Foodie Road Trip


When this year’s James Beard Award semi-finalists were announced a few weeks ago, Washington restaurateurs had plenty to be excited about.  And it isn’t just our tried-and-true veterans who are in the running for recognition from the James Beard Foundation; three of the thirty-one “Best New Restaurant” nominees are in the Washington area.  This weekend, we had the opportunity to check out one of the three: Trummer’s on Main.

Full Disclosure: We went with friends who have a family connection to the restaurant.  Though we didn’t identify ourselves as bloggers, our dining experience was hardly anonymous and random.  Consequently, we’ll only focus on the food and the decor.  We did pay for our meal, though we all received a tasting plate between our appetizers and our entrees and we were comped a few additional desserts for the table.

Back in the day (“the day,” in this case, referring to the late 19th century), Clifton, Virginia, was a resort destination favored by Presidents and other notable figures.  This relaxing getaway was a short train ride from Washington and Philadelphia, and visitors could enjoy restorative mineral springs and a good meal in town.  These days, the mineral water is more likely to arrive sparkling at your table, but Trummer’s is starting to bring the ‘destination’ designation back to Clifton.

After spending the afternoon in Leesburg (outlet shopping AND antiques, thank you very much), we were ready for an evening of dishes and flavors that were at once comfortable and creative.  Everything we had read about Trummer’s suggested we wouldn’t be disappointed.

Seafood, seasonal veggies and sensational sauces after the jump. (more…)

Forget sweaters and changing leaves. Here are ten telltale signs we know it’s fall in DC. Cupcake Challenge 051

1.       Dinner switches from gazpacho to roasted chicken

2.       Mike gets reacquainted with the Big Green Egg

3.       After a summer of crabs at Quarterdeck and Tangier Island, our go-to seafood is oysters at Johnny’s Half Shell and mussels at Granville Moore’s.

4.       Elizabeth starts baking again

5.       Pumpkin beer!

6.       We’re on the hunt for savory recipes starring leeks and butternut squash

7.       We say good-bye to the basil lemontini and hello to the warm duck Rueben at the Poste bar

8.       Too many local apples, not enough apple recipes

Apple Cake 0349.       Kiss the sunglasses good-bye. We go from al fresco dining to cozy lounges and tea houses.

10.    Fall colors bring road trips and local discoveries like Wasmund’s single malt applewood smoked whiskey.

IMG_9045Live polka, sausages, dozens of German beers, a crowded dance floor, an authentic bier hall setting, a low cover at the door for live entertainment. Everything on this list is awesome. I shouldn’t have to convince you that this is a good idea. A weekend visit to Blob’s Park is, intrinsically, a good idea.

Max Blob’s Park, in Jessup, MD, is easily the most authentically German-American experience to be had in the DC area. Note the intentional use of the hyphenate here. I don’t believe that your ubermodern, jelly-donut loving Berliner is going to walk into this bier hall and feel at home. It will, however, feel very familiar to folks of any age from Cincinnati to Chicago to Lubbock. You can see it in the audience which is full of everything from young parents to local enlisted to polka-loving gramps. I did not grow up in a polka house but on my first visit to Blob’s Park, I walked around the place with my mouth hanging open. “Everything okay?” Mike asked. I looked around. Everything my eyes landed on could have been lifted directly from my parents house, from the beer steins to the dusty Hummel figurines to the food to every third guy who looked like my uncle John. I was floored. Was this a polka hall or my family reunion? “I had no idea I was so freaking German,” I told him.

Food, beer, and the Blob’s Park story after the jump. (more…)

There are some events where the meal is good despite a shabby setting. And other meals where the atmosphere dominates the menu. Then there are the rare dinners where the environment, the company, and the food is so gorgeous and delicious it all feels like a magazine airbrushed fantasy. Enter Outstanding in the Field.

Outstanding in the Fieldis the brainchild of Jim Denevan, a chef, artist and onetime forced farm laborer (courtesy of his big brother). In 1999 while living and working in Santa Cruz, CA, Denevan got the idea to bring diners, their meal, and chefs closer to its origins by dining on a farm. After all, what could be more gorgeous than dining al fresco in the Santa Cruz redwoods? Well, perhaps Ayrshire Farm in Upperville, VA. Outstanding in the Field hosted three dinners over Labor Day weekend  at the historic Ayrshire Farm. Chefs for the dinners featured local talent such as Bryan Moscatello of Zola and Potenza and Robert Townsend from Ayrshire Farms. We specifically selected the Sunday evening dinner for its chef: Anthony Chittum of Vermillion.

