadn’t killed a specimen growing in one of my windowsill herb pots.)
This time, I combined basic pantry ingredients with two produce items that comfortably exist outside of my defunct refrigerator – limes and tomatoes – and created More Power Mexican Caviar, a dish that easily serves 4 hungry “refugees,” as a colleague referred to us powerless ones this morning. Happy eating!
More Power Mexican Caviar (serves 4)
- 1 10 oz. can chicken chunks packed in water (optional if you want to go vegetarian)
- 1 can black beans
- 1 can sweet white corn (try Mexicorn for an extra kick)
- 1 tomato, chopped
- ½ tsp cumin
- 1 tsp chili powder
- ½ tsp Mexican spice blend
- ½ tsp dried parsley or dried oregano (for fresh herbs, use up to 1 tbsp)
- Garlic salt, to taste
- The juice of ½ a lime
- Whole wheat tortillas or whole grain tortilla chips, for serving.
Here’s What You Do:
- Drain the can of chicken and scoop the meat into a serving bowl.
- Drain and rinse the black beans in a colander, adding them to the serving bowl. Drain the corn and add it to the bowl, along with the chopped tomato and spices.
- Squeeze the juice of ½ a lime over the mixture, and stir gently until well-combined.
- To serve, distribute individual tortillas to each diner, rip them into pieces and scoop up each bite of dip. Tortilla chips – particularly multigrain or blue corn varieties – are also delicious.
Easy peasy, my friends. Here are some other tips for “cooking” in electricity-free environments. Or if you just feel like playing “Little House on the Prairie” and not using that newfangled “electricity” thing. (Note: These are better for summer power outages than winter.)
- Buy minimal produce daily, and make sure it’s specific to your recipe or plans. (Farm stands are great, local sources of fresh fruit and veg this time of year.) So European of you.
- Raid your pantry – you can make great mixed bean salads, for example, with cans of chick peas, black beans, or cannellini beans. Got a can of black or green olives on a pantry shelf? Mix ‘em with tomatoes and chopped herbs for an instant tapenade to share. Canned tuna, salmon or chicken? Toss with bought-that-day veggies and herbs for a fresh take on salads.
- Embrace items that won’t go bad at room temperature – peanut butter, honey and banana sandwiches are delicious, for example, and are made that much easier to “cook” given that the PB and honey will last for ages in your pantry.
- If you have a gas or charcoal grill and the weather’s amenable, grill out what you can afford. Remember, though, that if you can’t store the leftovers, you should either buy minimally or commiserate your powerlessness eat with local friends.
- Even if it sounds a bit odd, canned soups are just as edible at room temperature. (Go for the varieties that DON’T need water added; while I can nosh on a room-temperature minestrone, room-temperature cream of mushroom is a bit much, even for me.)
- Oil, vinegar and spices need no refrigeration, and add so much taste, flavor and oomph that you may not even miss the familiar hum of electricity.
What sorts of recipes, shortcuts, or ideas do you have for power-free dining? Do you admit defeat and order a delicious pizza or hit up your local restaurants? Or do you brave the wilderness of heat-free cooking?