Travel Eats

Travel Eats: A few summer bites in Washington, DC

Travel Eats documents my food adventures outside of Chicago.

Smoked fish plate, Duke's Grocery

Smoked fish plate with smoked salmon, smoked whitefish, smoked herring, housemade trout rilettes, accompanied by capers, shallot, lemon-herb salad, pickled cucumbers, and buttered toast, Duke’s Grocery

I spent some time with friends in Washington, DC, last week, and while I didn’t get to fit in any overly elaborate meals, I still emerged with a few favorite bites from the nation’s capital. The first came at Duke’s Grocery in Dupont Circle, a café that takes its inspiration from the cuisine of East London. We ordered several of the seasonal, daily-varying dishes to share over a leisurely late lunch on the front patio. I liked everything, but the best part of our umbrella-shaded feast was the colorful fish plate, featuring four different kinds of smoked fish to layer onto toast with pleasantly mild pickles, capers, and a squeeze of lemon.

I started another morning at Penn Quarter’s Red Apron Butcher to try a tigelle, a breakfast item that had piqued my interest before the trip. The tigelle itself was a pressed Italian flatbread that was like a crispy English muffin, but denser and more flavorful. Stuffed between its two halves was spicy pimento cheese, tasso ham, and a hefty portion of egg. It was a little unwieldy at times, with egg and cheese oozing over the sides, but also the most memorable, delicious breakfast sandwich I’ve eaten lately. Plus, how can you not love the flower design that’s griddled into it?

Southern Comfort tigelle, Red Apron Butcher

Southern Comfort tigelle with tasso ham, egg, and spicy pimento cheese, Red Apron Butcher

Peanut butter bacon pop tart, Ted's Bulletin

Peanut butter + bacon pop tart (and a glass of milk), Ted’s Bulletin

After hearing my friends rave about Ted’s Bulletin, I was happy to stop by one evening to snag one of their popular pastries for dessert. And once I saw that a peanut butter and bacon pop tart was one of my options, I didn’t need to consider anything else. It stayed true to the texture of a real pop tart, but with a decadent, sweet-and-savory twist, and went wonderfully with a glass of milk.

Finally, I knew I didn’t want to leave DC without visiting a food truck, as the scene there is much more established and diverse than it is in Chicago. When I got to Farragut Square around lunchtime, there were at least a dozen different trucks, slinging everything from Indonesian, Ethiopian, and Cajun cuisines to crepes, pies, bubble tea, and grilled cheese. After making the rounds, I decided to go with a Venezuelan arepa from Arepa Zone, whose healthy line indicated that the piping hot corn pockets were worth it. I loved the creamy chicken-avocado salad filling, and the watermelon salad on the side was a refreshing, summery touch.

Sifrina arepa, Arepa Zone truck

Sifrina arepa with chicken-avocado salad and shredded yellow cheese, Arepa Zone truck

Arepa Zone truck, DC

Arepa Zone truck parked along Farragut Square

The details: Duke’s Grocery, 1513 17th Street NW; Ted’s Bulletin, 505 8th Street SE; Red Apron Butcher, 709 D Street SW; Arepa Zone, Farragut Square and other varying locations (all addresses in Washington, DC).

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Best Bites

This week’s Best Bite: Woodfired quail & pimento cheese crostini, Husk, Charleston, SC

Woodfired quail with grits, braised greens, poached farm egg, and hollandaise

Woodfired quail with grits, braised greens, poached farm egg, and hollandaise

Why it’s this week’s Best Bite: As soon as I knew I’d be stopping in Charleston on my way between North Carolina and Georgia, I knew exactly where I wanted to make a reservation. I’d been reading about Chef Sean Brock for years – Sam Sifton of The New York Times called him “a son of Dixie sounding a locavore’s horn” – and knew Husk was the exemplar of contemporary Southern cuisine, even named by Bon Appetit as the best new restaurant in America when it opened two years ago.