Outstanding in the Field 048As a square-state kid, I’ve set foot on a farm or two in my day. So heading through the rolling verdant countryside of Virginia, I was anticipating a bucolic, natural setting mingled with an honest days work that only a working farm  can create. What I did not anticipate is the ever-expansive grandiosity of Ayrshire Farm. From long wooded drive to gorgeous stone house to a stable that puts the chicest Chevy Chase home to shame, this is no ordinary farm.

Mike, Itty Bitty Betty, Bacon Terrorist and I walked up the drive trying to keep our awe in check, lest we be kicked out for being too middle class. I turned to Bacon Terrorist, “You know how people talk about the big real estate dreams they’d act on if they won the lottery? We’re walking on mine.” I had no idea it was about to get so much better.

The event began with a late afternoon champagne reception where guests were able to mingle between the back portico and the lake, sipping Veritas Scintilla Brut and enjoying the perfect country breeze. Soon waitstaff began delivering tray after tray of savory hors d’oeuvres. The pork belly with sun dried tomato was a hit early and often with diners, eliciting the type of eye rolls and throaty gurgles normally reserved for the depths of a massage. “That’s it,” Bacon Terrorist Outstanding in the Field 041announced, pork belly in one hand and champagne in the other, “this whole thing was worth the price of admission. I could leave without even having dinner and still be happy.”

But the bite-sized fun wasn’t over yet. Soon Mike got his hands on a lamb merguez sausage topped with a drizzling of marinated cucumbers and fresh dill, providing a delicious contrast between the earthy, just-so-spicy sausage and clean cucumbers.  The fanfare from the crowd continued. Less of a universal hit but still good was the local veal with squash caponata. I admit, I’m not a huge veal fan for both texture and humane reasons, but I tried it to be a good guest. It was… surprisingly good. Ayrshire Farms raises humane veal calves, giving them fresh air, room to move and a balanced diet. As a result, the veal had a thicker texture and deeper color which is a sign, we later learned from our host, of calves that have not been iron deprived.

Outstanding in the Field 004The reception concluded with a welcome speech from Tim and tour of the farm where, OMFG, there are piglets. Nothing betrays a city kid more than squealing over a bunch of baby pigs but that is exactly what all the dinner guests did. How can you not? The squat pink nose, giant ears, a not quite corkscrew tail. Piglets are tailor made to be adorable and criminally delicious. The cognitive dissonance would have distracted me if I didn’t have a belly full of champagne and pork belly lamb. The farm tour continued to a pair of curious calves, the impressive stable quarters, and the organic vegetable field.

The evening’s menu and an orgy of food photos after the jump.

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IMG_7924For the first five years of my life, I grew up in Bloomfield, New Jersey.  There aren’t a lot of things I remember about living there (I was five when we moved, after all), but you know how it is.  There are some things that just make an indelible mark on your memory and stick with you.

Holsten’s Confectionery is one of those things for me.  Growing up, I remember taking walks to Holsten’s for ice cream, or old-fashioned rope licorice, or even for some homemade chocolates.  I remember visits with my father, picking up candied fruit slices to bring back to my mother (her favorite).

And now I remember the Sopranos.

If you’re from New Jersey, every episode of the Sopranos was another game of “Been there!”  Christopher comes back from a trip ‘down the shore,’ and he mentions the town where I spent the rest of my childhood.  Tony talks about Bloomfield Avenue as a shorthand for how far his family has come.  Paulie Walnuts shoots at a fleeing Russian among the Pine Barrens.  And throughout the run of the series, they made frequent use of real diners and other businesses to make sure they got the local flavor just right.  As a transplant in Washington, it always made me smile…even when the scenes that were taking place were less than idyllic.

IMG_7916Then the finale came, and the final scene played out (or at least cut to black) in a booth at Holsten’s.  My jaw dropped.  I practically shouted at Elizabeth and everyone watching with us, “That’s Holsten’s!  It’s right around the corner from where I grew up!”  I described the old candy shop and ice cream parlor from my memory, and Elizabeth made me promise that I would take her there the next time we were in North Jersey.

That next time finally came earlier this year, and we stopped in so that she could see for herself how the real thing matched up to the TV version. (more…)

If DC were a person, Baltimore would be our scrappy, chain smoking cousin. You may not want to be roommates, but they sure are good for a fun, short visit.

