Thursday, April 29, 2010

Pete's Apizza

Who out there remembers the Little Ceaser's commercials from the 90s? Oh come on, you've got to remember the awkward cartoon character that said "pizza pizza" at the end of every 30 second spot. When
Pete's Apizza opened a few years ago, everyone seemed to confuse the new restaurant and the silly saying. Yet, "Apizza" is actually pronounced "ah-BEETS" in the true New Haven dialect. The pronunciation isn't the only thing that is reminiscent of this Connecticut city, everything from the crust to the pizza toppings scream East Coast.

The crust is extremely thin, allowing the dough to become crunchy on the outside while still remaining delightfully chewy on the inside. Yet, this is only the beginning. You can choose to order a whole pie or just grab a slice. The toppings are extremely fresh and change on a regular basis. If you enjoy the classic there are always a few pies that are simply cheese or cheese and pepperoni. To stay true to the New England roots, Pete's offers the New Haven classic pizza with clams, olive oil, oregano and pecorino.

If you aren't a pizza person, or you just want something a bit different try one of the many options that fill out the remainder of the menu. They include panini, pastas, antipasti and other Italian treats. The Sorbillo's Original is an "homage" to Itaty and is a rectangular shaped pizza filled with Salumi, ricotta and mozzarella. Prior to visiting Pete's I have never had anything quite like it. It's not a pizza, it's not a calzone, but it is an incredibly satisfying middle ground. Also, you won't be disappointed if you order one of the many salads that are offered. I ordered the crispy goat cheese salad and my friend ordered the caesar. The goat cheese was amazing, and don't tell my mom, but their version of this salad is better than hers. All the ingredients married perfectly, making me think that I could eat this every day of the week and die happy. The caesar didn't have the same punch, but the dressing was house-made and the crispy parmesan chips elevated the salad to another level.

Pete's also offers a great happy hour special that will make any young professional smile. You can get a beer and a slice of pizza for $5. I don't know how you can get much better than that. In addition, this may be the best pizza in DC that does delivery. Yes, it's a limited area, but as Pete's expands, more neighborhoods will be able to call and order in this local favorite.


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Living Dangerously

Restaurants keep popping up on H Street like tulips in the spring time. I feel like every time I turn around, there is a new place to try in the Atlas District. Believe me, I'm not complaining. Now that it is nicer out I can easily walk there, get something to eat and walk back without feeling too guilty.

The first time I heard about Dangerously Delicious Pies I was watching Best Thing I Ever Ate on the Food Network when Duff Goldman (of Ace of Cakes fame) was talking about his favorite guilty pleasure - the Baltimore Bomb. It has a sweet vanilla custard and is filled with Berger Cookies, a local Baltimore speciality. Not long after seeing that episode I found out that Dangerously Delicious was opening a location in DC, not far from my apartment. Mind you, this was back in the winter, so it has been quite some time since the original opening date. After an "elaborate maze of red tape" (courtesy of the DC government) this pie mecca is finally open for business.

Chef Rodney came up with the idea for the original Dangerously Delicious Pies 10 years ago when he realized that rock and roll wasn't going to pay the bills forever. But he realized that "pies could pay for rock and roll." The small storefront certainly is rocking. You walk in and just know that you have arrived someplace unlike any other. The temptingly luscious smells of pies and quiche waft out of the oven - bringing a sharp contrast to the many pie-and-crossbones designs that grace the interior decorations.

The shop serves sweet and savory pies which cater to all dietary needs, including vegetarians and vegans. When I was in there, I was told that there isn't a set schedule quite yet but what they make will be decided based on what the customers enjoy. If you have trouble deciding what to order the helpful staff will be more than happy to assist you. The morning that I was there they absolutely pointed me in the right direction. I walked out of there with a slice of spinach and goat cheese quiche and an oversized sliver of the Baltimore bomb.

