The Capital Wine Festival Returns to DC

July 26, 2011

When Chef Daniel Bruce created the Boston Wine Festival over twenty years ago, it was hardly driven by divine inspiration. “The initial reason for the wine festival is that it was a slow year,” he says with a chuckle. Since then, however, Bruce’s wine festivals have been steadily growing, spreading like gospel throughout the country.

This will be the second year that Bruce brings his wine festival to the District, hosted again by The Fairfax Hotel at Embassy Row. Calling the event a festival is a loose way to say it; the Capital Wine Festival is a series of wine dinners, in which each meal is constructed around a specific region or style of wine. Bruce brings in the winemakers and proprietors of each participating winery to discuss the wines and terroir of their particular regions, affording guests a uniquely intimate experience with their wine and food, and putting a distinct twist on the farm-to-table experience.

In order to be true to the wine he selects, Bruce goes about planning the dinners in a way that most chefs would never consider. He does not choose the wine to complement the food, but tailors the cuisine around the flavors of the individual wines. “There’s nothing worse than the wine coming off bad because the food wasn’t prepared right to go with it,” he says.

“Working with the wine makers has changed the nature of how I work,” he says, revealing a sincere and personal devotion to Cuisine, which he defines as a seamless blend of wine and food. “In a lot of ways, the winemakers are like chefs, bringing out the best flavors the grapes and the land have to offer.”

Bruce’s personal history with wine began around 30 years ago, while he was working abroad in Tuscany and France. “Wine there is part of the table,” he says. “Wine is just such a part of their culture. Just as regular as a food source.”

Growing up in the United States, where wine is not part of the culture, Bruce found the commonality of table wine in Europe to be a revelatory experience. The wine, almost always local, greased the evening conversation, drew out the night, and helped form bonds among friends and family.

Table wine also affected the flavor of the local food offerings. While it may not always have been perfectly constructed or balanced (though being Tuscan, it was probably damn close), the flavors of the land were so richly engrained within the wine that they complemented the surrounding cuisine like nothing Bruce had ever tasted.

When he returned to the States, Bruce went to more formal tastings, which opened his eyes to the potential and diversity of wine to complement different cuisines. He began pairing food and wine at dinner tastings for winemakers in the basement of Manhattan’s Club 21, working with the sommelier to choose the wines. Only after meeting and befriending the winemakers did he begin constructing his plans to showcase distinct regional wine varieties with tailor-made foods.

23 years ago, Bruce founded the Boston Wine Festival. He now has four around the country, including the French Quarter Festival in New Orleans, the Capital Wine Festival, and the Berkeley Wine Festival, which he kicked off in 2010.

Tasting the wine is Bruce’s first priority in putting together a dinner. It may sound like a well-dressed excuse to knock back some good vino, but it’s really no joke. He samples 3,000 wines a year, taking careful notes on each bottle. “My wine notes tend to be chef-driven,” he says. “Not wine driven. I might write down, ‘Belon oysters,’ next to a Chardonnay, or something that invokes food ingredients.”

He then chooses the winemakers based on a theme or a group that shows a spectrum of styles. The process falls somewhere in the infinitely coextending parameters of art and science. “I try to strike a balance,” he says simply, deceiving the complexity of this job. “It’s a matter of recalling the structure of the wine. I’ll find something that uses contrasting, parallel or compatible flavors. I use the flavor of the wine as a departing point for the food.”

Wines with higher acidity are easy to pair, he admits. That’s why Pinot Noir and Barolo are so often recommended at restaurants. When the wine is less acidic, he says, you have to be a little more careful with what you cook or you might overwhelm the plate. “Having tasted the wine, I know how far I’ll go with the intensity and flavors of the dish.”

He particularly likes cooking for Pinot Noir because, as he explains, it is a wine that is true to the terroir that it comes from, “Which, as a chef, gives me more options.”

“I do a dish created only for that wine,” Bruce says of his cooking philosophy. “There are subtle differences to all the wines. So why shouldn’t I honor that tradition by creating individual dishes?”

Bruce uses the wines he selects in the cooking process as well, from using syrups made from the varietal, to a marinade or glaze or herb reduction for meat and vegetables. Again, he only cooks with the wines he decides to feature, further displaying the versatility and flavors of each selection.

Bringing together winemakers and wine enthusiasts, the Capital Wine Festival celebrates great wine from around the globe. Prior to each dinner, guests will enjoy a reception or seminar before being seated for an evening of food and wine pairings. “When people get to meet the person behind the wine, it’s a great thing for them. They can go back and tell their friends, and they have a story. There is always a story behind a bottle of wine, and now they can be a part of it.”

Once a week, beginning on January 20, the Capital Wine Festival will host eight intimate wine dinners at the Fairfax Hotel at Embassy Row. For ticket purchases please visit, or call 202-736-1453. Each dinner is limited to 60 guests. [gallery ids="99589,104944" nav="thumbs"]

United, We Drink

In 2011, our nation’s capital will see something it hasn’t seen in over fifty years: a production brewery worthy to bear the District’s name. DC Brau, a venture between DC area natives Brandon Skall and Jeff Hancock, plans on pumping out kegs and cans to bars and retail stores in the city within the next three months. Casual and enthusiastic, it was a pleasure to pick the brains of these entrepreneurs on the subject of beer, business and…well…more beer.

Skall and Hancock are both veterans of the beer and wine industry. Skall worked for a major national wine importer before turning to the import side of the business. The three-tier system is confusing on its best days, and having a background in distribution is an asset. Hancock has been a professional brewer for seven years now, and has a degree from the Seibel Institute of Technology, one of only a handful of academies in the country with an accredited brewing program.

Opening a brewery is quite an undertaking. The capital needed is steep, and skimping on the initial investments tends to cause short-lived dreams of self-employment. Skall and Hancock are playing it smart. They have spent the better part of the last three years researching commercial space, redefining commercial business laws in the city and attracting investors.

The last brewery to operate in the District was Heurich Brewing Company, whose factory was on the grounds where the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts now stands. It closed in 1956, after which production was moved to New York. As a result of this time gap, very little information was available on classifications and regulations regarding commercial breweries in DC. “They thought we would be carrying drums of green smoking liquid and pouring it down the drain.” Skall laughs, “Or burning soot, or asbestos on a regular basis.”

No one in DC public offices has been around long enough to know or remember the standard procedure. So with the help of a lawyer, Skall and Hancock explored the exciting world of DC regulatory agencies. Although it took some time, the brewery space was finally approved.

As it turns out, their resurfacing and navigation of alcohol production laws is helping more than just DC Brau. With the expanding market and popularity of craft beer, the Capitol is going to be seeing an influx of commercial breweries in the coming years, and some have already contacted Skall and Hancock for advice. “We’ve been doing a lot of trail blazing not just for us, but for all of the soon to open breweries” say Skall.

Of course, they were happy to help. This spirit of camaraderie has defined the modern day craft beer business. Unlike the wine industry, which can be esoteric, discriminatory and prone to wild inflation, the craft brewing industry has a strong reputation for being good-natured and diplomatic (in terms of pricing, collaborations and mutual support of one another).

Of the group of prospective operations in Washington, DC Brau aims to be the first to open. And it is more than likely to happen. They are 90 percent of the way there.

Driving up to an unimposing industrial building with a sticker on the door is pretty much par for the course when touring breweries, and DC Brau is no different. Upon entering though, you are greeted by a bold, red-and-white “tasting” room with a large, freshly lacquered wooden bar.

I put “tasting” in quotes because the team is still working on the legal issues regarding sampling beer. Once again, no one in the city has tried to do this in a long time.

Still, they have bet on its approval and as a result have an inviting entrance in which to talk about the hardware in the back. A brewery design company was hired to put together a 15-barrel system that has just arrived from China.

