It’s getting to be that time again.  The monthly DC Food Blogger Happy Hour is set to take place next Wednesday, November 3rd.  It’s the day after the elections, so you’re going to have a reason to come out for a drink regardless of which party you support.  And we’re here to support that.

So is Northside Social.  The neighborhood coffee house / wine bar / all-around enjoyable place to hang out is this month’s location, and we’ll have the back room reserved to give us room to get the party started.  If I know this group, we’ll be spilling out into the rest of the space before too long.

Why Northside Social?  Well, it IS our November Happy Hour.  We wanted to pick a place that offered some cozy warm beverages in case next week is more seasonably cold.  But we also wanted a spot with some solid beverage options as well.  General Manager and Sommelier Alison Christ has certainly seen to that, compiling a wine list that should offer something for everyone (and some choice beers for those who just don’t like wine).

And because the holidays are rapidly approaching, we wanted to try something new and (we hope) fun for this month’s happy hour: a cookbook swap!  Have a favorite cookbook you’ve worked your way through backwards and forwards?  Got a book you’ve been meaning to cook from but you just haven’t gotten around to it?  Bring it with you to Northside Social and trade it for another.  We’ll have a table full of cookbooks for everyone to pick and choose from.  Bring one book, take another home.  Bring two, take two.  It’s a great way to refresh your cookbook collection and see what your fellow foodies have been cooking at home.

We’ll kick off at 6 PM, as usual.  Northside Social is located in Clarendon, just a short walk from the Orange Line’s Clarendon Metro stop.  Head in the opposite direction from Hard Times Cafe along Wilson Boulevard, and you’ll pass a couple of additional foodie destinations: Eventide, Spider Kelly’s and Liberty Tavern (owned by the same folks who bring us Northside Social and Lyon Hall).

If you’re planning to come by, take a second and let us know on the event page over at Facebook.  And if you still haven’t joined the group, sign up to become a member of the DC Food Bloggers Facebook group.  It’s a great way to hear about each month’s happy hour as well as other fun events that come up from time to time.

Any questions?  Drop us a comment or ask on the event page.  We can’t wait to see you there…and Baby Spice may even make an appearance to sweeten the deal.

We’ve been spending a lot of time eating and sipping in Clarendon lately and with good reason. This yuppie playground is becoming a pleasant destination for quality food in a relaxed setting. Lyon Hall is upping the ante with their new French-infused gastropub on Washington Boulevard, in the old Dan Kain trophy shop space.

I suspect the name Lyon Hall is supposed to hark to the French city and its regional influences to be found on the menu. Unfortunately, it makes me think of dudes my grandpa’s age hanging out in funny hats and planning the big summer BBQ fundraiser. Luckily, this is not at all the crowd you’ll find inside the restaurant.  The bar is consistently full of revelers taking in the seasonal cocktails. For my dinner visit and recent drive-bys, the crowd has been decidedly Clarendonian, maybe swinging a few years older than the average eatery in the neighborhood.

While the menu has French overtones, it actually struck me as more Alsatian to me, which is a good thing when done right. And in this case, it is a very very good thing. Imagine an entire section dedicated to housemade charcuterie. The fantastic Hungarian lamb sausage entree I sampled on my first visit earlier this spring was a fun surprise in both flavor and execution, with the paprika seasoning finished just so to give the tender meat an earthy spice. The sausage was served in a shareable plate style, with the charcuterie cut into three smaller pieces, delicately piled on toast points with a warm fingerling potato salad.[Apologies for the lack of photo – my light was terrible and all the pics are too fuzzy for posting.]

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ChiliBetween writing about the newest places to open and enjoying some impressive high-end meals, it’s easy to get a reputation as something of a food snob.  But it’s not all truffles and sparkling wine for us by any stretch (well…maybe the sparkling wine part).  We’ve got our share of comfort foods and guilty pleasures, and it’s about time we shared one: chili at Hard Times Cafe.

When it’s cold and damp outside, chili con carne has a great way of warming you from the inside out.  First the beef, with its just-this-side-of-tough meatiness, warms you as you chew (assuming it’s served hot, as it should be).  Then the peppers take over, suffusing you with the warmth of a slow burn that lingers.  Got a chill?  Fight it with chili.

Chili VinegarHere in Washington, chili appears on the menu at a wide range of establishments.  More often than not, however, it’s an afterthought; a throwaway alternative to soup up there among the appetizers at the top of the menu.  Ask a few questions of your server, and it quickly becomes clear that this is not the kind of chili that warrants a Johnny Cash cameo.  Ben’s Chili Bowl is a rare but noteworthy exception, though chili enthusiasts will tell you that theirs is a unique take on the chuck wagon classic.

The other great exception we’ve found around here is Hard Times Cafe.  On a recent rainy Wednesday – which just happened to be “National Wing Day” at Hard Times – we paid a visit to the Clarendon location and enjoyed a no-frills chili dinner.  It was messy, a little greasy…and just what we were looking for.

Five ways’ worth of flavor after the jump. (more…)