Passport DC Kicks Off

What works for baseball works for embassies. Someone had the bright idea of finally bringing a baseball team to Washington after many years of absence, based on the idea that if you build it, people will come. “It” turned out to be a very expensive stadium, and sure enough, people came, and probably more will come when the Washington Nationals get better, which could even be this year. Something of the same principle has begun to work for Washington’s unique community of international embassies. Several years ago, the European Union nations decided to throw open the doors of their embassies and ambassador residences to the public in a kind of spring-like gesture of welcome to the Washington community, throwing in exhibitions, person-to-person meetings, music, culture and food. The response — they called it Passport DC — was amazing. Thousands showed up for a day of cultural exchange, soaking in new things, residents and tourists alike. In fact, things were so promising that Cultural Tourism, working with embassies and ambassadors and other partners, expanded the idea the following year, including many of the rest of the embassies in Washington. This year, Passport DC is a month-long event, with special events during the week, but comprising mainly four weekends of major inter-cultural festivities and contact. Things began May 1 on the hottest day of the year in Washington so far with the Around the World Embassy Tour, in which some 30 embassies and some ambassadorial residences threw open their doors along Massachusetts Avenue’s Embassy Row, at International Court off Connecticut Avenue and various other sites. Thousands turned out again to experience a new (and free) event in which they could literally travel the far-flung corners of the world simply by standing in line and walking through a welcoming door. Embassies and sites as varied as Japan, Zambia, Colombia, Mexico, Australia, Indonesia, Croatia, Haiti, Bangladesh, Brazil, the Dominican Republic and Ethiopia, to name a few, welcomed families, visitors, tourists and residents. One woman, a recent transplant from Florida waiting in line for a calligraphy work at the Embassy of Korea, said that she had made it to eight embassies. “Pretty good piece of travel,” she said. “We don’t have things like this in Florida.” A huge line snaked up to Massachusetts Avenue near the Dupont Circle Metro at Q Street, all people waiting to get into the Embassy of Colombia. Outside, a Colombian band played hips-don’t-lie kind of music and couples danced. Everywhere, there were lines of various lengths. They handed out green grocery bags at the Australian embassies and calendars at Kazakhstan. “We had about a thousand people here by two o’clock,” an official at the old, regal building of the Embassy of Zambia said. The process will be repeated this weekend when the European Union Embassies’ Open House Day (May 8 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.), called “Shortcut to Europe,” kicks off the 2010 Europe Week (May 9-16). All the EU nations will be represented, including Great Britain, where you might get to chat election results with the ambassador, Sweden, Spain, Greece (don’t ask), France, Germany, Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Finland, Belgium, Ireland and others. On Saturday, May 15, it’s time for the Meridian’s fourth annual International Children’s Festival at the Meridian International Center near Adams Morgan from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. This one charges $10 admission, a fair price for a nearly-all day festival of music, booths, performances, food, artistic, and craft demonstrations, with over a dozen embassies participating. On May 22, it’s the fifth annual Asian Heritage Festival and the Fiesta Asian Street Fair on Pennsylvania Avenue. For a complete schedule of events, exhibitions, performances and list of embassies, visit www.culturaltourismdc.org. [gallery ids="102630,102621,102612,102603,102595" nav="thumbs"]