“It’s a hands-on system, not as automated as some others,” remarks Hancock. His smile gives him away, and you can tell he is itching to brew. Already in place is the electrical and plumbing infrastructure, boiler, cold box and of course, the canning line produced by the same company that made Dale’s Pale Ale famous.

DC Brau is going to test the marketing potential of craft beer in a can along with other east coast operations. Blue Mountain in VA, Brewers Art in Baltimore and Sly Fox in PA are just a few of the craft companies trying out cans. DC Brau will have its focus on cans and draft initially, with special seasonal releases in hand-bottled bombers.

We can expect to see three core beers to appear on shelves this year, each named fittingly after some element of the democratic system. The team has been doing test batches at home in order to hone down the malt bills and hop schedules. The Public Ale is a balanced 6-percent pale ale with a firm hop bite. The Citizen, a 7-percent Belgian-style pale ale, will utilize a De Konick yeast strain. And then there is The Corruption IPA, aimed to be a powerful West Coast IPA featuring the new and underused Citra hop variety.

When asked whether there were any plans for lagers, they did not rule out the idea. But ale production has a much quicker turn around, and Skall and Hancock aim to start pumping beer out of the facility as soon as possible.

An intriguing area of the brewery lies towards the back of the space behind an old sliding bay door. The room is about the size of a flat bed cargo truck, long and narrow. The space, actually lying underground and hanging between 45 and 55 degrees year-round, is a perfect room for prospective barrel aging.

Craft breweries without wooden barrels are becoming a minority, and DC Brau is not going to be left behind. After hanging out with Brandon and Jeff for a morning, you can tell they are going about this in the right way. Proper fundraising has allowed them to get the equipment needed to meet the initial demand, but also enough fermented space to grow organically. If it all works out for these first few years, the brewery has the option to purchase and expand to adjacent space.

What truly grabbed my attention when first reading about DC Brau was its brand identity. The logo mixes early 20th century Russian constructivist typography with American patriotic imagery, with the colors, red and white, leaning both ways. A striking design and logo is so important, and not all new breweries pull it off.

In a few months I hope to pop a can of DC Brau in my apartment, the first package of beer coming out of our nations capital in over 50 years.

Food News Calendar

Restaurants around town are offering up a plateful of events. From culinary classes to food festivals, the local dining scene is freshening up for spring.

Westend Bistro by Eric Ripert has introduced new menu items, which it debuted at a hugely successful tasting night last February 17. The new mouthwatering plates include a chicken-fried pork belly appetizer, black walnut and cauliflower soup and a succulent triggerfish.

Citronelle will host a five week wine series, starting with Wine Profiling, Saturday February 26 from 1 – 3 pm. The restaurant, located at 3000 M Street NW, will continue the series March 18, April 30, May 12, and conclude on June 18. Classes are $100 individually, with deals varying on how many classes you sign up for. Reserve a space by calling 202 625 2150.

The Herman J. Wiemer Winemaker Dinner at Chef Geoff’s Downtown will take place Tuesday March 22 at 7 pm. Fred Merwath, winemaker and owner of Herman J. Wiemer Vineyard, will be the featured speaker at the dinner. The menu features five courses each paired with a featured wine. Chef Geoff’s Downtown is on 13th Street between E & F NW. Tickets are $69 and can be purchased at

Oyamel Cocina Mexicana will celebrate the fourth annual Tequila & Mezcal Festival March 14 through 27. Oyamel, 401 7th Street NW, will be offering premium tequila and mescal, served in flights, and specialty cocktails. Stop by Oyamel from 4 – 6 pm March 15 – 24 to enjoy complimentary samples of tequila and mescal. A celebratory menu will also be available during the festival, incorporating the spirits.

John Engle will return to Brasserie Beck and take on the position of Chef de Cuisine. Engle, most recently at Mussel Bar in Bethesda, will be serving up the brasserie’s signature mussels, along with other Belgian favorites. 1101 K Street NW.

Open Kitchen’s next spread of cooking classes will be going on February 27 – March 1. The hands-on classes cover everything from cupcakes to the cuisine of Venice. The classes run for three hours and range from $79 to $89 per class. Details on the classes can be found at

The Source by Wolfgang Puck launched its new Presidential Menu Tasting on Presidents Day, which featured all of the dishes enjoyed by President Obama and the First Lady during their January dinner at the restaurant. The special menu will continue during regular business hours in the main dinning room of The Source, 575 Pennsylvania Avenue NW.

HomeMade Pizza is now open at 1826 Wisconsin Ave. NW. The take-and-bake pizza shop makes everything with fresh, all natural ingredients. Stop by the new store February 23 and 24 for the launch party and take part in fresh produce giveaways and free pizza.

Even more pizza is hitting the area when Pizzeria da Marco opens its doors at 8008 Woodmont Ave. in Bethesda on March 28. The pizzeria will feature authentic Neapolitan pizza cooked in a handcrafted wood-burning oven.

Fourteen Alexandria restaurants participated in the Cherry Challenge earlier this month. Restaurant chefs competed with cherry-inspired dishes, drinks, and desserts. This year’s winners were no strangers to the competition. For the third year in a row Temp Restaurant placed in the finals, taking the win in the starters category with their Insalata di Ceresa e Mela di Fuji. Murphy’s Irish Pub and Restaurant won the entrée with their three-time winning Duck a la Cherry. Sweet Cherry Rye from Food Matters took the prize in drink, and an ice cream from Dishes of India won dessert. Each person who ordered the dish or menu item was given a ballot to judge the item on taste, presentation, and creativity.

The half beef, half pork smoked sausage has long been considered the District’s signature dish. Domaso will be hosting its first annual Top Dog Half Smoke Challenge, Sunday May 1 at 3pm. Ten area chefs will be presenting their interpretation of the local favorite. Admission is $20 per person and includes samples of all ten half-smokes, a signature Skyy Vodka cocktail, tax and gratuity. Domaso will be donating 100 percent of the proceeds to Brainfood, a non-profit youth development organization based in DC that helps build life skills and promotes healthy living. The restaurant is located at Hotel Palomar, in Arlington, VA.

Support the rebuilding of the Fauquier Livestock at the Cattlemen’s Hoedown, February 26 at Barrel Oak Winery. The benefit runs from 6-9pm in Delaplane VA. The night will feature a live and silent auction, wine and appetizers. Tickets are $25, reservations can be made at 540-364-1572.

Eating Up the Cherry Blossoms

Magnificent monuments, a cupcake craze and powerhouse politics are not the only things that make the nation’s capitol unique. The annual Cherry Blossom Festival welcomes the spring season with the blooming of beautiful flowers and three weeks full of events. This year, the Cherry Blossom Festival kicks off on Thursday, March 24 with a fundraiser at the Washington Monument. This event, known as “Stand with Japan”, is organized to express our condolences and support for Japan in the wake of their recent tragedies. All donations go to the National Cherry Blossom Festival Red Cross Online Donation site and will benefit the Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami Fund.

Along with fundraisers, festivals and parades, local restaurants are also joining in on the festivities. Restaurants all over town are offering a special Cherry Blossom Festival menu. The menus include desserts, entrees, and cocktails, all inspired with a cherry twist! From duck confit with sour cherry compote and braised artichokes to a chocolate covered cherry martini, the menus will be sure to satisfy. Below is a list of participating restaurants and their offerings.