My roommate and I thought that both kinds of pie were winners. The quiche was fluffy and seasoned to perfection, allowing the flavor of creamy goat cheese to come through. The Baltimore bomb precisely what its name suggests, d'bomb. The woman working at the shop told us that slices of it fly off the shelves almost as soon as it comes out of the oven. The crust was buttery and flakey and combined with the vanilla custard and cookies it was absolute dynamite.

Pie here isn't cheap. Slices range from $6 to $8 and whole pies can set you back almost $30, which can quickly leave a hole in your wallet. Yet, I think that you could go with a friend for lunch and order 3 slices and leave full. This isn't an everyday treat, but it is a place that deserves recognition and your patronage.


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Not A Scrooge

The coffee shop around the corner from my apartment considers the coffee they sell to be "for a cause." How can anyone argue with that, especially when the shop is owned by a church. This quaint space at the corner of 2nd and F Street NE is far from preachy. In fact, it seems that the java and community come before anything that can be found in the bible.

Ebenezer's is known in this neighborhood not only because they sell great fair-trade coffee, but they are also known for their simple lunch menu and their frequent community and music based events. The coffee shop hosts musicians and holds other fun events such as dance lessons and poetry nights on Thursdays and Fridays. It is events like this that help to create a feeling of community, something that is not always easy to find in this city. The menu hits the spot with fresh salads, subs and soups.

Although this java house is located in the shadow of Union Station and the Securities and Exchange Commission there is a calming quality that is present. Ebenezer's has comfy chairs inside and a generous patio outside - both spaces are welcoming, making you feel like you can linger for hours over your coffee. There is also free wi-fi, making this the perfect place to come and do work or catch up on email.

I can't promise you that your time at Ebenezer's will be an enlightening experience, but I can promise you that you will find comfort in the coffee and the community.

Monday, April 26, 2010

There is no Sincerer Love Than the Love of Food

I had a difficult time choosing where to celebrate round 2 of my birthday. Food is so important in our family, especially when it comes to special occasions. My dad was in town yet again, so I truly had my pick of restaurants, and I wanted to pick one that lives up to our "sincere love of food" (according to the Greek philosopher Socrates). Previously, I had been to Zaytinya just for drinks and a few dishes, but that brief encounter left me wanting more of the Greek mezze. So this seemed like the perfect occasion to go all out.

Zaytinya has had quite a reputation in DC for some time, especially because it is a Jose Andres restaurant, but ever since the last season of Top Chef when executive chef Mike Isabella competed its popularity has exploded. It is no longer possible to just walk in and be seated, you are looking at an hour wait (at the minimum) if you don't make a reservation.

This is a place where you can go to satisfy almost any stage of hunger. It is quite possible to go to the bar and order a cocktail and 2 or 3 plates off of the $4 Mezza Ora menu during the restaurant's happy hour. But you also can take a seat in the large airy dining room and enjoy a leisurely meal where the dishes keep coming out of the kitchen - each one more exciting than the last.

On the night that we went to the restaurant, we were lucky enough to meet Jose Andres. Mr. Andres has built quite a reputation in the culinary world and beyond; he even carries the nickname of "Spain’s unofficial ambassador to the United States." He is one of the nicest chefs that I have had the opportunity to meet. Besides standing and chatting with us for a good 10 minutes, he sent over some of his favorite dishes during the meal.

When you first take a look at the menu, it is almost impossible not to be overwhelmed. The list seems to go on forever and almost every dish looks like it could be the best. My suggestion is to ask your waiter or waitress for their recommendations. Many of them have been working at the restaurant for quite some time and they all have had extensive training. The waitress that we had that evening was knowledgeable without being preachy. She was not only able to accurately describe dishes that we had questions about, she also could tell us the stories behind many of the ingredients that are used.

Every dish that came out of the kitchen that evening was truly wonderful, but there were a few standouts that deserve to be mentioned. The fresh chickpeas (still in the pod) that were marinated in lemon and dill that were incredibly unusual, but so good. My roommate said, "I want to just go to the bar, order the chickpeas and drink a glass of wine." Chef Andres also sent out a wonderful dish of hand-stuffed, lamb-filled pasta (about the size of the nail on your pinkie finger) and covered with a yogurt and paprika sauce.