2010 Summer Camp Guide

  -Ah, summertime — the apogee of every kid’s year. The quarter-long punctuation of an existence measured in semesters and three-day weekends. The annual big kahuna of all vacations. Adults living in Washington think of it as something of a dreadful time. You still go to work, you pay bills, you race around — just the same as any other season, only sweatier, and perhaps with a twinge of bitter animus that you, too, could once clear your schedule from Memorial to Labor Day, and you thought it endless. But that is the great allure of summer: that children, who in many ways are always wise beyond their years, somehow convince themselves with astonishing zeal that it will never end, which is maybe what makes the experience so formative and special. With the innocence of youth in mind, we’ve selected some of our favorite summer camps around the city and region. They have a funny way of making these hot three months fly by, but you can be sure the memories will endure. Audubon Naturalist Society www.audubonnaturalist.org, 301-652-9188 Where: Headquartered in Chevy Chase, MD; the Society operates two other camps in Leesburg and Clifton, VA. When: The first programs begin June 21 and extend through mid-August. Full-day (9-4) or half day programs are available, depending on the child’s age and schedule. Overnight trips are available for older students. How much: Classes start at $165. Offering unique programs for children aged 4 to 15, Audubon’s camps are designed to foster environmental awareness among the nation’s youth. They feature direct experiences with our natural world through hands-on activities, games, crafts, experiments, and explorations. Campers can expect to spend most of their time outdoors, but every camp has an indoor classroom to use as a home base. Levine School Music and Arts Day Camp www.levineschool.org, 202-686-8000 Where: Campuses in D.C. (2801 Upton St., Van Ness), Bethesda’s Strathmore Center and Arlington (Ballston). When: Full-day (9:30-3:30) and half-day (9:30-1:30) programs available from June 28-July 16 and July 19-August 6. How much: $1044 for full-day students, $720 half-day. Levine’s summer camp has a loyal following, with many campers returning each year. Levine nurtures the total musical child in a supportive and stimulating environment. Through singing, dancing, playing instruments and sharing artistic experiences, children develop skills for creative expression and aesthetic awareness that will last their entire lives. TIC Summer Camp www.ticcamp.com, 703-241-5542 Where: GWU’s satellite campus at 2100 Foxhall Road. Classes also available in Bethesda and McLean. When: 8:30 to 3, five days per week. Four sessions are operated throughout the summer, the first beginning June 21. Each lasts about a week and a half. How much: $800 per session. Total nerd camp this isn’t: from the beginning, campers are divided into two age groups, juniors (6th grade and younger) and seniors (7th grade and older). Each day, one group takes technology courses geared for kids, while the other is immersed in an athletic program; after lunch the groups switch places, so that each camper gets three hours of technology instruction and three hours of sports each day. Camp Arena Stage www.arenastage.org/camp, 202-554-9066 Where: Georgetown Visitation School, 1524 35th St. When: 9-4, five days a week. The camp offers a four-week intensive session beginning June 28 and a two-week half session beginning July 26. How much: $1600 for full session, $900 half Camp Arena Stage empowers young people to express themselves more fully through art by encouraging them to make art that speaks with their own voices. Campers create their own schedules, choosing from a host of classes in theater, music, dance, media and visual art. They can try unfamiliar art forms and/or pursue current artistic interests: it’s up to them. Camp Shakespeare www.shakespearetheatre.org, 202-547-5688 Where: STC’s rehearsal studios, 516 Eighth St. S.E. When: 10-5 daily, sessions begin June 21. How much: $695. And yes, the T-shirt’s included. This two-week day camp aims to enhance the understanding of Shakespeare’s language through the exploration of movement, text, improvisation and performance. Young people ages 9-18 will analyze and interpret Shakespeare’s text, create dynamic characters with their bodies, voices, and imaginations and explore the art of stage combat. Camp will culminate with a performance for friends and family onstage at the Lansburgh Theatre. Georgetown Day School’s Hopper Day Camp www.gds.org, 202-274-1683 Where: GDS’ lower school, 4530 MacArthur Blvd. When: Week-long sessions from 8:30 to 3, beginning June 21. Half-day options available. How much: $395 per week, ages pre-K to 11. For the youngsters. Start the day with 4 classes (arts, sports, drama, science, cooking & more) & spend the afternoons on water play, talent shows, field trips, Olympics and more. Each group of 5-10 campers will travel with a junior counselor; experienced teachers will lead each class. Sheridan School’s Shenandoah Summer Camp www.mountaincampus.org, 540-743-6603 Where: Sheridan Mountain Campus, Luray, VA. When: All-day sessions beginning early July. Most last five days, but older students may opt for two-week programs. How much: Sessions start at $565. High school-level “Ironman” programs run around $1300. For the adventurer in every family, Sheridan’s classic outdoor camp centers on community building, mastering outdoor skills and back-to-nature basics. You also can’t get a more idyllic setting: the 130-acre campus borders the Shenandoah River and Shenandoah National Park near Luray (not to mention its famous caverns). Campers will have their pick of opportunities to view wildlife and woods, and certainly make a few friendships along the way. Georgetown University Summer Day Camp at Yates Field House yates.georgetown.edu Where: Located right on Georgetown University at Yates Field House and Kehoe Field When: Six weeks offered with the first program beginning June 21 and the last program beginning July 26. Camp hours are from 9am to 4pm. After care is available until 4:30pm. How Much: Weekly tuition for Yates members is $275. Non-Yates members $375. Register online. Yates Summer Day Camp is celebrating their 30th year as a comprehensive day-long camp at Yates Field House and Kehoe Field. Campers ages 6-10 years enjoy activities such as arts and crafts, indoor and outdoor games, swimming, movies, talent shows and much more.