Cornbread 013If you only go to Baltimore once or twice a year, do yourself a favor and make one of those trips for the annual Hon Fest. Hon Fest is, hands down, the best street festival on Earth. Hon Fest celebrates all things kitschy Baltimore, namely the beehived, animal printed, cat-eye glassed Balmer diner waitress who calls everyone “hon.” Honfest has been going strong since 1994 in Hampden, a cute nook of a neighborhood in Baltimore. Celebrants get dolled up in their finest wigs and neon boas, mingling happily with families and scary dudes with neck tats (this is still Baltimore, after all).

Like any self-respecting street festival, Hon Fest features an array of street vendors hawking their wares, from cute t-shirts to Hon paraphernalia to food. This is Maryland and what would a festival be without the world’s biggest crabcake? And don’t overlook pit beef, a unique kind-of-BBQ Baltimore specialty sandwich. 

What really drew us in, however, wasn’t a street vendor but the promise of pies. Dangerously Delicious Pies, carved Cornbread 026into a cozy townhouse on Chestnut Ave, is a pie shop designed to supplement musician founder Rodney Henry’s income. Before we even took a bit of our slice, I was dying to like this place. It’s just cool. There are nearly 30 sweet pies on the menu and additional savory pies and quiche, alongside coffee and ice cream. The guy behind the register is friendly and helpful but looked like he’d be just at home slinging a soundboard as baked goods. He politely walked us through the slices on offer that afternoon and we settled on the Baltimore Bomb – a pie made with Baltimore’s famous Berger cookies.

Berger Cookies, for the uninitiated, are a crazy sugar high concoction featuring a sugar cookie smeared with an equal amount of fudgey icing. Seriously. Its like a 1:1 ratio of cookie and icing. So imagine this crumbled up into a buttery crust and served warm. Wow. We have hit the triple Ds: Delicious, deadly, and I think the whole thing gave me Type II diabetes.  Still, next time we are in Baltimore I am so totally going back.

Dangerously Delicious Pies (2 locations)
3547 Chestnut Ave
Baltimore, MD 21230

1036 Light St
Baltimore, MD 21230

Dangerously Delicious Pies on Urbanspoon 

Dinner after our sugar shock subsided and our wish list for the next trip after the jump!

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Annapolis 055Sometimes it’s too easy to forget DC is a mere drive away from some beautiful destinations. On a recent bright Saturday, Mike and I packed up the car and our cocker spaniel Murphy for a day trip to Annapolis, Maryland. Every time we visit Annapolis I’m surprsied by how small it is. Lined with brick streets, charming historic homes and buffered by the Naval Academy, downtown and state capital, Annapolis is an enchanting place to spend an afternoon. It’s just cozy enough for a relaxed day of strolling, window shopping, and eating…which is exactly what we did. 

We started off the day at the Quiet Waters Dog Beach, where the largest population of labradoodles I have ever seen splashed into the water after tennis balls. Murphy, however, expressed no interest in swimming. Instead he sat Annapolis 038comfortably behind a log calmly staring at us while we tried to  coax him in. He’d go in about paw deep, drink the water, grimace at the saltiness of it, run away from a wave then sneak back to drink the water and grimace some more. No amount of tennis ball tossing and whistling would convince him to swim. Fine, we decided, it was time for lunch. 

Reviews and more photos after the jump! (more…)

Pint-sized reviews of some favorite dining experiences in New York. Planning a trip? You should also check out our full-fledged reviews of Perilla, wd~50, The Spotted Pig, and Apotheke.

Bouchon… Ladies Who Lunch In the Mall
NYC Trip 056I can count on a single hand the chefs whose name and reputation could bring me to utter the phrase “let’s get lunch in the mall,” with Robin Scherbatsky-style exuberance.  Yet here I was, on a beautiful Saturday afternooon in Manhattan, leaving Central Park and heading into the Time Warner Center for lunch at Bouchon, Thomas Keller’s casual bistro located only one floor below the hallowed (or not, if recent reviews are to be believed) Per Se. The space itself was surprising. The 60-seat cafe is plopped right in the middle of the 3rd floor, making up for its open exposure with a flood of natural light from the six-story front window of the building. A counterfront bakery is down the hall, not quite adjacent but within eyesight, so you can take some of Keller’s baked goods home with you to devour later.