– Eton Mess with Brandied Cherries
– JP Caceres’ Cherrio Cocktail (vodka, cherry herring liquer, lemon juice, rose water, egg whites)
1099 New York Ave NW. 202 639-9830

Art and Soul at the Liason Capitol Hill, an Affinia Hotel
– Steamed Southern style pork buns with sour cherry hoisin dipping sauce
– Grilled tuna with coriander spiced rice, marinated bok choy, maitake mushrooms and ginger chile glaze and Yuzu ginger trifle with sour cherries and candied kumquats
– Cherry Pick Cocktail (Vodka, sake, cherry reduction)
415 New Jersey Ave NW. 202 393-7777

Bangkok Joe’s
– Peking Duck Bao with cherry-hoisin sauce
– 7-spiced roasted shrimp with caramelized tomatoes and cherry ponzu butter sauce
– Warm cherry upside down cake
– Frozen cherry bellini (champagne, bing cherry, cream sherry, lime juice)
3000 K Street NW. 202 333-4422

Café Dupont at The Dupont Hotel
– Goose Liver Torchon with cherry orange compote
– Chargrilled NY Strip Steak with a cherry reduction
– Vanilla Bean Pana Cotta with a cherry crumble
1500 New Hampshire Ave NW. 202 939-9596

– Sicilian Triple Cherry Cassata
– Frozen Cherries Jubilee (Cruzan Rum, Luzardo Maraschino Liquer, port, lemon juice, brandied cherries)
425 7th Street NW. 202 737-7770

Cuba Libre
– Barbacoa de Pato con Cerezas
– Cherry Tini (Pyrat XO Rum, Combier, lemon grass- infused guarapo, bitters, bing cherries)
– Coconut Cherry Frozen (Three Olives, cherry vodka, lemon grass- infused guarapo, coconut puree, maraschino cherry juice)
801 9th Street NW. 202 408-1600

Current Sushi
-Cherry Blossom Martini (cherry vodka, sake, black cherries)
1215 Connecticut Ave. 202 955-525

– Tart Cherry Gin Cocktail (Plymouth Gin, Leopold’s Tart Michigan Cherry Liquer, Orchard’s Cherry Liquer, Leopold’s Cranberry Liquer, lemon juice, simple syrup, club soda)
3435 Connecticut Ave. 202 686-2966

Farmers and Fishers
– F&F’s Cherry Slump
3000 K Street NW. 202 298-0003

Georgia Brown’s
– Peanut Butter and Jelly Foie gras with dried cherry jelly
– Chicory Rubbed pork tenderloin with cherry and balsamic demi-glace
– Dark Cherry glazed roasted free range chicken
– Mexican chocolate and cherry cobbler with cinnamon sticky bun ice cream
– Cherry Mojitos (cane sugar, ginger, cilantro, a cinnamon swizzle stick)
950 15th Street. 202 393-4499

Hudson Restaurant
– Free Range Lamb with chervil johnnycakes and bing cherry gastrique
2030 M Street. 202 872-8700

– Baked Brie with cherry marmalade
– Cherry and Pecan Crusted Lamb rack
– Cherry Almond Strudel
– Sam Adams Cherry Wheat Beer
3218 M Street NW. 202 333-3450

Kaz Sushi Bistro
– Cherry Blossom Special Chitashi
1915 I Street. 202 530-5500

Kellari Taverna
1700 K Street. 202 535-5274
– Cherry Blossom Salad with jumbo shrimp and cherry balsamic
– Pan roasted fagri with a bing cherry demi glace
– Greek yogurt with sour cherry preserves
– Kellari Cherry cocktail

Morton’s The Steakhouse
– Cherry Blossom Cocktail (three olives cherry vodka, lindemans cherry limbic, and prosecco)
1050 Connecticut Ave NW. 202 955-5997

– Duck Manti with dried Cherries
– Baby arugula with arak soaked cherries
– Pan roasted grouper with kiln dried cherries
– Dark chocolate cherry crème brulee
– Chocolate covered cherry martini (Valhrona chocolate, vanilla vodka, and dark cherries)
3206 N Street. 202 333-6353

Old Glory
– Sam Adams Cherry Wheat Beer Battered Onion Rings with Sweet and sour dried cherry cherry pepper dip
– Old Glory Red Stag Bourbon Buffalo Wings
– Cherry Cola BBQ Glazed Salmon with cheddar cheese grits, backyard cucumber slaw, and grilled beefsteak tomato galette
– Black Forest Cheesecake with cherry brandy chocolate sauce
– Red Stag Mint Julep( red Stag Cherry Bourbon, vanilla bean, mint, simple syrup, cherry brandy, soda, red stag- soaked maraschino cherry)
3139 M Street NW. 202 337-3406

Plume at the Jefferson Hotel
– Duck Confit with sour cherry compote and braised artichokes
1200 16th Street. 202 448-2300

Ten Penh
– Togarashi Seared Tuna Tataki with seaweed salad and ponzu sauce
– Duck confit and wild cherry gyoza with daikon and toasted pinenut salad
– Pan seared black grouper with a scallion crabmeat rice noodle crepe and black bean sauce
– Dried cherry and rhubarb crisp with honey, vanilla, and sesame ice cream
1001 Pennsylvania Ave. 202 393-4500

Cherry Cured Valentine Miller Ham Rillettes with cherry gelee and brioche
Anise glazed sea scallops with country ham, ramps, and cherry suds,
Roast quail with cherry aigre-doux, goat cheese polenta and seedling salad
Cherry braised beef short ribs with sunchoke puree, pea tendrils and foie gras emulsion
Cherries with bruleed vanilla sponge cake and tonka bean cream
800 F Street. 202 654-0999
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Move Over Cupcakes: Say Hello to Georgetown Pies

For many people nationwide, a homemade pie is as symbolic of the American Dream as baseball and a house with a white picket fence. For Alli, Erin and Cat Blakely, three sisters from Northern Virginia, pie is also a personal dream that they plan on bringing to Georgetown by the end of this summer with the opening of their pie shop, O’B Sweet.

The sisters, who grew up in Great Falls, spent a lot of time in Georgetown throughout their childhood, attending church at St. John’s on O Street. “We’re just local girls, and that’s why we wanted to stay in Georgetown with our shop,” said Erin.

They started their baking careers early in life when their mother taught them how to can fruit and make pies, “to keep us all busy,” said Erin. After following separate careers in different fields, the Blakelys finally decided to fulfill their dream of operating a family business.

“We’re sisters. There’s three of us. We’re all two years apart,” said Erin. “We’re best friends and baking pies was something that brought us all together having fun even on the holidays after our lives kind of took us in different directions.”

Even the name the sisters chose reflects their family roots. “We’re Scott-Irish, so the ‘O’ kind of brings in that part of us,” said Erin. “The ‘B’ is for our last name, Blakely, and the ‘Sweet,’ obviously, is because we’re sweet.”

The trio is currently looking at retail space at 3833 Prospect St., according to Robert Tack, the real estate broker representing O’B Sweet. The market, Tack noted, is ready for a new sweet tooth craze—a refreshing idea noting the area’s baffling cupcake fetish.

“I think they’re gonna do well with their concept,” he said.

The Blakelys are already setting themselves apart from average Georgetown bakeries and cupcakeries. The shop will feature an array of savory and sweet pies in three sizes: nine inches, seven inches, and “Cuppies,” single-serving mini pies that are original to O’B Sweet. Because most of their fruit comes from local growers, their menu of flavors rotates seasonally, while their cream pies will be available year round. The shop will cater events as well as delivering pies and providing seating where customers can enjoy their Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Cuppies with coffee or hot cocoa.

While the shop has a few months until their grand opening, O’B Sweet’s catering business is already up and running. The sisters have supplied weddings, birthdays and dinner parties with their homemade pies and plan to continue this service through the process of opening their store.

“Pies are really all-American classics, so we’re trying to take that and make it more mainstream,” said Erin. “It’s giving people the option, instead of going to cupcakes, to go to pies… There’s nothing like this in Georgetown.”