From Stables to Strawberries

A Spectacular Stable Tour Just after midnight on March 30, 1970, a large chestnut colt was foaled on a horse farm in Caroline County, VA. Three years later, this colt would become nothing short of a celebrity, electrifying the horse racing world and becoming the ninth horse to win the coveted Triple Crown of thoroughbred racing. His name was, of course, the legendary Secretariat. While many often think of Kentucky as the epicenter of thoroughbred racing, it’s important to remember that many racing champions began their careers and were trained right here in the Commonwealth. There’s no doubt that future champions will also trace their beginnings back to some of Virginia’s most impressive farms and training facilities. On the weekend of May 29, a handful of Virginia’s top farm owners invite you down their cozy drives and into their stables and training facilities as the Hunt Country Stable Tour celebrates its 51st year. Presented by the Trinity Episcopal Church in Upperville, this self-guided tour is a once-a-year opportunity to visit some of the most remarkable hunter and show jumper barns, breeding farms and polo facilities. Tickets may be purchased at any of the venues, with the exception of the Stone Bridge over Goose Creek. Be sure to visit the Trinity Episcopal Church and browse the wares of the many vendors at the country fair on the church lawn. Next, follow the map provided with your ticket and make your way through the Middleburg and Upperville area to the various venues on the tour. One stop on the tour you won’t want to miss is the Middleburg training track, but you’ll have to get there early on Saturday to catch all the action. Bring your camera and grab a rail-side spot as you watch young thoroughbreds rounding the 7/8-mile track during their training sessions. Several champions, including Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Spectacular Bid, began their training here. Come early, as the horses run before 9 a.m. — and only on Saturday. Not far from the training track is the Northern Virginia Animal Swim Center and Stables. We all know how beneficial water and swim therapy can be when recovering from surgery or an injury. The same holds true for our equine and canine friends, and what a unique facility they have for just that purpose. The swim center will be open Saturday only, with equine demonstrations throughout the day. In addition to these training facilities, be sure to make your way to the many beautiful private stables on the tour, including Willow Bend Farm, Windsor Farm, Rock Hill Farm, and Rokeby, just to name a few. For more information and a complete listing of all venues on the tour, check out www.huntcountrystabletour.org. A Delicious Festival Strawberries: sweet and delicious, they’re one of the first treats of summer and a definite reason for celebration. This delectable snack derived its name from the berries that are “strewn” about on the foliage of the plants. “Strewn berry” eventually became “strawberry,” and the rest is history. In fact, strawberries actually date to medieval times where they symbolized prosperity, peace, and perfection. Today, it’s tradition for spectators to enjoy strawberries and cream between tennis matches at Wimbledon. This year, beautiful Sky Meadow State Park is once again host to the Delaplane Strawberry Festival on May 29 and 30. Celebrating its 17th year and presented by the Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Delaplane, this festival has something fun for everyone. Catch a hayride through the park, then grab a bite to eat from one of the many food vendors and have a seat on a hay bale as you enjoy some great musical entertainment. Car enthusiasts will enjoy looking at the beautifully presented antique cars from the Bull Run Antique Car Club of America. And of course, there will be strawberries. Buy some to enjoy at the festival, and be sure to pick up some extra to take home. There’s no shortage of fun for the young ones either. Pony rides, a 4-H petting zoo, puppet shows, jugglers, clowns and children’s games are just some of the activities on tap to make this a special day for the kids. For additional information about the festival, visit www.delaplanestrawberryfestival.com.

No Slowing Down for Denyce Graves

A week ago Tuesday, Denyce Graves was in a car, talking on the phone, heading toward Dulles International Airport to catch a plane that would take her to Turkey. Graves, the mezzo-soprano superstar of the opera and recital world, had just left the Music Center at Strathmore in Bethesda, where she would be doing a recital on June 13, singing everything from Schumann to Handel to Gershwin. Meantime, she would be jetting to Turkey to appear in the Mersin Music Festival where, accompanied by the Bikent Symphony Orchestra on May 28, she would sing arias from operas by Bizet and Handel. The weekend before, she had just completed a grueling three-performances-in-a-row stint in Nashville with the Nashville Symphony’s production of Bartok’s one-act opera “Bluebeard’s Castle,” a production that included sets by glass sculptor Dale Chihuly. “It’s something I don’t usually do,” she said in a phone interview. “It’s exhausting, it’s hard on the voice. I’m used to a busy schedule, but you have to be careful, you really do.” Graves, in mid-career at full voice, busy with recitals and opera roles, is as close to an international performing icon as the world of opera and classical music has right now. It’s not just that — she all but owns the leading roles in “Carmen” and “Samson and Delilah,” and is the go-to voice and singer for historic and state occasions, such as the recent funeral for the renowned civil rights leader Dr. Dorothy Height at Washington National Cathedral. Her meteoric rise from what’s been described as an “under-privileged neighborhood” in Southwest Washington still resonates as a shining example of dreams-that-come-true success stories. She’s a triple threat — local D.C. girl makes good, wows them in her debut as at the Metropolitan Opera, travels constantly all over the world to perform at renowned and classic opera houses and concert halls. She’s the proud mother of five-year-old Ella, and last year married (for the third time) Dr. Robert Montgomery, a renowned John Hopkins heart surgeon, in a spectacular five-day wedding, preceded by a traditional Masai blessing ceremony in Kenya. She has grown into her fame and status, something that wasn’t always easy to handle. Being a role model is in the mix too: young African Americans look up to her as a measure of just how high you can reach. “That’s important, certainly,” she said. “I remember looking up to Leontyne Price in just the same way, or thinking of Marian Anderson, and everything she had to go through to persevere. And I love working with young people, and make sure they can come and see my performances.” Probably the biggest role model for Graves remains her mother, now the doting grandmother, who you could hear her talking in the background. “My mom raised us (there were three children) by herself, our father left us, she worked at UDC, she was the single mother, let me tell you,” she said. “There was no chance of us straying from the straight and narrow. I was a bit of a loner, kind of awkward, I wasn’t what you would call a cool kid.” But getting into Duke Ellington School for the Arts changed all that. She blossomed there, discovering the wide world of opera and classical music. “Duke Ellington and Judith Grove, one of my teachers there, was and is a huge part of my success. I discovered myself there, I am eternally grateful for that school,” she said. Part of the last year’s wedding celebration, in fact, was a day-after picnic on the school grounds in Georgetown. She and her husband live in Bethesda. She still seems to relish and enjoy compliments, or if someone has a memory of her performances, like seeing her at Mayor Anthony Williams inauguration, Dr. Height’s funeral or a production of “Carmen” at the Washington National Opera last year, where she was a vivid, fiery presence. Other people’s memories are even better. Here’s a Washington Post response to Graves when she sang at the 70th anniversary celebration at Marian Andersen’s historic 1939 concert at the Lincoln Memorial “Many of the tourists seemed oblivious to the operatic royalty in the midst. But Graves’ voice was so powerful it drew gasps from the audience as she sang.” She sang at the National Cathedral in a stirring and powerful rendition of “America the Beautiful” at a memorial service honoring the 9/11 dead, only three days after the event. “Mom spoils my daughter rotten,” she said over the phone. “Yes, mother, where’s that drill sergeant we all experienced?” she laughed. “She is a remarkable woman.” Her summer schedule is hectic. Following the June 13 recital at Strathmore, there’s the Cincinnati Opera 90th Anniversary Gala Concert (June 19), a performance of “Carmen” in Warsaw, Poland, (June 26), and in July there’s the Hohentwiel Festival in Baden-Wurttemberg in Germany, followed by another “Carmen.” If you start looking over her list of accomplishments, performances, honors and pit stops- — she lived in Paris for a time — you’d think she could even think about resting on her laurels a bit. “No, no,” she said, shaking off the suggestion strongly. “Let me tell you, I’ve got a very big wish list of things I haven’t done, things I want to do, performance-wise, and many other ways too, roles, music to explore, life experience.” We wrap up the conversation quickly. “I have to go,” she said. “We’re at the airport.” The Washington Performing Arts Society will present Denyce Graves at Bethesda's Strathmore Center on June 13 at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $35 and can be purchased here.

