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…)

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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…)

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