Since I end up going to the DC area at least twice every year (usually for work), I’ve been able to see a lot of minor changes as they happen on the food scene. One of the bigger changes is that the area is finally starting to embrace the food truck. A few years ago, there were surprisingly few modern food trucks, with the mobile food scene in DC still dominated by hot dog vendors and the people selling random snack food on the Mall. Indeed, it was just 2011 when one had to go to odd neighborhoods to find a place like El Chilango (who have since spun off a brick and mortar joint in the District, as is often the case with the better food trucks). In any case, there are now food trucks aplenty: 12th Street and 14th Street on the Mall are repleat with them, and the central business areas in downtown and Arlington now sport plenty of food truck options, as do most of the major tourist areas. Indeed, Connecticut Ave on the west end of the National Zoo has quite a selection, and, as we discovered this trip, some of them, like Crêpes Parfait, are actually quite good.
For our DC “Death March”, we ended up walking around 23 miles through the DC area, basically walking from Takoma Park, MD to Arlington, VA, via, well, almost all of the tourist sites. A walk like that requires a good, hearty breakfast, so we decided to convene our walk just a block outside of DC at Mark’s Kitchen in Takoma Park. Walking in, Mark’s looks like your standard American “breakfast restaurant”, and indeed, the menu has all of your standard American breakfast fare: omelets, pancakes, French toast, and the like. But if you dig a bit further into the menu, you notice a lot of items that aren’t on your usual breakfast menu. Ginger scrambled eggs. Seaweed omelets. Kimchi omelets. Bibimbab scrambles. Smoked salmon pancakes. In fact, a single trip back past the kitchen as you wind up the (distinctly not accessible) stairs to the restroom, the rice cookers, jumbo bottles of sesame oil, and various Asian greens being prepped in the kitchen tell you a nice little secret: Mark’s Kitchen is also a Korean place.
As far as I am concerned, a proper pastrami sandwich (or the close cousin, the Quebec “smoked meat” sandwich)is the pinnacle of a good sandwich: moist, seasoned beef that’s been brined and smoked, the resulting meat being carved to order, with a few nice slabs being served up on some good rye bread with some mustard, and maybe some kraut. As you bite into each slice, you get a little bit of meat, a little bit of fat, and, most importantly, a little bit of the salty, spicy, and smoky crust. It’s a bit like going to get some really good smoked brisket at a good Texas BBQ joint. There’s just one problem: the vast majority of places serving up pastrami sandwiches just don’t do that: they usually just slap some sort of pre-made deli meat (like Boars Head) onto some rye bread, and call it good. That’s not a bad sandwich, but it’s missing entirely too much of what makes pastrami sandwiches great. There are some places out there that are that good, and, indeed, a few of them I’ve even written up here, like Guild Fine Meats or the famous Schwartz’s. Or the ones I haven’t, like the famous Katz’s in New York City (I haven’t written up Katz’s? What the Hell is wrong with me? I’ll have to fix that…). But, hidden away on P Street in Washington’s Georgetown neighborhood is a nice little gem of a deli that is doing it’s part to offer a good and proper pastrami sandwich.
Every year we do a “Death March” in which we visit a large city, and hike our way through it visiting different tourist sites, and checking out the local food options, usually with around 20 miles of hiking. This April, the destination was Washington, DC. But we arrived two days before the March, pulling into Union Station at 8pm. Being hungry, we decided to check out the area around Union Station for dinner. While I’ve been to Chinatown several times, I was looking for something a bit different, and it wasn’t very far from Union Station that we found Art and Soul.
Donuts are still one of the food items that’s have been on the rise. When just a few years ago the local donut shop was starting to disappear from a lot of areas, there’s been a distinct turnaround, and a lot of areas are opening local donuts stores featuring good quality donuts (you can see a list of other places I’ve reviewed here), and the gamut runs everywhere from, well, plain everyday donuts, to elaborate confections like the bacon donut from Dynamo Donuts. Indeed, on a recent trip to Portland, Maine, we discovered a Portland favorite: The Holy Donut.