The Upperville Colt & Horse Show

I look forward to the first full week of June every year. My colleagues automatically know I will be out of the office that week — on vacation, but not out of town. I’ll be where many horse lovers and enthusiasts will be: in beautiful Upperville, VA, just an hour outside of Washington, at the one and only Upperville Colt and Horse Show. For me, this event is nothing short of a full blown therapy session — but without all the psychobabble. The sights and sounds of the hustle and bustle around the show grounds renew my spirits and senses like nothing else can — the smell of the fresh horse stall bedding, the sound of the farrier’s hammer carefully shaping a horse shoe, and the gentle non-verbal conversation between horse and rider as they make their way through the course. It is truly magical and makes me anxiously anticipate my arrival at the barn every evening to tend to my own horses. Celebrating its 157th year, the oldest horse show in the United States is set to run June 7 through 13. Attracting competitors from all over the United States and abroad, Upperville boasts seven full days of exciting hunter, jumper and breeder competitions. Hunters and Jumpers The term “hunters” refers to horses that participate in the sport of fox hunting, including their manners, ability to jump and how well they maintain a steady pace as they encounter each jump or “fence.” The criteria they are judged upon in the various hunter competitions or “classes” relates to the traits they must demonstrate to be successful in the hunt field. With hunters, it’s all about their style and stride. Some hunter classes also judge the horse’s body structure, which is referred to as its “conformation.” Speed, stamina, and the ability to clear the course obstacles are what count in the various jumper classes. This is no easy feat, considering many of the jumps are three feet six inches to five or more feet tall, with spreads of up to six feet. Unlike the hunter classes, style, pace, and manners are not important, and are not judged. What matters is that horse and rider complete the course in as little time as possible without knocking down any of the obstacles. A Week Under the Oaks This year, the competition begins Monday, June 7 on what many refer to as “locals’ day” at the show, with the majority of hunter classes offered that day restricted to horses owned by residents of counties within a 60-mile radius of Upperville. Compared to the rest of show week, it’s a somewhat quieter day, perfect for kicking back in the newly renovated grandstand and taking it all in as the horses and riders leap through the hunter course under the beautiful and majestic hundred-year-old oaks of Grafton Farm. It’s also a great time for shopping. While some vendors are in the process of setting up their displays for the week, there are many that are already up and running and ready for business. It’s the perfect opportunity to pick up that one-of-a-kind item before it’s scooped up by other shoppers later in the week. A full schedule of hunter classes are on tap for Tuesday, and the action kicks into high gear as the jumper classes begin across the street amid the rolling green terrain of Salem Farm. In the afternoon, the Founder’s Cup, restricted to horses bred and foaled in Virginia, honors the memory of Colonel Richard Henry Dulany — an avid horseman and the driving force behind the establishment of the Upperville Colt and Horse Show. One of the many highlights on Wednesday’s schedule of events is the “Paul and Eve Go as You Please Handy Hunter” class, held in memory of Paul and Eve Fout, two of Virginia’s most prominent and accomplished equestrians. On Thursday, the ponies come out to strut their stuff. Unbelievably adorable and the dream of many little girls, you won’t want to miss these pint-sized equines with over-the-top personalities. Don’t worry if you miss the ponies on Thursday — you’ll have the opportunity to catch them on Friday and Saturday too. The weekend, of course, tends to draw the largest crowds, so plan to come early and spend the day. There’s plenty to see and do, and once you get there, you won’t want to leave soon anyway. Saturday morning features the Cleveland Bay breeder classes, and the ever-so-elegant ladies’ side saddle classes. Come see Upperville’s youngest riders (ages one to six years) make their appearance in the leadline competition on Saturday afternoon. With an adult handler keeping the pony in check, you won’t be able to stop smiling as you watch these young riders — dressed in proper attire, of course — make their way around the ring. On Sunday morning, additional breeder classes are scheduled, including those featuring the Irish Draught breed. The classic sport of carriage driving also takes center stage on Sunday with the Carriage Driving Grand Prix and the Concours d’Elegance. The week-long event culminates Sunday afternoon with the Budweiser Upperville Jumper Classic. Not to be missed, this challenge features many of the top riders in the world. Bring a picnic of your own, or pick up something to eat from the food vendors at the show. Then grab a spot on the lawn overlooking the course and get ready for an exciting, hold-your-breath type of contest amid a colorful and extremely challenging course. It’s the perfect way to end an extraordinary week of competition. The only downside? Well, the show is held only once a year. But, like me, I’m willing to bet you’ll be looking forward to next year’s show before you leave your parking space. For a complete schedule of events and information, check out their Web site at www.upperville.com. Upcoming Events The summer season in hunt country is kicking into full gear. Here’s just a few of the many upcoming events you may want to consider adding to your calendar. Vintage Virginia Wine Festival June 5 and 6, 2010 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Bull Run Regional Park Special Events Center Centreville, VA www.vintagevirginia.com Magnolias at the Mill Beer Festival June 17, 2010 Magnolias at the Mill Purcellville, VA www.magnoliasmill.com Twilight Polo at Great Meadow Every Saturday through September 18, 2010 6:30 p.m. The Plains, VA www.greatmeadow.org Fourth of July at Great Meadow July 4, 2010 The Plains, VA www.greatmeadow.org [gallery ids="99135,102723,102709,102716" nav="thumbs"]