The Barrachina Piña Colada

The Caribe Hilton is one of the most well established resorts in all of Puerto Rico. The hotel is set on the edge of San Juan on its own peninsula amid a lush tropical garden and private beach. It rose to prominence in the 1950s for its famous guests, including Gloria Swanson, Elizabeth Taylor and John Wayne. It even garnered a mention in Hunter S Thompson’s first novel, “The Rum Diaries.”

The holiday spot has also earned its spot in cocktail history as the birthplace of the piña colada. Before my visit to San Juan, I learned from my Frommer’s guidebook that the piña colada was created in 1954 by bartender Ramon “Monchito” Marrero at the Hilton’s Beachcomber bar. Marrero spent three months mixing, tasting and discarding hundreds of combinations until he felt he had the right blend. It’s been estimated that some 100 million piña coladas have been sipped around the world since then.

The resort boasts two watering holes — a casual outdoor grill with a swim-up bar and the sleek and stylish Oasis Bar, complete with a floor-to-ceiling glass view of the churning Atlantic sea. However, I thought the most fitting way to sample the piña colada would be to have one delivered by a handsome cabana boy on my beach chair at the Hilton’s exclusive lagoon.

The drink was frothy and sweet. It provided an ample antidote to the scorching Caribbean sun. For a girl who is accustomed to drinking martinis, the recipe was did not pack much of a punch, but its flavor was enhanced by the glamorous beauty surrounding me.

Later in the week, as I wandered through the streets of Old San Juan, I came across the Barrachina restaurant with a plaque mounted outside, boldly stating “The House where the Piña Colada was created in 1963.” Intrigued, I headed inside to a bar in the garden courtyard and ordered one.

According to the Barrachina, the piña colada was invented when the Barrachino’s owner met Spaniard Ramon Portas Mingot, who had worked in some of the finest bars in Buenos Aires, during a trip to South America. Mr. Barrachina hired Mingot as head bartender. While experimenting, Mingot mixed pineapple juice, coconut cream, condensed milk and ice in a blender, creating the drink known as the pina colada. I guess they’re always two sides to history.

The drink at Barrachina was thicker and creamier. The lovely courtyard lined with tropical plants and wrought iron exuded a graceful ambiance that fit in with the charm of Old San Juan. Barrachina’s cocktail had more of a rum kick and the price was bit easier on my wallet. Given a choice between the two, I preferred Barrachina’s version. Still, there’s something to be said for having your cocktails delivered by a suave young man on a private beach.

The Barrachina piña colada
48 ounces pineapple juice
15 ounces of coconut cream
10 ounces water

Blend ingredients, but do not mix with ice. Instead, freeze the mix, stirring occasionally until it reaches a slushy consistency, or by using an ice cream maker. Pour rum to taste in individual glasses and add frozen mix. Decorate with cherry and pineapple.

Ingredients to make a piña colada can be purchased at Dixie Liquor at 3429 M St. in Georgetown.

Barbecue’s Best

There might be no culinary tradition as richly and authentically American as pit barbecue. Like the blues, it is so irrevocably bound to Southern culture and Americana that it defies attempts at assimilation or fusion with the modern.

Predating the Civil War, a pig roast, or “pig-pickin’,” was a celebration in itself, bringing together poor Southern towns to partake in a communal feast. The community is alive today in Georgetown, shepherded by two men with opposite backgrounds, separate philosophies, divergent stories. Where they unite is in a love for the high art of the low and slow, the transformation of the raw to the refined. In the world of Richard Brooks and John Snedden, anyone who appreciates such heritage is welcome to the table. That it courses through the most historic neighborhood in Washington is no accident. It is instead a quiet reminder of what this city once was and who we once were.

More than a style of cooking, barbecue is a culture, and if you live below the Mason-Dixon Line, odds are you are a part of it. Washington, D.C. is an oft-forgotten wealth of Southern tradition, and while its barbecue scene may not have the clarion call of Memphis ribs or Carolina slaw, the craft is thriving. The Beer, Bourbon and BBQ festival at the National Harbor is this weekend. Safeway’s National Capital Barbecue Battle, now in its 17th year, holds court the weekend of June 26. It’s time to sharpen your palette.

Richard Brooks of Old Glory

Outside Old Glory BBQ, the scent of smoked meats permeates the corner of Wisconsin and M Streets like the Carolina State Fair. On a given evening, it is almost impossible to walk through Georgetown without catching a whiff of sweet pork and baked beans. Executive Chef Richard Brooks has been crafting a melting pot of regional barbecue fare since he came aboard in 1995.

Raised in Farmville, VA, Brooks grew up smoking and curing his family’s farm-raised pigs with his father and grandfather. “I never went to culinary school,” he admits. “I learned from my parents.” Though raised in the Carolina tradition — sweet pulled pork with a vinegar-based sauce — he has become a national representative for all styles of American barbecue. If they do it in Texas or Tennessee, odds are Brooks does it in his kitchen.

Old Glory’s position as a true and authentic barbecue restaurant comes as a result of the combined inspirations from each corner of the country. And while all cuts of meat have their cooking variations, Brooks explains that the greater distinctions in barbecue styles come from the sauces. The rubs, marinades and sauces Brooks devises are pulled from the six major barbecue regions; Savannah, Lexington, East Carolina, Southwest Texas, Memphis and Kansas City are all represented on each table in rows of labeled bottles. Brooks, who talks about diverse flavors like common hearsay, is acutely aware of the variables. He mixes each sauce in house on a regular basis, perpetually tweaking the recipes. “Just did Kansas City not too long ago,” he says. “Changed it up a little bit.”

The Southwest Texas sauce, for instance, uses three different kinds of chili peppers, and the Savannah sauce (highly recommended) is defined by a healthy dose of mustard. The key to a good sauce, according to Brooks, is the perfect mixture of the base ingredients — a balance between sweet, spicy and sour.

But there is no true guideline for barbecuing, as Brooks knows, and a lot of the process relies on intuition and an intimacy with the process. As a result, no man’s barbecue will ever be quite like his neighbor’s, and the variations, however subtle, are indeed endless.

“My kitchen staff knows most of my recipes,” says Brooks. “But it don’t taste the same when they make it … And I always tell them — I say, ‘Hey, you gotta make love to the food, man! You gotta do it right!’”

His process is simple: low and slow and plenty of love. The meat, be it pork, beef or chicken, first marinates for 24 hours, which, according to Brooks, “helps draw the salt out … so it will be real moist when it cooks.” The cuts then get put in the smoker. The smoke from slow burning hickory wood is ventilated through the smoker into the accompanying “pit,” a moisture-containing box, for the meat to cook at a temperature of around 225 degrees for 12 hours. Then the meat comes out, gets slathered in sauce and plated.

Brooks has confidence in the quality and popularity of the D.C. barbecue scene. With the growing popularity of the National Capital Barbecue Battle and the Beer, Bourbon and BBQ Festival, it is clear that many District residents are Southern at heart.

Still, he is aware of the growing health conscience of guests, and knows that his down-home offerings might not be too good for the waste line. Consequently, he is beginning to tweak the menu to better accommodate healthier crowds, fielding vegetarian options and some leaner meats. Still, there is more than a little irony to his voice when he says, “we’re putting some healthy stuff on there.”

But never worry. The slow cooked divinity of Old Glory will remain as fatty and delicious as any barbecue around. The brisket and accompanying brisket sauce will have you stuffing yourself well past the time your stomach fills up. The sticky chicken, Brooks’ personal favorite, is generously glazed with a pineapple bourbon sauce. The chopped beef with Memphis onions, sweet and juicy, is perhaps the most barbecue rich item on the menu. The ribs are a two-part harmony of smoky and sweet. And the pulled pork is no joke. It might as well be out of Lexington, NC.