A word to the wise - save room for dessert. One of the most amazing dishes of the night came during dessert: greek yogurt with apricots and pistachios. The description on the menu doesn't do its perfection justice. Zaytinya does a brilliant thing and offers two different sizes for their desserts, large and mezze style. I wish more restaurants did this, because sometimes all you need a few bites of sweet, and not an entire dish.

I left dinner that evening feeling comfortably full, which I think is the best feeling after a great dinner. Thank you Zaytinya (and Chef Andres) for an amazing birthday dinner. It's a meal I won't soon forget.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Pizza for 2

When I walk into 2Amys it's like I'm going home. There is the familiar smell of traditional Neapolitan pizza cooking in the brick oven. Something about the families that spill out onto the sidewalk waiting for their table makes me smile. 2Amys is a place where you feel like you are family, in true Italian style.

2Amys makes the only pizza in the DC area that is certified D.O.C. (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) status, which specifies the legally permitted ingredients and methods of preparation necessary to produce authentic Neapolitan Pizza. This means that the pizza that you order is made with the freshest ingredients This means everything from the plum tomatoes to the yeast in the dough is all the best you can get.

There is also a section on the menu titled "little things." If nothing else you must order the suppli a telefono - also known as fried balls of mozzarella and risotto. They are absolute perfection, and the perfect way to begin a meal. You can also find bruschetta and other traditional small plates on the menu. I suggest that you order off of the special menu, because many of the small plates that are featured there are seasonal and well worth trying. A personal favorite are the fried zucchini flowers which make their appearance during the summer months.

This is a place that continually ranks at the top of my lists (and the Washingtonian and the Washington Post's lists) for the best places to eat in DC. It isn't fancy, but it certainly isn't a place to be missed on a culinary tour of the city.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Want Some Dim Sum

Generally, I don't have the dilemma of figuring out where to go for my birthday because of a small holiday called Passover. Yet, this year (by some miracle) my birthday came after the holiday, and thus allowed me to choose where I wanted to eat without any restrictions!
I had previously been to Ping Pong Dim Sum twice, but both were within a few weeks of their initial opening. I thought this may be a good time to try it again. When I had been there before, the service had been chaotic and left a bad taste in my mouth. Yet, every place deserves some time to get the kinks out of the system, and Ping Pong has now had a good 6 months to do exactly that. My experience yesterday was certainly an improvement, but it is still far
from perfect.

Ping Pong originated in London, and the trendy vibe fcarried over to the location here in the District. The music seems as if it is one continuous beat while the chic crowd discusses politics and other current events over the noise. I now realize that this is a place - more directly, a bar -where one goes to be seen.

The bartenders are so busy that they barely have a moment to stop and take your order. But waiting for that drink is absolutely worth it considering they are unique and ring in at $5 during happy hour. My roommate loves the Ping Pong, which is contains unusual ingredients like Yokaichi Shochu and lychee juice. I prefer the more traditional Vanilla, Lemon and Vodka.

Dim Sum is the Chinese version of tapas, so the portions are small and are meant to be shared with your dining companions. Our table of 8 chose to order what we wanted and then we could "barter" with people around the table to try other dishes. My favorite wound up being the Char Sui Buns; they are little fluffy buns filled with honey barbecue pork. There was also an overwhelming love of the chicken puffs and their slightly sweet aftertaste (courtesy of the pineapple they contain). For those of you who are fans of healthier things, there are plenty of vegetarian options. One of my dining friends was raving about the vegetarian sticky rice parcels.

Ping Pong wound up being the perfect setting for a birthday party, especially because all 8 of us were able to sit around a large, round table. It really facilitated easy conversation. Ping Pong is also group friendly because it's easy to control your spending. So, thank you to Ping Pong and all my friends for making this a very happy birthday!

Monday, April 19, 2010

All Together Now

I am going to put this out there - I'm not a southern girl. I don't want to dress up to go to a college football game. Y'all doesn't come out of my mouth every time I am referring to a group of people. The obsession with the Confederacy baffles me. And I'm not used to the mannerisms of that part of the country. But, there is one thing I could get used to, and that is the food.

