Maine Avenue Fish Market (DC Fish Wharf)

5 04 2011

“One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish” – Theodor Seuss Geisel

Maine Ave

You can actually park there?

One sunny Sunday afternoon I tagged along with LGF who was making a trip to the DC Fish wharf. I hadn’t been there in a while and needed some fresh air so off I went. Coming from Virginia, you see the marker over the side of I-395 crossing into DC, down below you like some brightly covered carnival. When you finally make your way down there, you then get to compete with a bunch of SUV’s for parking spaces (seems far more reasonable on a week day).

At first you’re almost overwhelmed with the plethora of food (cooked and raw) available for you to purchase. Your best bet is to walk a mandatory lap around the market to scout out everything before you dive in.  After LGF bought some fish and raw shrimp for dinner, we decided to hit up some of the cooked food.

DC Shrimp 2

Got Old Bay?

The shrimp was cooked to perfection with liberal amounts of Old Bay dumped on top (per LGF’s request). It was like eating an entire bag of Utz’s Crab Chips in one or two shrimp. You can buy shrimp in a variety of sizes from medium all the way up to jumbo. The ones featured above might have been Large? The also have fried shrimp (which take longer than the cooked shrimp to prepare) as the shrimp are freshly battered and fried to order. I personally preferred the fried shrimp, they were fried to a perfect golden brown, while still being moist and juicy on the inside.

The fries were reminiscent of freshly made McDonald’s fries and paired up really well with the fried shrimp. The secret to ordering fries here is to ask for them without salt so they will made to order  rather than sitting out under a heat lamp. We also picked up some baked mac ‘n’ cheese from the fried chicken stand. Cheesy decadence is the only way I can truly describe it, but what can I say? I’m a big fan of mac ‘n’ cheese.

If you’ve got a sunny weekend afternoon to burn and are in the mood for seafood I highly suggest the trip to SW DC and sample the sights and smells of the fish wharf.

Note: The first image is not my own. Clicking on it will take you to the source.

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Ben’s Chili Bowl – U Street Corridor

15 10 2010

Who Eats Free at Ben’s:

  • Bill Cosby
  • The Obama Family (but he paid!)

-The Sign

Heaven

Washington D.C. is often cited for lacking a signature dish. We don’t have the cheese steak like Philly, the Po Boy like New Orleans, the BBQ of Texas/Memphis/North Carolina/Kansas City, the pizza of New York City or Chicago, or the chowder/lobster rolls of New England. I mean come on, even Maryland has crabs (yes that was intentional). But what we do have is the half-smoke. The half-smoke isn’t as well known as other regional gastronomies, but that doesn’t mean it should be discredited. It’s very specific to DC, like actually DC, not the “DC” that people from Woodbridge, Fairfax, or Loudon claim. I also mean DC, not Washington, not the District, but the city that isn’t home to the federal government–just ordinary people.

I first came into the contact with the half-smoke in elementary school. I guess by being close enough to DC (and it being the early to mid 1990s) the food service provider for Arlington Public Schools delivered half-smokes. When hot dogs were being offered for lunch you had two options: eat this wavy, putrid, grey footlong hot dog, or enjoy the thick, delicious, reddish half-smoke. I went for the half-smoke every time obviously. Sure they were boiled instead of grilled and sure there was no chili, cheese, or onions, but the seed had been planted. Time went by and they were dropped from the lunch menu, then I dropped the lunch menu and I nearly forgot about them, until I read an article about them being DC’s signature dish. I remember asking one of my friends in college about them, figuring he knew since he was from Fairfax. Wrong. Turns out you go 20 miles down the road and they’ve never heard of them. It wasn’t until the new Nationals stadium opened up and I got my first half-smoke in over a decade. That half-smoke pales in comparison to the ones served at the original location.

 

DC's culinary masterpiece

 

It’s just so simple. That’s the inherent greatness of the half-smoke, its simplicity allows it to be enjoyed by people of all social classes, races, geographical locations, provided you eat pork. Every ingredient works together to create this perfect harmony of flavor. The sausage itself is flavorful with this fantastic kick of spice, that’s perfectly accentuated by the onion, that melds nicely with the tang of the yellow mustard (this dish got me to like yellow mustard, if you want proof of its greatness), the cheese provides this excellent counterpart to the other ingredients and keeps them in check, and last but not least the chili. This isn’t chili con carne with the beans, the tomatoes, and all that other stuff. This chili is made for one thing and that’s being put on top of stuff: Half-smokes, hot dogs, fries, etc. It’s simple, meaty, slightly spicy, and is a great accompaniment to the sausage. It completes it all, seals in everything else, and makes the half-smoke what it is.