However, the crowning essence of Brooks’ barbecue is not in any singular dish, but in its combination of all the national flavors. Brooks’ menu is something of a culinary democracy, representing a diverse array of barbecue from across the country.

John Snedden: Rocklands’ Barbecue Whiz

As a college student, John B. Snedden just liked to grill.

It’s not hard to imagine why, given that his alma mater, Washington and Lee University, used to sponsor campuswide pig roasts stocked with jungle juice and endless slabs of fresh pork shoulders — a tradition gone the way of the buffalo when oversized collegiate partying started making national headlines. At the time, Snedden, who grew up feeding on sausage and slow cooked pork in a family of six boys, wasted no time in joining the university’s official pig roast committee.

But what would fade to nostalgic — perhaps hazy — episodes of more intemperate days for his peers would become an obsession for the tall, winsome Philadelphia native. Snedden would go on to perfect his barbecue technique and establish Rocklands, the Wisconsin Avenue barbecue phenom that for two decades has sparked cult-like fanfare among locals and visitors alike, and has since expanded to three additional locations around metropolitan Washington. At the time, he may not have realized where his hobby would take him. In fact, after he graduated with degrees in chemistry, physics and biology, he very nearly traded in his grill tongs and tinderbox for a Petri dish and forceps.

“Part of the impetus,” says Snedden on his pursuit of barbecue, “was I was in [medical] school and just really not happy with what I was doing.” Halfway through med school, he was invited by chance to a barbecue competition in downtown D.C., organized by the Reagan administration. That day, he won first place for his ribs, and immediately began taking requests as a caterer. “I went home and told my parents that I had gotten this opportunity. I was very unhappy in school, and was going to take a change in path.”

It might be every parent’s worst nightmare about their child, up there with going to war or joining the circus: Mom, Dad, I’m going to swap out the M.D. for B.B.Q. To their credit, the elder Sneddens took it in stride, if a bit nervously.

“Uh, they were not real happy to hear that initially,” their son recalls. “[But] I had a decent relationship with my parents, so I think that they recognized that I was not real happy… I think they recognized you gotta do what you’re excited about.”

Fulfillment and prestige, it seems, don’t always go hand in hand, at least at first. The fledgling barbecue operation started small in 1990, mostly catering out of a basement suite in Glover Park. In the beginning, the company would often make what was asked of them, even entertaining exotic requests for ethnic dishes far removed from the down-home American scope. But barbecue was always the watchword, and Snedden was on a mission to solidify its creation into a singular, artful method.

“I think barbecue has been a bit bastardized in the industry,” he says, “because you can go somewhere and open up a can of tuna fish, put barbecue sauce on it, and they’ll call it tuna barbecue. It’s not, really, because they haven’t used the barbecue process … a process of cooking.”

Snedden is understandably mum about the nitty-gritty of his process, but calls it the “grease smoke method,” which he perfected on a grill of his own design. The concept is unorthodox: instead of funneling smoke from a side firebox into a cooking chamber, one slowly roasts the meat directly over a fire — fueled only by hickory and red oak wood — for up to 12 hours, being careful to keep the meat out of flame’s reach. He makes an eloquent case for the science behind it, rattling off the endothermic reactions and chemical formulas involved and somehow arranging it cogently for the layman.

Yet you sense there is something more to it, some unquantifiable element distilled from years of practice or perhaps just plain luck. Whatever it is, the proof is in the product, a smoky, dark-pink kaleidoscope of flavors that’s as tasty by itself as it is smothered in sauce, which, according to the Rocklands philosophy, is more of a distractive accessory of otherwise expertly cooked meat. Still, the house barbecue sauce, a slightly vinegary take on the Memphis tradition astew with onions and peppercorns, is awfully damn good. Armchair sauce connoisseurs will also enjoy the restaurant’s “Wall of Fire,” a sort of library of sauce bottles encouraging experimentation, mixture and fresh experience.

Twenty years after firing up the grill, Snedden’s creation remains consistent. Other than a few offbeat recipes — the Pearl and Dog Salad are perennial favorites with regulars — the Rocklands menu offers just the essentials: pulled pork and chicken, spare ribs, brisket, homemade slaw, baked beans. The company still holds a huge stake in catering (constituting 45 percent of its revenue), still donates food and time to school performances, charity fundraisers and community events, stills mans its four restaurants from a tiny freestanding bungalow in Glover Park, right next door to the original basement. Snedden brushes aside his accolades, instead crediting his staff and family, with whom he consults regularly, for his success. He hands off a good deal of autonomy to the managers at his satellite restaurants. When we tour the kitchen, he introduces the cooks by name. Inside, around noon, the smell of dry rub infects the air, smoke curls up to the ceiling, the customer line stretches out the door.

In the science world, you’d call that kind of experiment a breakthrough.
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Perfect Pies

We’ve scouted the town to bring you our picks for the best pizzas in D.C. Whether you’re after a traditional recipe or something with true pizzazz, Washington’s contributions to America’s favorite food stack up easily to the best efforts of New York or Chicago.

Best Margherita Pizza: RedRocks Firebrick Pizzeria
Columbia Heights (1036 Park Road)

Perhaps it would seem bizarre to discover that a converted brothel out of Columbia Heights has emerged as one of the area’s tastiest pizza destinations, but RedRocks makes no apologies — nor do they have reason to. While their base of operations is the corner house of a modest residential block, with an interior recalling a speakeasy, their traditional Neapolitan pies exemplify the culinary history of their Italian ancestry. RedRocks gets the Downtowner’s vote for best traditional margherita pizza in the city.

The selling point here is the crust. Their dough, prepared fresh daily, is a blend of imported “Caputo 00” Italian flour, the finest milled grain widely recognized as the world’s best pizza flour. Thin yet crisp, bubbly and slightly charred, the wood-fired crust has an extra pinch of salt to help the mozzarella and fresh tomato erupt with flavor, wholly fulfilling the aromatic anticipation. The liberal use of basil leaves, tossed whole onto the pie, adds an herbal flourish that cools and refreshes the palette.

The menu has a wide array of choice vegetarian options, notably the “Pizze Bianche,” with roasted eggplant, goat cheese and pesto. The umbrella-cluttered patio, almost as large as the interior seating area, makes for ideal summer dining. Their Monday night special, half price bottles of wine, is another draw. This one is not to be missed.

Pizza with a Kiss & a Kick: Moroni & Brother’s Restaurant
Petworth (4811 Georgia Ave.)

In 1991, José and Reyna Velazquez were dishwashers at Pizzeria Paradiso, having just come to the US from El Salvador. They worked their way up to head chefs there, perfecting the craft of the wood-fired, brick oven pizza. Almost 20 years later, Moroni & Brother’s brings together their native and entrepreneurial influences, serving traditional Salvadoran cuisine by day and gourmet pizza by night.

Though the restaurant is only three years old, one might assume upon entering that Moroni & Brother’s has been in the neighborhood for decades. There is a local complacency to the dim atmosphere and unpretentious décor, the brick oven behind the small bar toward the back, unromantically wedged between towers of pizza boxes and aluminum shelving.

Their pizza, however, is as robust and tasty as they come. Although José maintains that his pizza is strictly and traditionally Italian, his Salvadoran roots betray him — much to the delight of pizza lovers. The crust is thick, soft and mellow, with a touch of sweetness that complements the fresh vegetables and frequently utilized spicier toppings. The Diavola, one of their best sellers, is lushly topped with spicy sausage, red onion, sweet peppers and jalepenos — not the most traditional Italian pie, but a damn good one. Other noteworthy additions include the Explosive, with spicy salami, black olives, and hot pepper flakes, and the Bianca, with oregano, parsely, red onion, pine nuts and parmesan. Moroni & Brothers is yet another reason to keep an epicurean eye on Petworth.