I’ve always liked Manchester, the Queen City of New Hampshire. For such a modestly-sized city of ~100,000, it actually has a pretty good dining scene (you can see my other reviews here), and “ManchVegas” still holds a lot of surprises for me, especially in the culinary scene. One of these was over on the West Side of town across the Merrimack River, which I call “Little Quebec”, since the area has a very strong French Canadian heritage. It also has a number of Quebecois restaurants, such as the fairly well known Chez Vachon which has been serving up giant plates of poutine for years. But looking over the various dining options in West Manchester, I saw an interesting one called “Butter My Biscuit”, and we decided to check it out.
My extended weekend in Boston also provided me with a good opportunity to check in on a fairly recent discovery of our: Coda, in the Back Bay neighborhood (a short walk from Back Back Station). Coda is basically the little sibling of the more recognized The Salty Pig around the corner. While the Salty Pig focuses on “Salty Pig Parts of All Varieties”, with other menu items, burgers, and cocktails also available on the side, Coda is more relaxed, and is basically a “cocktail bar with a decent food menu.” Indeed, we first discovered Coda when rendezvousing with relatives in Back Bay, wanting to seek out a nice cocktail while we waited, and Coda was the find. But seeing the food emerging from the kitchen, I figured it was worth a revisit for some food.
When I was in Boston a few weeks ago, I decided it was time to go find a burger spot I had been looking for in Cambridge. But this was not your usual burger spot. I first found this place when looking for a cocktail in Cambridge, having gotten a recommendation for “Brick and Mortar” along with an address of 567 Massachusetts Avenue. Heading there, however, I only found Central Kitchen, a fairly well-recognized dinner establishment, and no cocktails. But…. see that unmarked door next to Central Kitchen? Through that lies Brick and Mortar, one of Cambridge’s Speakeasies, known for interesting cocktails and good bar food. Brick and Mortar is actually a rather cozy little bar (which makes for a pleasant drinking experience during the early evening, but by late evening the place quickly becomes crowded, with a long wait list to get in). The cocktail list at Brick and Mortar is quite impressive, and they are definitely in on the current trend of using bitters, gins, and other botanicals to make some very interesting cocktails. Past victuals that were particularly pleasing include the “Lido Shuffle” with Cocchi, Aperol, Chartreuse, and Lemon, or the “Gail Collins” with Mezcal, Sloe Gin, and Bitters. But on my first two visits, it wasn’t just the (excellent) cocktails drawing my eye… I noticed that several of the other diners had ordered burgers, and the burgers looked quite good indeed. So this trip, while I did get a “Sister Mary” (with Tequila, St Germain, Aperol, and grapefruit) my primary goal was to get a burger.
One of my annual traditions is volunteering at one of the local FIRST Robotics competitions, usually as a Robot Inspector or a Judge. This year’s volunteer assignment was for the New England District Championship at Boston University’s Agganis Arena, and that gave me another opportunity to check out some of the Brookline area dining options. One particular place had caught my eye since I had walked by it several times on last year’s “Death March” (my annual tradition of walking ~20 miles through an urban area, exploring neighborhoods and eateries that I normally wouldn’t visit). That place is right in central Brookline in the basement of a building: Roast Beast.
The end of February is when Winter starts to soften a bit, and up here in these Northern parts, that also means the gradual introduction of two additional events: the introduction of “mud season” (in which the local dirt roads become almost impassible due to the combination of melting snow, poor drainage, and frost heaving), and “maple season” (in which you drive down those same muddy roads visiting shacks emitting large amounts of steam, in which maple sap is being boiled down). It’s a fun time of year, and quite a few places make a pretty big to-do of it. Vermont and New Hampshire, for example, have sponsored Maple weekends when you can go touring around, but our friends over the border in Quebec take this a lot more seriously (primarily since Quebec produces far more maple syrup than anywhere else, even if some of it occasionally gets heisted), and several large sugaring operations in Quebec host elaborate “Cabane à Sucre” celebrations, usually with copious amounts of food featuring maple. But there’s one of these that outdoes all the others: Cabane à Sucre Au Pied de Cochon.