I’ve never dined at a Keller restaurant before so my expectations were fairly open. I was hoping to see a nice mix of NYC Trip 059California and French cuisine, with a heavy focus on seasonal ingredients. I wasn’t disappointed. The menu is honest and simple with standard bistro fare turned up a notch by better-than-average ingredients. My wagyu beef reuben, served with cheese and wilted arugula on a crusty bread, was rich and decadent for a lunchtime sandwich. However, it was my companion (and soon-to-be-tour-guide) Amanda’s quiche that had my full attention. I had order envy as soon as it was placed in front of us. The quiche was creamy with a perfectly scorched top layer, served with glistening fresh greens. Simple, rich, delightful. I don’t know if I’ll make a beeline for Bouchon on my next visit to New York but it was a great spot for a hearty, flavorful lunch before powering through the rest of our day. It is absolutely worth a visit if you find yourself hungry in the middle of  Central Park.

Bouchon Bakery
10 Columbus Cir
New York, NY 10019
Bouchon Bakery on Urbanspoon 

Cookies, Custard and Sunday brunch after the jump! (more…)

IMG_7528It’s Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start to summer.  If you’re still reading this, then you’re probably counting the hours to your three-day weekend.  If not, you’re probably stuck in traffic on Route 50 heading toward Ocean City.

For most Washingtonians, summer beach excursions rarely end up further north than Dewey Beach and Rehoboth.  But I grew up in New Jersey – ‘down the shore,’ as a matter of fact.  For me, the beach means Seaside Heights, with all the Jersey stereotypes that come with it.

MidwayOn a recent trip home, Elizabeth and I took advantage of the surprisingly warm weather to visit the boardwalk in Seaside with my family.  Since we’re usually up there for holidays and other special occasions, I haven’t had much of a chance to show Elizabeth this quintessentially Jersey Shore experience before.

And while we were on the boardwalk, in between games of Skee-Ball (practice for when the H Street Country Club opens), we got to enjoy a Seaside classic: boardwalk hotdogs and fries at Midway Steak House.

The perfect Jersey shore meal after the jump. (more…)

Obama

AP Photo by Charles Dharapak, from http://www.dcist.com

Presidential date night! The Obamas dined at Citronelle in Georgetown last Saturday.  Then Tuesday, Obama and Biden stopped by Rays Hell Burger for lunch.   Chompasaurus has a video of the big event.  Yesterday, DC365 and a crowd of super-psyched onlookers saw the First Lady and her staff pay a visit to Good Stuff Eatery, tasting a sampling of burgers including the “Prez Obama” (bacon, blue cheese, horseradish mayo and onion marmelade).  If this is their new plan for stimulating the local economy, we’re all for it! 
 
We already gave you an update on DC’s TV chefs. Now check in on four former Top Chef contestants based in New York: Leah, Harold, Hung and Nikki. 
 
Check out this dream job in California wine country.    
 
Metrocurean reports that Freshii, a salad chain from Canada, is on its way to DC
 
DC was completely shut out of the James Beard Awards this year.  Tim Carman over at Young & Hungry points out that the judging panel of the Beard Awards are made up of food writers and editors, past winners and restaurant owners, which builds a population slanting very favorably to New York residents and perhaps creates a self-fulfilling prophecy of New York dominating the awards since, hey, these are the restaurants the judges know best. The inherent risk here, other than irritating all non-New York observers, is that the Beard Awards could quickly smug themselves into national irrelevance.
Side note: We were pleased to see Douglas Kean of Cyrus in Healdsburg, CA win for best regional chef. We scored a table on Valentine’s Day weekend and the tasting menu took our breath away. 
 
The WSJ reports that some healthier food options like chicken or yogurt may not be as healthy as consumers believe they are.   
 
Mmmm… homemade rhubarb poptarts, courtesy of Arugula Files

Cookbook author and actor Dom DeLuise died this week at age 75. 

McDuff Wine, a Philly blogger, shares his photo journal of foraging for wild ramp.  
 
Get a peek at Tom Colicchio’s apartment in this Q&A.  
 
The Albemarle Fizz, a bright, citrusy drink from Brightest Young Things, looks like the world’s most perfect Sunday afternoon cocktail.  
 
Oprah gave a plug to KFC’s free grilled chicken promotion, overwhelming both stores and the website with the resulting stampede of soccer moms. 
 
Who doesn’t love breakfast al fresco? PQ Living has the scoop on an outdoor café for bagelry Brueggers on E St NW. 
 
Sales are strong for weak beers.  
 
Quote of the week: “Never lower yourself to your customers’ tastes.” – Mark Furstenburg, founder of Marvelous Market and Breadline.  Okay it’s a little out of context but for realsies, that was advice he shared with another baker. Check out Y&H for the full story.
 
NPR shares some trout recipes.

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