The Easy Rider, & A Harley Too

Dennis Hopper Dennis Hopper, the iconoclastic Hollywood actor who died of prostate cancer last week at the age of 74, was famous for his groundbreaking, very un-mainstream ’60s movie “Easy Rider,” which he both directed and starred in. One or two things you can say: Hopper’s life was no easy ride, nor was he easy to work, live or fall in love with. Any number of mainstream Hollywood directors, ex-wives, shrinks and, no doubt, some drug dealers could attest to that. Yet Hopper was a flaming original, a balls-out rebel, whose work as an actor, and certainly as the director of “Easy Rider,” will outlive him and last. James Dean, the actor Hopper emulated and admired the most, would have been 79 now, had he not flamed out in a fatal Porsche-at-100-miles-an-hour crash at 24, after completing “Giant,” the last of only three major films, thus assuring him of not living the life of Dennis Hopper. Hopper appeared with Dean in small parts in “Giant” and “Rebel Without a Cause.” The latter, directed by another edgy sort, Nicholas Ray, was practically a nuthouse full of unconventional, rebellious and troubled young actors, sort of like a busload of Lindsay Lohans. There was the mercurial Sal Mineo, who played the suicidal outsider Plato, there was hep-cat Nick Adams, there was Natalie Wood, young and gorgeous, who became a big star but never quite grew up and died in a drowning accident in her 40s. And there was Hopper, who played a gang kid, who outlived them all. (Who would’ve thunk that one?) Not that he didn’t come close to running his life over a cliff several times. He acted in Westerns and became friends with John Wayne, who at one point saved his career. Still, always plagued by drug addiction, he was skidding down again when he and Peter Fonda, a troubled son of his famous father Henry and sister to Jane, got up enough money (half a million) and made “Easy Rider,” about a couple of low-life drug dealers on a journey through America in the counter-culture ’60s. Fonda played a cat named Captain America, Hopper a guy named Billy (as in the Kid). They get gunned down by rednecks at the end, but not before roaring across small town America and New Orleans in their own rolling thunder, hooking up with a drunken, young lawyer played by Jack Nicholson and drugging out to acid and acid music. It was a huge hit, and it made Hollywood feel stupid for doing stuff like “Doctor Doolittle.” Hopper had a gift, it was plain to see, and he encouraged other young directors like Spielberg, Coppola and Scorsese. He made a legendary movie called “The Last Movie,” which almost turned out to be prophecy, a Western in Peru in which the hero (Hopper) ends up crucified. This kind of hubris and spend-thrifting gets punished, and eventually, he landed in an asylum, skipping rehab altogether. From then on, he was legend: he played psychos, creeps, drunks (“Speed,” “Blue Velvet” and “Hoosiers”) with elan and honesty, and revived his career yet again. His looney, whispery, dangerous voice became a little like unnerving muzak, his face got craggy and he became a beloved icon. He was in the midst of the television series “Crash,” playing a Hollywood type with his usual rough irony, when he contracted prostate cancer. True to form, even in the middle of dying, Hopper was also in the middle of a nasty divorce battle from the woman who will be forever known only as the last Mrs. Hopper. But you haven’t seen the last of Hopper. Get a bunch of his best (and worst) films for a weekend, and please include “Apocolypse Now” and a John Wayne Western. Afterward, you’ll feel enlightened, hung over, in a daze, a little fuzzy. Afterward, have a boilermaker for Dennis the Menace. 'LITTLE BENNY' Harley Go-go is pure Washington, D.C. music. You better know that, because if you don’t know that, you don’t know nothing. Ask former Mayor Anthony Williams, who, being from out of town, and wearing a bow tie, appeared not to be steeped in the lore and legend of D.C.’s go-go music and musicians, and was roundly dissed for it by those who were. Now, the D.C. go-go scene lost one of its most vital and influential members with the death of Anthony Harley, 46, who was famously known by his nickname “Little Benny” as a trumpet player and singer. Harley was a member of Rare Essence, one of the top go-go bands. If Chuck Brown is generally considered the god-father of the funk that is go-go, and endless rhythmic jamming style that keeps old hearts young, then Little Benny is the guy that deserves to stand alongside him, because he kept the music when Brown, now in his 70s, went on tour. In fact, Little Benny had played with Brown right before he died. Harley was one of those classic D.C. musicians (like Buck Hill) who did other things to live, even working in electronics. He came out of Ballou High School and had a father who had a singing group, Frank Harley and the Bell Chords. Most of all, he was a D.C. man, playing D.C.’s music all the time. You can listen to go-go on a CD all you want, but you won’t get the rare essence of go-go unless you’re there. For that, there’s only memory.