Although DC is close to the South (Virginia is basically an extension of the District), it's not so close that you can find a lot of true Southern cooking. But, if you journey over to U St, you will find Oohs & Aahs which feels as if it has been plucked out of the South and transplanted here. Everything about this place reeks of a grandmother's kitchen in Alabama or Georgia or another state in that part of the country. The staff treats you like family and wants to make sure that you are happy and leave full. Even the dining room feels like it is a dining room in a house. The chairs are mismatched and the tables are different shapes and sizes - it's not conventional, but it is part of what gives Oohs & Aahs its personality.

The menu reads like a "what's what" of Southern cuisine. You can get everything from fried catfish to rib eye steaks to fried chicken - and those are only the main dishes! The sides absolutely delicious. The mac & cheese is gooey and hot, the cornbread is extremely fresh and the yams are so rich that they may as well count for dessert. It took a long time (and lots of questions) for my friend and I to decide what to order. Ultimately we chose the "two meat" combo with two sides. I chose to get the bbq beef short ribs and she got the crab cake, and we decided on mac & cheese and yams for our sides - we each spent about $14 for a large portion of food. My short ribs were so tender that the meat was falling off the bone. The crab cake had barely any filler (a rare occurrence in these parts). And the yams may be one of the most delicious incarnations of potatoes that I have ever had.

When my friend and I left Oohs & Aahs it was as if we were going from one world to another just by stepping out the front door. The food was outstanding and filling. Was it the most healthy food ever? No way. But was it memorable and delicious and a part of the South that I could get behind? Absolutely.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Chef-ly Yours

When I was in college at American University Chef Geoff's was my version of Cheers. Every Monday evening I was there sitting at one of the high-top tables in the bar eating a burger and schmoozing with friends. If I wasn't there you could assume something was wrong.

It was the place I went to if I just wanted to grab a quick drink, but it was also the place I would head to if I wanted to sit and hang out for awhile while watching a game. I went there so much that the bartender stopped asking for my ID (and I don't really look over 21). I'm surprised he still even bothered to take my order since it was always the same during happy hour: a beer, a burger and sweet potato fries - and you can get all of that for less than $12. This is a gourmet burger, crisp sweet potato fries and a pint of beer. For those of you who want more than a pint of beer they offer "super-mugs," a.k.a. a huge huge glass of beer, for $7. There is a reason that this is known as one of the best happy hours in DC. Happy hour goes all night on Mondays and Tuesdays and runs from 3pm-7pm every other day of the week.

But Chef Geoff's is known for many other things beside burgers and beer. It is a great place to take a large group of people because the food is well prepared and the menu is varied enough that everyone will be able to find a dish that appeals to them. The menu ranges from pasta to seafood to chicken and each is well seasoned and flavored with fresh and seasonal ingredients. Their brunch is also well done. My personal favorite is the Eggs Chesapeake - aka eggs benedict on a fresh crab cake. There is nothing on the brunch menu that one can really turn their nose up at - there are the old standbys with a few surprises (such as Chicken and Waffles) thrown in. But no matter what you order you know that it will come out promptly with a smile. Is the food the most exciting thing in the city? No. But is it does it give a solid performance? Yes.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Meet Me In the Piazza

It's no secret that I love Italian food. I spent a semester of college studying in Rome, which was wonderful. The downside? It affects my opinion of Italian food in the States. Every pizza, pasta and antipasti will be compared with the pizza shop around the corner from school or the trattoria down the street from my apartment.

Luckily, some of my problems may have been solved since I just discovered Toscana Cafe, which is a mere two blocks from my apartment. Toscana is owned by Daniele Catalani who came to DC from Florence about 10 years ago. When he left his post at Il Laboratorio and chose to open his own place, he brought with him the feel and taste of a true Italian restaurant to Capitol Hill.