Best Lunch & By-the-Slice Spot: Pete’s New Haven Style Apizza
Columbia Heights (1400 Irving Street, Suite 103)

Pizza by the slice is difficult to find outside of New York City, but Pete’s New Haven has introduced it to the District with serious verve. Sitting on top of Columbia Heights Metro and selling a wide, creative variety of pizza by the slice at a great price (starting at $2.50), Pete’s is the ideal place to stop for a quick bite or a tasty lunch.

New Haven-style Apizza (pronounced “ah-Beets”) is a lesser-known, yet thoroughly distinct style of pizza. “The focus is on the crust,” says Dominic Palazzolo, assistant manager. It has a characteristically thin crust that is crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. The pizzas are enormous — 18 inches in diameter — and the slices hold their shape when picked up, without folding over and spilling.

The toppings are just as noteworthy. Their best seller, “Edge of the Woods,” is heaped with ricotta cheese and spinach and blanketed with crispy fried eggplant. This pie is a signature, unique to most any pizza experience you are likely to have. Their “Staven,” a twist on the traditional pepperoni and sausage, comes with caramelized onions, red pepper flakes and whole roasted cloves of garlic.

The Sorbillo is another rare treat. The “birthplace of the pizza,” this rectangular crust is filled with salumi and mozzarella, and topped with a healthy dollop of ricotta.

Though perhaps most impressive of all is that Pete’s New Haven has gluten-free pizza on the menu. The dough is made with tapioca starch and chickpea flour. “It’s a great feeling for us,” says Palazzolo of the gluten-free pie, “to be able to provide pizza for people who haven’t had it for upwards of five to 10 years.”

As a family owned and operated restaurant, it is a mission of Pete’s New Haven to support other small, local businesses. Their soda fountain sports only Boylan Soda, a New Jersey-based organic soda company. Likewise, many of the ingredients and toppings are organic and locally grown. With a new location in Friendship Heights opening this week, there’s plenty to go around.

Best Dining Experience: Il Canale
Georgetown (1063 31st St)

Just off M Street in Georgetown, Il Canale has fashioned a reputation for serving up authentic Italian cuisine and thin crust gourmet pizza. It is in a comfortable location by the C&O Canal, far enough removed from the bustling traffic to feel secluded and intimate. Sitting in the small patio on the antiquated brick sidewalk, the atmosphere alludes to a small Florentine eatery. Inside the décor is chic and modern. The waiters are well informed of the restaurant’s mission, and delight in discussing the menu and culinary traditions with customers. It is a good place to enjoy good food.

This is not to detract from the food itself. Steeped in the richness of Italian tradition, there is a reliable consistency in the confidence with which each dish is prepared. Even the table bread comes with an excellent dip of olive oil, pepper flakes, marinated garlic cloves and rosemary.

Their Neapolitan pizzas have fluffy, substantial crusts, well browned on the outside. The tomato sauce is ripe, tangy and fragrant, and the buffalo mozzarella tastes farm fresh, absorbing the strong, fragrant basil. The resulting pizza is a perfectly balanced work of craft. Artisanal pizza at its finest.

Best Pizza after the Game: Matchbox
Chinatown (713 H Street), also Capitol Hill (521 Eighth St. S.E.) and Rockville, MD (Fall 2010)

The four guys behind Chinatown’s Matchbox — New Yorkers Perry, Ty, Mark and Drew — make no bones about the wide ethnic influences on their menu, a sort of neo-Mediterranean-Southwest-American blur. Believe us, it’s no detriment. Delightfully labyrinthine floor plan, professional, friendly wait staff and wood-and-glass-intensive décor aside, the menu alone is enough reason why Matchbox has earned loving nods from foodies across the city since it opened in 2002.

While the uninitiated may come for the traditional entrees, spend your energy (and hard-earned cash) on their pizza, fired expertly in an 800-degree wood oven and served up as a 10- or 14-inch pie. We tried the veteran “spicy meatball” pizza, a regulars’ favorite from day one, featuring pureed garlic, bacon bits, crushed red pepper and halved meatballs over a layer of fresh mozzarella. Simply superb. The low, smoldering spice is enough to satisfy the discriminating three-alarmer, but won’t overpower those who prefer a milder flavor. Also delicious was the coppa and arugula pie, termed quasi-vegetarian (and truly so, if you forego the ham) and topped with decorous rounds of charcuterie, Roma tomatoes and a lush bundle of Mr. President’s favorite green. Expect a generous smoky carbon taste from the crust.

Matchbox is also known for their mini-burgers, minimal wine markups (a bottle of 2006 Duckhorn merlot will run you a very reasonable $76) and respectable selection of craft beers. If you’re not making a beeline here after a Caps or Wizards game, you’re just plain missing out.

Best Place for Pizza and a Brew: Pizzeria Paradiso
Dupont Circle (2003 P St.), Georgetown (3282 M St.)

If you’re a local, you’ve no doubt caught wind by now of Paradiso’s legendary pizza. If you’re especially plugged in, you may even have learned it goes better with one of their painstakingly selected craft beers, most from breweries so indie you’ve probably never heard of them (Yeah, we did just say that. Please forward outraged complaints to our editor). Add in a casual, community atmosphere with Hendrix and Johnny Cash blaring overhead, and you’ve got a recipe for a night (or lunch) out that can’t fail.

First, the pizza: The brainchild of virtuoso chef Ruth Gresser — who once held court at Dupont’s Obelisk — Paradiso’s spin on Neapolitan pizza (they call it “Tuscan”) flaunts a puffy, airy brown crust loaded with astonishingly fresh tomato chunks and Italian cheeses ranging from Parmesan to pecorino (and, of course, mozzarella). We recommend the “Atomica,” a moderately spicy spread of salami, briny black olives and pepper flakes. But let’s be honest: you can’t really steer yourself wrong here. Pies come in 8- or 12-inch sizes.

Then there’s the beer. When you finally navigate through the dissertation-length beer list, you’ll find yourself frothing at the mouth with questions (wild yeast ale or Flemish sour?). Or maybe it’s thirst. You may also be a bit overwhelmed, so if you’re still at a loss, ask one of the very knowledgeable servers to get you started. From there, start exploring. The two Paradiso restaurants boast nearly 30 taps and 300 bottle varieties between them with amazingly little overlap. They also rotate their brews every two weeks, so exercise patience with all your might; you’ll get to try them all in due time. Don’t miss a chance to stop by the downstairs bar on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings from 5 to 7 p.m. All drafts are half off, making for, arguably, the best happy hour in town.

Most Authentic Italian: Two Amys
Cleveland Park (3715 Macomb St.)

The one trouble with Cleveland Park’s most famous pizzeria is just that — it’s famous. There’s a reason the atmosphere is packed and boisterous, and it likely has to do with the crowds thronging at the doorways on the weekend just to get a seat. But trust us, it’s worth it. On a Saturday night, a party of four should have just enough time for a quick stroll to the National Cathedral before their table’s ready. Once inside, sit down and take in the Spartan, quaint décor — rub your hands along the bare wood bench tables, dish out a little red pepper from the square jar and order yourself a stemless glass of montepulciano. If you’re with your sweetheart, head to the back for a half pint of Moretti beer at the woodplank bar, over which cured meats deliciously hang.