Georgetown Observer, December 15, 2010

  -C&O Canal News In appreciation of his service as the C&O Canal Trust’s first Chairman of the Board of Directors, Roy Sewall was presented with a replica of the iconic National Park Service “flat hat.” Sewall, who recently completed his second term as chairman, is resigning, being replaced by David Cushwa of Hagerstown. Sewall helped guide the Trust through its early formative years. Sewall helped guide the Trust through its early formative years. Says Matthew Logan, President of the Trust, “Roy provided a steady hand and a clear understanding of what it takes to build an organization that will be of service to the park for years to come. His contributions to our success have been immense.” Sewall remains on the Board of Directors and can be regularly found on the towpath with his ever-present camera. It is also of note that the C&O Canal Trust is worth considering for any year-end donations, which goes to fund programs such as Canal Quarters and C&O Canal Pride Days. With growing calls to reduce the national debt, the C&O Canal National Historical Park is in particular need of the support of those who use the park. One can also become a Friend of the Canal by volunteering time and donating services to the canal. To make a tax-deductible donation or find out about volunteer and other opportunities, go to www.CanalTrust.org. CAG Implements new Public Safety Initiative The Citizens Association of Georgetown has implemented a new Public Safety Initiative that aims to greatly improve the security of the neighborhood. The initiative includes: extra police officers to patrol residential streets on the weekends (called a “reimbursable detail because we pay the police department for these officers); patrol cars with the CAG logo and flashing lights for the CAG private guards; special GPS-equipped telephones to enable better communication between the guards and the police and better tracking of guard performance; a reinvigorated block captain program; and strong advocacy with the Metropolitan Police Department and elected officials that resulted in more police resources earmarked for Georgetown. CAG is urging the neighborhood to join other residents in supporting the initiative by making donations. All donors will receive a CAG Public Safety window sticker and special information about the program, including the guards’ cell phone numbers. Go to www.CAGtown.org for more information or to donate. Metro Assault Leaves Passengers Questioning Protocol TBD has reported that, on the night of Tuesday, December 7, an elderly man was assaulted by a group of rowdy teenagers on the metro. As the Red Line train came to a halt at the Union Station stop, one of the teens turned and threw a gallon jug of Arizona Iced Tea, from which he’d been sipping, into the older gentleman’s face. While the kids exited the train celebrating, onlookers attempted to help the victim, who was covered in tea and bleeding from his nose. However, matters only became worse as the man’s fellow passengers attempted to use the train’s emergency call box to report the assault. Convinced that the passengers were pressing the button unnecessarily, the train operator warned them to quit fooling around. At the next stop, an employee the passengers managed to flag down claimed there was nothing he could do. Only at the next station did the metro employees appear sympathetic, admitting that the train operator had handled the situation poorly. According to an eyewitness report, Metro Transit Police officers were able to tend to the victim at the Takoma Park stop, the train itself not allowed to stop for any reason. Proper protocol dictates that train operators report the incident and await further instructions from MTP. Only, in this case, passengers were doubtful the train operator had followed procedure. Lending credence to this claim — a metro spokesman had no knowledge of the incident. Vince Gray Attends “One City” Mayor-elect Vince Gray attended Washington National Cathedral’s Sunday Forum on December 12. The forum took place at 10:10 a.m. in the Cathedral nave. Lasting approximately 50 minutes, the forum featured an interview with Cathedral Dean Samuel T. Lloyd III and was followed by a Q&A for those in attendance, as well as an online audience. Lloyd and Gray tackled the topic of uniting D.C., in light of Gray’s recent electoral victory. Washington National Cathedral’s Sunday Forum series explores the convergence of faith and public life and, this year in particular, has placed emphasis on civility in the realm of public discourse. December 12’s forum, “One City,” was free and open to the public. A webcast is available at www.nationalcathedral.org.