Toscana is located in a row house on the corner of 2nd and F St NE. It's hard to miss due to the brick that has been painted yellow and orange and the line that always seems to be spilling out the door. There is no doubt in my mind that the line is there for all the right reasons. Picnic tables line the outdoor patio and the smell of fresh pasta comes spilling out the door. If you aren't drawn in by that, I don't know what else could entice you.

You may be intrigued in by smells and sights, but what you taste will bring you back again and again. The lasagna is gooey and hot out of the oven. Ground beef peeks out from all the corners. The gnocchi is fluffy... as if Italian grandmothers made it. You really can't go wrong. Just about everything that comes out of the kitchen is homemade and tastes like it's been made with love.

The restaurant also runs a swift carry-out business. They serve up perfectly-portioned pasta for less than it would cost to sit down in the restaurant itself. There are plenty of places to sit and eat around Union Station as well, making it easier to avoid the romantic atmosphere on the patio and save some money in the process if that's not what you're looking for.


Thursday, April 8, 2010

Tackle Me

In my mind, Georgetown tends to be the land of mediocre food at astronomical prices. If one is looking for something a bit more affordable, the first restaurants that come to mind are Chipotle, Johnny Rockets, and a few other chains. But if you venture a bit farther down M Street, you will find a diamond in the rough.

Tackle Box is situated in the storefront next to it's big - and more expensive - sister restaurant, Hook. Don't think that just because it's less expensive is any less deserving of being eaten. Far from it. In fact, I will go out on a limb and say that it is one of my favorite "cheap eats" places in the city. You walk in and immediately feel at home. The wooden picnic tables feel cozy and the high stools give the place a classic and down-home vibe. The menu is even written on a large chalkboard! But, this isn't a place that you go to for the decor; you go for the food.

For $9, you get a meal consisting of one fish, one side and one sauce. If you want to up the ante, you can spring for another side for a grand total of $13. There are numerous fish choices that arrive either fried or grilled. For those of you who are anti-fish, there is also the option of chicken or a burger patty. My personal favorite is either the crispy shrimp or crispy catfish. For sides, you can choose to go healthy (i.e. grilled asparagus) or more traditional (i.e. mac & cheese). There are also seven choices of sauce ranging from traditional homemade tarter sauce to the lemon-garlic aioli. It's ultimately a personal decision as it all depends on what experience you are looking to have. Are you hoping to transport yourself to the a the coast of Maine or are you looking to have a meal that is reminiscent of a healthy dining experience one might have in Northern California?

If you save room - and don't mind spending a bit of extra money -get the blueberry pie. that is, if they haven't run out... which they do... a lot. This pie is fantastic and is absolutely worthy of all the praise and awards it has received. The blueberries are sweet and juicy, and there is something about the pie crust that reminds you of the homemade crust your grandmother used to make around the holidays.

Take my word for it: Tackle Box is simply delicious, especially when you look consider the chain alternatives nearby. Don't believe me? Just go try it. You'll thank me later.

Express Yourself

Since I moved to DC about 5 years ago I have affectionately called Chinatown "China-block." The area doesn't really deserve to be called a "town." The streets are overrun with American shops and restaurants that have little to do with the name except for the Chinese characters that show up on signage. Of course there are Chinese restaurants, but for the most part they are mediocre and not worth your time or money.

Yet, there is a little shop on the corner of 6th and H that deserves your attention. Look for the green awning that showcases a chef making homemade noodles. Take a moment and watch the skill and mastery. It's as if the motions are second nature.

The tiny space is sparsely furnished with linoleum tables and some fish tanks (but those aren't for decoration - you can choose your fish and have it cooked). The waitresses seem to be running every which way trying to juggle their tables.

If the man in the window wasn't a giveaway, I'm going to tell you now that the thing to order at Chinatown Express is the noodles. My preference is to have them fried with chicken or beef. The best part of this whole thing is that the noodles (which are good sized portion) are less than $7 with tax! You can't get much better than that, especially if you carry out and go sit on the steps of the Portrait Gallery and take in the sights and sounds of China-block.