The menu at Two Amys is quick to point out that the restaurant abides by Neapolitan pizza standards outlined by the Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC), the Italian quality assurance standard (and you thought it was just for wine!). Sink your teeth into a bite of their signature Margherita Extra and you won’t be surprised it gets a stamp from the Italian brass. Lovingly floated on a chewy, slightly salty crust are impeccable chopped tomatoes, creamy, essential buffalo mozzarella and ripe cherry tomato halves for good measure. If you’re feeling adventurous, order a little arugula on top and tuck in. The pies are served unsliced, so have your knife and fork at the ready, and keep your “bellissimas” to a low volume.

Plates from the Park

Now in its eighth year, the Georgetown Farmers’ Market in Rose Park, sponsored by the Friends of Rose Park in cooperation with the D.C. Division of Parks and Recreation, is open from 3 to 7 p.m. every Wednesday (rain or shine) until the last Wednesday in October at the corner of O and 26th Streets.

Each week the Friends of Rose Park suggest a recipe using ingredients in season and available at the farmer’s market. This week we are featuring a recipe for Tomato Bread Salad, provided by Pam Moore of the Friends of Rose Park. There are delicious tomatoes and tasty fresh bread available at the farmer’s market, and this recipe produces a wonderful salad for a hot summer evening.

Tomato Bread Salad
• 1/2 12-inch French baguette cut into 3/4-inch chunks
• 1 large garlic clove
• Olive oil

Rub bread with oil and garlic, toast in a skillet on the stove until golden brown.

• 6 medium or large tomatoes, cut into large chunks
• 1/2 medium onion, chopped
• 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
• 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
• 1/2 cup olive oil

Place drained tomatoes in bowl. Whisk vinegar and oil together. Mix all ingredients and serve immediately.

Faces of the Farm

When Washington chef Ris Lacoste navigates her hatchback Saab into a tight corner space at one of a half dozen farmers’ markets in D.C. and Northern Virginia, there’s scarcely enough time for her to hop out before being met with a bear hug from a smiling, bronze-skinned farmer materializing by her door.

Talk about a warm welcome.

“I still go to the market. I love going to the market. It’s church to me,” Ris says. And you can’t help but notice, as she holds to her nose a ripe peach or fistful of basil, a kind of ecclesiastical intensity, a spiritual joy struggling to be both reverent and unloosed at once. Having purchased top-quality produce direct from farmers for 20 years — ingredients that have, in part, accelerated her reputation and assisted her meteoric rise to executive chef of 1789 and, most recently, the much-lauded RIS — you could say she’s a defender of the faith, of knowing who grew the food on your plate, which makes it all the more sacred.

In a city hemmed in on all sides by farmland, that congregation is growing fast.

New farmers’ markets are springing up almost every year in the District, and like any fad, enduring or not, it is bound to come equipped with buzzwords. So too within the farmers’ market niche, in which you’ll often hear “organic” tacked onto pesticide-free crops, or the “quality over quantity” concept anointing produce with a kind of life force, a value all its own beyond the bulk rate doled out by grocery clerks.

Above all, you’ll hear the word “community,” a vast concept with particular resonance in the world of food, encompassing everything from breaking bread with one another to the symbiotic bond between farmers and those they feed, the cyclical relationship that underpins such a gathering of neighbors and friends.

With Ris as my guide, I visited five of Washington’s markets, on the lookout for the best produce, but mostly with an eye for the men and women who grow it and bring it to our fingertips. Come meet the region’s farmers — and what they have to offer.

Glover Park and Burleith

Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Wisconsin Avenue and 34th Street (Hardy Middle School parking lot)
Through Oct. 30

It’s worth the trip up Wisconsin to this Georgetown newcomer, just two years old but already ahead of the pack in its community outreach efforts, not to mention its role as a hub for Georgetown, Glover Park and Burleith neighbors out for a Saturday stroll with family, friends or the pooch. Executive Director Lauren Biel and team, who manage the market through a non-profit known as D.C. Greens, have worked overtime to make the market an engaging community center, bringing in bluegrass musicians, jugglers and even a road bike technician. The organization is also pitching a program to build gardens at public schools across the District this fall, and staunchly supports the D.C. Farm to School Network, an initiative tapping local — and higher quality — food sources for the District’s public schools. Biel says such an environment will help draw residents away from the impersonal environment of behemoth supermarkets.

“[By moving away from farmers’ markets], you lose the agora, you lose that community meeting ground, so to have this come back … we know that we need these places, that it’s the right way to live life, a fuller, more mutual experience,” she says.

Making the rounds, we were impressed by the selection, ranging from Jason Edwards’ stunning hydrangeas to authentic Parisian croissants, courtesy of Bonaparte Breads’ Claudio Schmidt. Whitmore Farm’s Will Morrow showed us four different color varieties of beet and offered up a few of his game rabbits, raised on site in Maryland and now making a popular resurgence. At Montross, VA’s Westmoreland Produce, Arnulfo Medina’s nonpareil selection of cherry and heirloom tomatoes — including the strange, robust Cherokee purple variety — caught our eye, along with his melons (honeydew and yellow) and grab-bag of chili peppers.

Finally, at Suzanne Smallwood’s Veggie Emporium, we stumbled across something even Ris had never seen before: a lemon cucumber, a yellow, tart variety of the classic salad topper with a loyal following.

Recipe: Blue Goat Cheese Panzanella Salad

3 stalks celery, sliced
1/2 head radicchio, cut into roughly 1-inch squares
2 cups baby spinach, cleaned and dried
1/2 head romaine, cut into roughly 1-inch squares
6 radishes, sliced
48 cherry tomatoes, cut in half, any or mixed colors
1 small red onion, cut into julienne

1 loaf raisin walnut bread, cut into half-inch cubes for croutons
9 ounces blue goat cheese, cut into half-inch cubes

For the dressing:
Makes 5 cups, much more than you need
2 shallots, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
Zest and juice of two oranges
2 tablespoons fresh chopped basil
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 cup Kalamata olive brine
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 cup walnut oil
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup peanut oil
Freshly cracked black pepper

For the port glaze:
16 ounces port
8 ounces balsamic vinegar

To make the glaze, combine the port and balsamic vinegar in a heavy based non-reactive pan and reduce to a thick syrup. The 3 cups of liquid should reduce to about 4 ounces. Let cool and keep covered in the refrigerator for as long as a month.

To make the vinaigrette, combine all of the ingredients except the oils in a bowl. Slowly whisk in the oils one at a time starting with the walnut oil followed by the olive oil and then the peanut oil. Vinegars and oils vary in strength and flavor. Each dressing is different. You may therefore not need to add all of the oil in this recipe. Be sure to taste the vinaigrette before adding the last of the oil to check for desired level of acidity. Taste for seasoning and adjust. The vinaigrette can be made and kept covered in the refrigerator for up to a month. However, it is best served at room temperature.

Toss 1 1/2 cups of the raisin walnut croutons in olive oil and toast in a 350 degree oven until golden.

To make the salad, combine all of the ingredients in a bowl, including the croutons but not the cheese. Season with salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Dress to your liking with the olive vinaigrette and divide the mix into 6 bowls. Stud each salad with about 1 1/2 ounces of the blue goat cheese and drizzle with the port glaze.

Rose Park

Wednesdays, 3 to 7 p.m.
O and 26th Streets
Through Oct. 27

Started by the Friends of Rose Park in 2003 under a partnership with D.C. parks and rec, this is the original Georgetown market, run by volunteers and conveniently located for locals and downtown visitors alike. We took a moment to chat with Anchor Nursery’s Jim Breger and his wife Alice, based in Galena, MD. While the nursery specializes in growing herbs (basil is a perennial favorite among customers), the Bregers also stock a variety of exotic veggies, including a flying saucer-shaped squash and the oriental heirloom eggplant, roundish and hued whitish-purple. Fans of spicy will feel right at home next to Anchor’s barrel of hot peppers — jalapenos, poblanos and super chilis among them.