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. [gallery ids="99144,102784,102800,102796,102789,102793" nav="thumbs"]

Washington’s Summer Weekends

Weekends in Washington are unlike weekends anywhere else in the country. Sure, things happen in New York. Sure, there are picnics, festivals, election campaigns and the odd soccer or baseball game. But no other place has quite the flavor of this city we call home. You want politics? We have politics. In this year of living dangerously, the Washington, D.C. Democratic Party, on the local level, held its straw poll (and a candidate forum) at Howard University last Saturday. The results were both surprising and, perhaps meaningful. You want sports, and its power to make you forget about everything else? We had a major league debut of a true phenom, a natural just last week. Stephen Strasburg finally came up from the minor leagues for a stunning debut, then followed it up with a road appearance in Cleveland on Sunday, which was followed almost as closely as the World Cup. Almost spontaneously, this city (so international, so worldly, so sports nutty) got into the spirit, the joy and the celebratory nature of this huge international sports event, which happens every four years and included an early showdown between the United States and Great Britain. Everywhere you went, there was soccer. On Saturday and Sunday, the city’s gay community, already dizzy with the passage of the gay marriage legislation earlier this year, celebrated with its annual Capital Pride parade and festival, which drew thousands of people. And let’s not forget the Seersucker Social last Saturday. And the news doesn’t stop here either: there’s more to come. Think Smithsonian Folklife Festival, Ballet Across America, Fringe Festival, Bastille Day and the World Cup, which continues for another month. The U.S. plays Slovakia next. Strasbourg is here to stay. And, oh yes, MAN it’s hot out there. THE STRAW POLL, AS OPPOSED TO STRAW HATS It probably wasn’t the best of Saturdays for Mayor Adrian Fenty, a stand-up guy, who attended a funeral for a local musical legend and heard boos in the crowd, something that also happened at the candidate forum held at the city’s Democratic Party straw poll gathering. The boos were bad manners. The results of the straw poll could be fairly called bad news, although what they foreboded is anybody’s guess in the early part of June. For the record, challenger and city council Chairman Vincent “Vince” Gray, who is also starting to kick up his fund-raising, won the mayoral straw poll by a big margin, with 703 votes to Fenty’s 190. Former television reporter Leo Alexander received 75 votes. Gray had more votes than any other candidate running for anything, including at-large Councilman Kwame Brown, who led the race for Gray’s open chairman seat by 585 to 329 votes for late-comer and former councilman and mayoral candidate Vincent Orange. Gray’s supporters took a leaf out of Fenty’s game book when they showed up with large numbers of blue Gray signs in the morning, an early jump that Fenty supporters, who showed up in the afternoon, couldn’t match. That’s what happened at the earlier Ward 8 straw poll, when Fenty campaign signs swamped Gray’s, leading to a close win for Fenty, according to reports from the DCist and the Washington Post D.C. Wire. No surprises elsewhere as Shadow Representative Mike Panetta won narrowly; Eleanor Holmes Norton swamped Douglass Sloan for delegate; Harry Thomas squeaked by often-time candidate Delano Hunter in Ward 5; Jim Gray swept aside challengers Jeff Smith and Bryan Weaver in Ward 1; Phil Mendelson won big over Clark Ray, who’s been campaigning forever for an at-large council seat and Tommy Wells looked good in Ward 6. These straw polls involve party stalwarts, so the fact that Gray can get this much support in a race that will be decided by the Democratic primary in September may indicate he’s gaining some traction. Or that Fenty’s style still sits badly with some people. Either way, it’s good news for Gray, who still trails mightily in the all-important cash-on-hand total, but is increasing his fundraising bottom line. THE WHIZ KID AND THE DREAM TEAM Man, these are not the best of times. Maybe not the worst, but it isn’t good: the muck in the waters of the gulf, daily pictures of pelicans, birds and animals weighted down by crude oil, the mounting casualties in Afghanistan, floods in Oklahoma and Arkansas, a skeletal, shaky economy, an oppressive Washington summer and the Salahis apparently rewarded for their mischief. Times like these, sports, no matter how much you might complain about ridiculous salaries, team owners and commercialism, retain their redemptive power. Back on June 8, one man, a kid really, just about got people in Washington to stop talking about anything except the fact that in making his major league debut for the Nationals (yes, the Nationals). Stephen Strasburg struck out 14 Pittsburgh Pirates, allowed two runs and four hits in a little over seven innings. He belonged to us, right here in Washington, and even people who didn’t know a double play from a bourbon double talked about him, including people who hate sports. Strasburg figured strongly in a Washington-magic weekend, when a lot of people were checking out what was going on in Cleveland, where Strasburg took the mound against the Indians, and, in spite of a wobbly problem with control, won his second game, striking out eight in five-plus innings. The kid was for real. More people might have been paying attention to baseball last weekend, except for the fact that something else was going on, and seemed to be happening right here in town if you happened to be trying to get around Dupont Circle last Saturday afternoon. The World Cup, which happens every four years somewhere in the world, kind of snuck up on Washington, as the world’s best soccer teams gathered in South Africa and began play in a 90,000-seat stadium in Soweto, where the real fight against apartheid had begun. Saturday afternoon happened to be when a