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Sweet and Tangy

When you walk into TangySweet, you feel as if you walked into an old school iMac ad from the late 90s. The bright neon colors seem to be bouncing off the stark, white walls and the music that they are playing sounds like something Steve Jobs would have picked personally. I am a loyal Mac user, but the visual aesthetic is far from what draws be back time and time again.

In Cincinnati, I got hooked on our local yogurt place (called Yagoot). For a year or so, there was noting comparable in DC. Then, suddenly, a number of places popped up; my favorite has been and will continue to be TangySweet.

TangySweet's frozen yogurt - there are a number of flavors including mango/peach, Green tea, and guava - is a bit tart, but is all natural and is less than 90 calories a serving! For those of you who are watching your waistlines or you aren't making it to the gym as much as you want to, it's the perfect snack. But what can add calories to that little treat are all the toppings that the shop offers; there is something for every taste-bud and craving. I happen to be partial to the honey and the fresh fruit, but there is everything from chocolate chips and candy to yogurt chips and granola. If you want to make your dream concoction, your best bet is to order the TangySweet special which gets you a medium yogurt and three toppings for about $6. You can't beat that, especially when you can justify it as being a healthy "lunch."


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Brunch Bunch

On Saturday, a good friend of mine and I decided to head out to Old Town Alexandria in Virginia to escape the crowds. Upon arriving in Virginia, we realized that we'd left our respective apartments without eating anything substantial. So, the next question was not just where to eat, but where to eat so that we could refrain from breaking Passover.

Eating out during Passover really is a test of one's will. First off, it's hard to find a place where you can eat and avoid pretty much all yeast, flour, corn and everything else that we Jews are supposed to give up for a week every year.

As we were talking along King Street, we came upon Vermilion, which had its brunch menu posted outside. The one thing that caught my eye was their latkes, traditional Jewish potato pancakes. Now, I am never one to turn down a decent latke, and knowing that Vermilion is owned by the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, I was left with no doubts of their quality.

My friend and I both opted for the 3 eggs - I had mine sunnyside up and she had them scrambled - that came with toast, latkes and choice of bacon or sausage. Due to our dietary restrictions, we opted for extra latkes instead of toast. When our food came and we took our first bite, we both looked at each other and had a "jinx" moment, a la middle school. What caused this moment? Something somewhat comical. Both of us said that our eggs were perfectly seasoned. I know this seems like a minor detail, but think about how often you have to pull out the salt and pepper to bring out the flavor of your eggs.

The latkes certainly weren’t perfect, but they were done better than most I have had at restaurants, and had plenty of seasoning. I thought they were perfectly crispy, but my friend thought hers were a bit “tough.” I guess it all depends on what you enjoy (Read: what your parents used to make at Hanukkah).

The best part of this meal was its price. We each paid under $11 including tax and tip! I don’t know if I would make a special trip out to Old Town to go back to Vermilion, but I would absolutely head here if I was in the area.


Wired Up

I cannot remember exactly when I discovered Baked & Wired. It may have been sometime during my senior year of college, when I needed a place to disappear for awhile and get work done. Or maybe it was sometime after I came back from my semester abroad and was going to every coffee place in town trying (in vain) to find a cappuccino that came close to the one I could get on any street corner in Roma. But, I guess the when and why I found my secret (though it wouldn't remain so for long) hideaway doesn't really matter. What matters is how much I have grown to love this off-the-beaten-path gem in Georgetown. I come here a lot to get away from the craziness of DC, or just to sit and work on my computer for a few hours and use the free wireless internet.

Baked & Wired is located on Thomas Jefferson (off of M St. NW) about half-way down to the waterfront. The one defining characteristic of the storefront is its signature bright-pink bike that is constantly parked outside. It's a cheery welcoming that entices you to walk over and see what is inside. And, oh the inside it has. The decor isn't anything overly special, but that isn't very important. What is baked and brewed there is what truly matters.