When I walked up to the door, I was taken aback by the elegance and grandeur of the restored 1893 mansion, with picture-perfect shutters and columns. I was thrilled to be seated out on the second-story porch, where I could be swept up in the historic beauty of Charleston everywhere I looked. However, the real magic began as soon as glasses and plates started hitting the table.

Grilled crostini with cheddar pimento, pickled ramps, and crispy country ham

Grilled crostini with TN cheddar pimento, pickled ramps, and crispy country ham

My impossibly friendly server promised that the pimento cheese would be the best I’d ever had, and it was certainly a knock-out rendition. With salty crunch from the ham on top, the spread was sharp and tangy, especially from the addition of pickled ramps, and its creaminess melted into the grilled bread in a decadent way. Meanwhile, the large cube of cinnamon ice added more kick to my lemony house-made soda with each passing minute, solidifying my belief that boldly flavored ice is the best, most practical drink trend. And finally, there was the quail, a tender, smoke-kissed bird that happily harmonized with the cheesy grits, vinegar-spiked collard greens, and the rich egg and hollandaise sauce. Together, it was the enchanting taste of the South that I’d eagerly awaited.

Himalayde, with lemongrass simple syrup, cinnamon ice, sage, lemon juice, and soda

Himalayde, with lemongrass simple syrup, cinnamon ice, sage, lemon juice, and soda

A very Charleston view from my table on the second-story porch

A very Charleston view from my table on the second-story porch

The details: Husk, 76 Queen St., Charleston, SC.

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Best Bites, Chicago

This week’s Best Bite: Negroni slushy and pimento toast, Parson’s Chicken & Fish

Negroni slushy with letherbee gin, luxando bitter, sweet vermouth, and citron

Negroni slushy with letherbee gin, luxardo bitter, sweet vermouth, and citron

Why it’s this week’s Best Bite: This novel Negroni slushy has appeared in basically every Chicago summer/cocktail/patio/drinking article since Parson’s Chicken and Fish opened in mid-May, even called “the coolest Negroni in the world.” The fanfare is justified, though: it’s an excellent Negroni in a fun format, avoiding the watery or overly sweet fate that befalls most frozen beverages. With locally made Letherbee gin and citrusy Luxardo bitter, it’s mellow, refreshing, and just bitter enough.

Toast with pimento cheese, charred radishes, and pea shoots

Toast with pimento cheese, charred radishes, and pea shoots

Snack-wise, I was torn between the shrimp and pimento toast, and though I still plan to try the seafood variety next time, I was more than satisfied with pimento. My Midwestern upbringing didn’t involve a lot of pimento cheese, but especially as Southern-influenced cuisine becomes more popular in Chicago, I’ve now tasted several knock-out versions (including Zingerman’s, my favorite to have at home) and am starting to understand its following. At Parson’s, the pimento spread is smooth (no coarse shreds) and ultra-cheesy atop buttery toast. The sourness and acidity from pickle relish and charred radishes beautifully round out each bite, punctuated by the pea shoots. I also appreciated the portion of three moderate slices, enough to share easily.

Of course, I liked the fried chicken, too – though I found it to be best on its own, without any of the housemade sauces – and the mezcal margarita gave the slushy a serious run for its money. Check out more photos below of the food and atmosphere.

Menu and a margarita, another standout cocktail with el buho mescal, torres orange brandy, orange & lime juice, maguey sweet sap, and a sour patch rim

Menu and a margarita, another standout cocktail with el buho mescal, torres orange brandy, orange & lime juice, maguey sweet sap, and a sour patch rim

The interior bar at Parson's, with the negroni slushy machine in the center

The interior bar at Parson’s, with the negroni slushy machine in the center

The namesake fried chicken

The namesake fried chicken

Funnel cake with honey, brown butter, and green peppercorn brittle

Funnel cake with honey, brown butter, and green peppercorn brittle

Striped umbrellas & picnic tables on the spacious patio

Striped umbrellas & picnic tables on the spacious patio (prepare to wait on weekends)

The details: Parson’s Chicken and Fish, 2952 W Armitage Ave., Chicago.

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