Recipe: Girl Scout CEO Camp Salsa
By Ris Lacoste

4 medium tomatoes (about 1 1/4-inch, diced)
1 small onion, diced (1/4-inch, 1/2 cup diced)
1 small poblano chili, finely diced (3 tablespoons, finely diced)
1 jalapeno chili, minced (2 tablespoons, minced)
1 large clove garlic, minced (1 tablespoon, minced)
3 scallions, diced (1/2 cup, diced)
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
Juice of 1/2 lime (1/2 ounce, 1 tablespoon)
1/2 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon sugar

Makes about 3 cups

Cut the 4 tomatoes in half horizontally. Squeeze out the seeds into a bowl. Discard the seeds. Puree 4 of the tomato halves in a blender. Cut the remaining 4 halves into 1/4-inch dice. Place tomato puree and diced tomatoes in a bowl and add all of the remaining ingredients. Mix well with a spoon and taste for seasoning. Adjust with more salt, pepper, sugar or lime juice to balance the flavors to taste. Adjustments will be necessary depending on the ripeness and acidity of the tomatoes. Make your own version of salsa by adding other ingredients such as tomatillos, corn, cucumber, other summer vegetables, pineapple, mango, fresh or roasted chilis of any kind. The options are endless. Serve with tortilla chips.

FreshFarm Market, by the White House

Thursdays, 3 to 7 p.m.
810 Vermont Ave.
Through Nov. 18

Part of an 11-market network governing the Chesapeake Bay region, FreshFarm’s White House location serves as an easy midpoint between Georgetown and the city center, its proximity to the executive mansion even earning a nod from the first family (Michelle Obama stood alongside Mayor Fenty during the market’s opening ceremony this spring). Ris and I stopped by Jim Huyett’s Sunnyside Farm, based in West Virginia, for a crate of delicious peaches, perfectly ripe for the season. Across the aisle, Firefly Farms’ Gloria Garrett sliced off a few samples of their “Merry Goat Round,” a mild, creamy goat cheese that took silver at the prestigious World Cheese awards.

Recipe: Peaches and Honey Bread Pudding (serves 12)
By Terri Horn

1 loaf brioche or challah, crusted and cubed
6 peaches, peeled and sliced and tossed with a bit of honey and a dash of lemon juice
8 ounces white chocolate, cut into chunks

Custard: 1 quart heavy cream
1/2 vanilla bean, scraped
9 eggs, whisked just to mix
6 ounces sugar
Whisk together eggs and sugar

Heat cream with vanilla bean just to a boil. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar. Temper the hot cream into the egg mixture. Strain. Fill buttered 6-8 ounce molds half full with brioche cubes. Stud with peach slices. Cover with more brioche cubes. Stud with 3 or 4 white chocolate chunks. Pour warm custard over and let sit for 30 minutes, adding more as it sits to keep mold full. Bake in water bath at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, depending on the size of the mold. Serve warm with crème anglaise, raspberry sauce and/or lightly sweetened whipped cream.


Saturdays, 8 a.m. to 12 p.m.
Courthouse Road and 14th Street, Arlington (Courthouse parking lot)

Arlington is great for the 20- or 30-something on the go. Located within sight of the Court House Metro stop (and surrounded by ample parking), this well attended gem stacks up to any market found in the District. We first paid a visit to Jesus Ochoba of Laurel Grove Farm near Reston, VA, which offered an assortment of greens, yellow squash, white and purple eggplant, red radishes and potatoes. The next tent over was Ellen Polishuk with Potomac Vegetable Farm, Ris’ favorite for shallots and herbs.

Afterward, we stopped by to visit an old hand at Arlington’s market. Westmoreland Berry Farm, founded by Chuck Geyer and a charter member of the market for nearly three decades, was selling plump tins of blueberries by the pallet and walnut-sized blackberries, true to form. Delicious.

Recipe: Mixed Berry Upside-down Cake
By Chris Kujala

Makes 1 – 8 inch cake
1 1/2 – 2 cups mixed berries

For the topping:
8 ounces unsalted butter
8 ounces light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the cake batter:
1 cup semolina flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 egg whites
1 cup whole milk
1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
8 ounces unsalted butter, melted
Set the oven to 325 degrees.

Spray or grease one 8-inch cake pan and line with parchment paper. Melt the 8 ounces of butter in a heavy based sauce pot. Add the sugar and vanilla and stir until dissolved and the mixture is smooth. Pour into the prepared cake pan and chill until firm.
To make the cake batter, whisk together all dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Whisk together the egg whites, milk, vanilla, lemon juice and zest. Whisk the wet mixture into the dry ingredients and mix until smooth. Whisk in the melted butter.
Add a single layer of mixed berries to cover the bottom of the pan set with the chilled brown sugar-butter mixture. Pour the cake batter over the fruit and tap the pan on the counter a few times to eliminate any air bubbles. Bake in a 325-degree oven about 20 minutes or until a toothpick placed in the center of the cake comes out clean.

Serve warm with ice cream of your choice.

Dupont Circle

Sundays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. (10 a.m. to 1 p.m. January-March)
1500 block, 20th Street

Earning nods from the Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times, the Dupont farmers’ market, also part of the FreshFarm network, is likely the closest thing to a flagship within the Northwest quadrant. Two hallway-like rows of shouting vendors line the street of this already lively neighborhood, letting visitors experience something reminiscent of Old World bazaars. It’s a hoot.

Our first stop was the Pennsylvania-based Toigo Orchards, helmed by none other than Mark Toigo, a gregarious descendant of Italian grappa makers with an encyclopedic command of the science behind his crop. If you can tear yourself away from this raconteur’s captivating stories, don’t forget to check out his produce — particularly unique are his jars of fresh honey (harvested on site) and a Jamaican green called callaloo, stewed with okra and Caribbean spices.

Heinz Thomet, recommended highly by Ris for his figs, had set up shop next door. Across the path, Zach Lester of Fredericksburg’s Tree and Leaf Farm showed us his beautiful, tear drop-shaped Magda squash and heirloom carrots, which, interestingly, are more flavorful in winter.

Tom from Leesburg’s Blue Ridge Dairy showed off his collection of artisanal cheeses and yogurt, including aged smoked mozzarella, mascarpone, Greek yogurt, Honey YoFresh (made with whole milk) and several other delights.

Ris and I made a final stop at Eli Cook’s Spring Valley Farm, located in Shepherdstown, WV. Not to be missed are his wall of corn, a mound of pristine stalks barely a day old, juicy peaches and lush bunches of opal basil, slightly less flavorful than the traditional variety but lit up by a stunning purple color.

Recipe: Crab Cakes with Jalapeño Creamed Corn

6 crab cakes

For the jalapeño creamed corn:
4 ears sweet corn
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 freshly diced grilled or roasted jalapeño pepper
Sugar, if needed
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
Unsalted butter

For the garnish:
Scallions, cut into fine julienne
Basil sprigs

Cut kernels off ears of corn (should yield about 2 cups of corn) and place kernels in a saucepan. Barely cover with heavy cream. Add jalapeño pepper and a pinch of sugar, if needed. Cook until cream reduces slightly. Finish with salt, white pepper and a little butter. Feel free to lighten this recipe with milk and/or light cream. Or use corn milk made by covering the shucked ears of corn with milk, bringing to a boil and simmering gently until the corn milk is released from the ears, about 20 minutes

In a sauté pan, heat the oil or clarified butter. Sauté the crab cakes until golden brown, about 4 minutes per side.

To serve, ladle 3 oz. of corn cream on to 8 plates. Place 1 crab cake on each plate and garnish with scallions and basil.

UPDATE: Check out CNN’s spot on Ris and Spring Valley farm [here](
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