I guess I should start with the coffee, since that is what drew me there in the first place. They serve a full-bodied brew that is roasted by Counter Culture Coffee in North Carolina. First of all, the coffee always smells and tastes amazing. Second of all, the baristas really know what they are doing and treat brewing coffee as an art. No matter whether I'm hanging around and have my coffee in a ceramic mug or if I am taking it to-go in a paper cup, they always take the time to make beautiful rosettas (designs) with the hot milk.

And the baked goods - oh the baked goods. Merely walking into the place could put you in a sugar coma, once you see all of their offerings. Throughout the past few years, I have had the opportunity to try many pastries: from their cupcakes to their brownies to their cookies. Yet, without a doubt, my favorite are their doughnut muffins, which only appear in small batches twice a week. [You can follow Baked & Wired on Twitter to find out their daily offerings.] So, what are you waiting for? Go get baked! Or wired! Or both!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Who Says There is No Such Thing as a Free Lunch?

I just found out that Roti, the newest Mediterranean restaurant in town, will be offering any sandwich, salad, or Mediterranean plate, and a fountain drink for free (with a suggested charitable donation). The one catch? You need to get there next Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. They are located at 1747 Pennsylvania Ave NW, only a short walk from Farragut Square.

I fully plan on heading over there sometime before then, so I will be sure to report back. And - if you get there before me - please let those of us here at CaptiolBites know how it is.

That's Good Stuff

Oh, Good Stuff I love thee. Your food is consistent, your milkshakes should be a sin and, really, it never hurts to see Chef Spike behind the counter flipping the burgers.

Good Stuff opened in July of 2008 and, believe me, I have been a loyal patron since then. I have been a fan of Spike’s since he won over people’s hearts (and brought back the old fashioned fedora) on Top Chef’s fourth season, which took place in Chicago. So I was pleasantly surprised when he chose to open an affordable restaurant instead one with stuffy, white tablecloths.

The food here measures up to any burger in the city, and I would venture to say is better than 99% of them. And – the best part? – the burgers and food there are actually affordable. If you go between 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., you can get a farmhouse cheeseburger, fries and a fountain drink for a mere $10. Not bad at all. And, if you want to get a cheeseburger that is on an entirely different plane, you should go for Spike’s 5 Napkin (formerly known as the Sunnyside). It combines a Sunnyside up egg, apple wood smoked bacon and cheese on top of a perfectly cooked burger and sandwiched between a brioche bun. Although I’m partial to the 5 Napkin, my boyfriend eats the Good Stuff Melt religiously.

When you are at Good Stuff, you should also be sure to get their fries and dip them in one of the homemade sauces. My favorite is the mango mayo, which is perfectly creamy and a tiny bit sweet. The flavor combination goes perfectly with the fries. My roommate is partial to the Sriacha mayo, and another friend loves the Old Bay mayo. I guess that means that - no matter your tastes - you can’t go wrong.

Finally... if you go to Good Stuff you cannot, must not leave without trying one of their amazing milkshakes. I don’t know how to describe just how wonderful they are, so I guess you will just have to try them yourself. My personal favorite is the toasted marshmallow milkshake, which takes me back to my years at summer camp. It tastes just like it came off the campfire. The old fashioned chocolate is exactly what I imagine a milkshake from the 1950s would taste like, as if I had ordered it straight out of Lou's Diner from "Back to the Future." Also, keep your eyes peeled for seasonal flavors that Chef Spike tends to announce on Twitter.

images: Flicker

Down the Rabbit Hole

Since I started working in Bethesda, it has become increasingly more difficult to pick central locations to meet up with friends on weeknights. Last night, a good friend of mine who works at the Dept. of Justice suggested that we meet in Dupont. Sure. Why not? It's close to the metro and the little blue bus that takes her back to her apartment in Rosslyn.

A week or so ago, Tom Sietsema of the Washington Post did a brief review of the new location of Madhatter. Previously, Madhatter was a bit of a dive bar close to Georgetown, but it had recently reopened in a new location right near the Dupont metro. I had previously been to Madhatter for a friend's birthday, but only for drinks on a Saturday night. I hadn't had the chance to sit down and enjoy myself when the place is a true restaurant and not just a bar.