halfway decent United States team took on the heavily favored British squad. At the Dupont Circle fountain, two big jumbo-tron screens had been set up, and from the looks of things at least a couple of thousand people, many of them wrapped in country flags or beer logo T-shirts, showed up to cheer on their respective teams. Nobody won and everybody won, the two teams tied 1-1, thanks to a great American goalie, and to the British goalie (not so much). For the U.S., which plays Slovakia next, the tie wasn’t at all like kissing your sister — it looked like a winner. The World Cup, a further tribute to the efforts of South Africa’s great-man-of-history Nelson Mandela, has attracted worldwide attention. Here in the District every restaurant and bar, and no doubt embassy, is tuned in. On early Saturday morning, you could walk the length of bar- and restaurant-heavy 18th Street in Adams Morgan and see brunchers and breakfasters at places like La Forchette, Tryst and the Rumba Room watching Nigeria and Argentina square off (Argentina won, 1-0). The World Cup continues for the next several weeks. Check your local restaurants and embassies and see what’s going on. Strasburg is scheduled to pitch this Friday and again five days later. PRIDE Reports had it that over at least 100,000 people showed up to line the streets for the annual Capital Pride Parade, a festive, noisy, quite over-the-top occasion that took place amid a much changed atmosphere for gays and gay rights. Another group of thousands showed up Sunday on Pennsylvania Avenue, where the Capital Pride festival took place. The spectacle included outrageous costumes and a performance of “Chicago.” The annual festival, which celebrates the lives of gay, bisexual and transgender men and women in Washington, was held in an atmosphere where the tide was turning on gay marriage, recently made legal in the District by the city council, although major struggles lay ahead across the country. SEERSUCKERS IN THE NEIGHBORHOODS Amidst all the Saturday morning soccer madness and Pride celebration in the District, it didn’t seem strange that when you drove home an army of people on bicycles should be passing through. They were dressed in boaters, bow ties and long Victorian dresses with prim blouses, riding their bikes. One man was smoking what appeared to be a 19th-century pipe, and some were riding in bicycles built for two. Several yelled things like “tah-tah” and “tally-ho,” so we assumed it was some kind of English revenge thing, as if BP wasn’t enough. But we assumed wrong. It was actually a group of local fans of dressing well and past time periods, called the D.C. Dandies and Quaintelles, participating in their Seersucker Social Bike Ride and Lawn Party at Hillwood Museum. Previously the group had held a Tweed Ride, with proceeds going to Arts for the Ages. Jolly good show. COMING UP: During the summer in D.C., every weekend and many weekdays are to be calendarized. Here’s a few things to look for in addition to the World Cup and Strasburg sightings. BASTILLE DAY AT MAISON FRANCIASE We celebrate the Fourth of July and Independence Day, but the French version is Bastille Day, which just might have something to do with the French Revolution. On July 10, La Maison Francaise and the Comite Tricolore is holding a Bastille Day celebration, with chefs from some of the top restaurants in Washington participating, including the Plume, Café Du Parc at the Willard Hotel, Ici Burban Bistro from Sofitel, the Ritz Carlton, Brasserie Beck, 2941 Restaurant, Bastille Restaurant and others. Lots of desserts, of course, and live entertainment. General admission is $85. For more information, go to www.houseoffrancedc.org. CAPITAL FRINGE It’s not too early to start thinking about the Capital Fringe Festival 2010, a nearly month-long extravaganza of cutting edge theater from all over the country, and probably the world. Sort of the world cup of the theatrically strange, unusual, weird, funny, young, fresh and new. You can expect nearly 150 performances in venues all over the city July 8-25. More on this in coming issues. We just thought you should be warned. It takes a tough theater fan to make it to as many shows as possible. THE SMITHSONIAN FOLKLIFE FESTIVAL Once again, the folks at the Smithsonian Institution will hold their far-ranging festival celebrating the cultures of many lands, and in this year’s edition, of the Smithsonian itself. The festival will be held on the National Mall June 24-28 and July 1-5. Lots of music, food, crafts and performances will take place at this year’s event, focused on Asian Pacific Americans (“Local Lives, Global Ties”) and the “Smithsonian, Inside Out.” Visitors are invited to look at how things work at the institution in four areas of concentration or challenges: “Unlocking the Mysteries of the Universe,” “Understanding and Sustaining a Biodiverse Planet,” “Valuing World Cultures” and “Understanding the American Experience.” The festival will also focus on Mexico and will hold a special tribute to Haiti. BALLET ACROSS AMERICA The Kennedy Center will hold a special performance program focusing on dance companies in the U.S. called “Ballet Across America” this week through June 20. It features: Houston Ballet, The Suzanne Farrell Ballet, the Pacific Northwest Ballet, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, the fabled Joffrey Ballet, the North Carolina Dance Theatre, Ballet Arizona, Ballet Memphis and the Tulsa Ballet.

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) www.firebrickpizza.com 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.) www.moroniandbrothers.com 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) www.petesapizza.com 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) www.ilcanaledc.com 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) www.matchboxdc.com 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.) www.eatyourpizza.com 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.) www.2amyspizza.com 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.