My friend and I decided to be adventurous and try it. Why not? If you don't try you will never know. Thank goodness we did. For the amount of money the two of us spent, the food was fantastic. For about $15 a person, we were able to order more than enough food for us to leave comfortably full.

Upon sitting down, our waiter came and poured tea in to adorable little teacups, going right along with the Alice in Wonderland theme that is visible from the moment you walk in the front door. At the time, I didn't know what they put into the tea that made it so yummy. I later found out they use apricot simple syrup in the tea. I will have to keep that trick in mind if I am ever hosting a Lewis Carroll themed party of my own. We were also given cornbread that was warm enough to make me believe that it had come right out of the oven. Did they even have cornbread in Wonderland?

We decided that the appetizers (or as they are called there, "Taps and Apps") sounded really good. Our extremely helpful waiter aided our selection on two of them and suggested that we also choose a "Mad Dog" to round out our meal. To start, the two of us chose to have the skirt steak tidbits and the spinach and artichoke dip. Both of the dishes went above and beyond my expectations. The artichoke dip was served with this amazing hot flatbread that could have been served on its own. And, oh, those steak tips... swoon. The steak was basted in a dijonaise sauce and served with crispy onion straws. I could have had two orders of this appetizer and eaten it as my full meal.

For our final course, we both chose to embrace our inner Alices and try the Wonderland Dog. Growing up, my father always used to serve me hotdogs and mac & cheese. This was, essentially, the grown up counterpart to my childhood meal. The hotdog was all plump and all-beef; it was no Vienna Beef hotdog, but I may have to go out on a limb and say it was better. It was also covered with homemade mac & cheese that absolutely was not out of a blue box.

I left impressed; this place is a far cry from the original waterhole I visited. And, to be certain, I will return to Madhatter, even if I have to follow the White Rabbit or fight the Red Queen in order to do so.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Round Food for Every Mood

"The doughnuts. You have to go for the doughnuts!" For years, whenever the topic of discussion would turn to brunch at the Tabard Inn, I would hear the same enthusiasm refrain. Finally, I was able to heed the collective advice of the city and head to this hidden gem in Dupont on a recent weekend.

First of all, you need to know that I consider donuts to be a bit of a self-loathing indulgence. I love them, but I tend to hate myself for loving them. The donuts at the Tabard Inn, however break from that mold. They're an indulgence, to be sure. But their decadence is only surpassed by their perfection. They are fresh from the fryer and absolutely decedent, especially when dipped in the fresh whipped cream served alongside the pastries. Be prepared to swoon when you bite into your first one.
And I have now learned that it is unnecessary to actually eat a full meal at the Tabard Inn, because you can go and order doughnuts to go! The next time I am craving these hot and delicious circles of fried dough, I might just sit outside and enjoy them in the sunshine.

The rest of our meal was fantastic. I had an amazing version of the traditional eggs benedict. The hollandaise was somewhat tart and tangy, bringing out the flavors of the house-cured tasso ham. I don't claim to be a ham expert, but this was pretty flavorful ham. The one disappointment was that my eggs were slightly overdone. [I like my yolks to be runny so I can mop it up with a piece of toast. Note to self: make sure to ask for runny yolks.]

My boyfriend, who was along for the ride opted for his first ever Po' Boy. He said he enjoyed it, but he wished the breading on the oysters had been more prominent in the overall bite of the sandwich. In his mind, if something is advertised as breaded, the chef should embrace that label and go all out.

This is a true DC institution, and you can tell from the moment that you walk in the door that the hotel and restaurant fully embrace this label. To get to the restaurant you have to pass through an old fashioned parlor that has a gigantic wooden mantle and is filled with mismatched chairs and love-seats. The staff was also well versed in dealing with hungry patrons as our service was swift without feeling rushed.

I left feeling that this is a DC staple that has earned its reputation. Washingtonians will continue to speak highly of this place for many reasons. But as long as they keep making doughnuts as well as they do, this old fashioned hotel and restaurant will never go out of style.