As you can see its served with basic potato chips, which frankly are great after eating this ultimate vessel of flavor. They’re the far less healthy version of a palate cleansing sorbet. They also stay within the ethos of this meal, which is simplicity. Simplicity defines Ben’s from its decor, its menu, its customers. It doesn’t matter what you do before or after you eat here but while you’re in Ben’s you’re just a normal person. This is some of the greatest comfort food I’ve ever experienced and for that I’m thankful.

P.S. When you’re there eating, just take a look around and see just how many people have stopped by this institution over the years.

[Note: These images are not my own, clicking on them will take you to the source website.]





Amsterdam Falafel – Adam’s Morgan

5 10 2010

“I was wondering, do you deliver falafel to the top of Mt. Zion? Great. I’d like a large falafel with pepperoni, sausage, and extra cheese. Yes, I know what a falafel is.” – Homer Simpson

 

Front of the Shop

 

Amsterdam Falafel is a place that is near and dear to my heart. They are on a very short list of places who’s food I will specifically crave. They have a very unassuming shopfront due to the fact that they’re built into a townhouse. The interior feels just like they’ve invited you into their underground, quasi-legal food joint. A breath of fresh air from the generic modern look of the gentrified, yuppie food dispensaries. They keep it simple here: they serve falafel and fries (with purchasable baked goods). Their prices are simple: $10 for falafel, soda, and fries (tax included). All you have to say is combo white or wheat depending on what type of pita you desire. That’s the simplest ordering system I’ve ever seen in DC, which becomes quite obvious if you come here after partaking in the night life. That’s not to say that this place isn’t totally awesome in the daytime either as a lunch spot.

They fry up the balls for the falafel and the fries in small batches so your food always tastes fresh and hot. They then simply hand you your falafel in a paper bag and fries in a paper cup, the rest is up to you. That’s right, there’s a topping bar.

 

Forget the bedroom, this is where the magic happens

 

They have a sheet on top of the topping bar to guide you through the proper process if it is your first time. Namely crushing the balls of your falafel before putting in toppings and a few rules regarding taking extra toppings in extra containers. As you can see, there are a plethora of toppings available for your falafel and I advise you to constantly try new stuff and don’t be afraid. The Turkish Salad is a must-have though; I cannot stress how excellent it truly is. There is even an iPhone Application for topping selection available on their website. There is also a selection of sauces to the left of the topping bar as well as a selection of sauces for your fries next to the soda machine. The peanut butter sauce is phenomenal and immediately became the default condiment for any French Fries I consumed there.

Try to avoid getting the itis after coming here, I challenge you. I know I have yet to accomplish this daring feat.

Amsterdam Falafel Website

(Note: Images used in this review are not my own. If you click on the image it will take you to the source website I borrowed them from)

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Weekend Latino Market in Unity Park – Adams Morgan

25 09 2010

 

Latino Weekend Market in Adam's Morgan

 

Imagine a place where cuisines from numerous Latino countries were offered in a concentrated area. The food was fresh tasting, prepared (but not cooked) in front of you, and was cash only. This mythological place we speak of is a reality if you choose to make the journey to Unity Park in Adams Morgan between Friday and Sunday. When one of my friends called and asked if I wanted to go help him pick his car up from his DC law school I promptly agreed, having been sick for the past three days and filled with a desire to fulfill my resolution to spend more time in DC proper.

He picked me up from my house and so our journey began. Initially we had plans to visit the most excellent Schwarma Spot, but while driving in Adams Morgan we spotted the Latino Market and impulsively decided to check it out. There were plenty of people of all sorts of ethnicities hanging around the area and eating so we figured it must be good. Walking up to it from our parking spot we started spotting the flags of various countries (and territories); Mexico, El Salvador, Argentina, Puerto Rico, etc.

Initially overwhelmed at the plethora of choices, we made the rounds before deciding to start our feast at one of the Salvadoran tents. We ordered the beef tacos (2 for $5) and chicken taquitos (4 for $5). The first item we ate was the tacos. Having watched the woman taking our order pile beef, fresh pico de gallo, cheese, and then HALF AN AVACADO PER TACO onto fluffy, fresh tortillas our mouths were watering. It turns out not only our mouths would be wet, but also our hands for these were the juiciest tacos I have ever eaten. Our hands were dripping with juice and grease, forcing us to eat over the styrofoam container in which they came in. After we devoured the tacos we realized we needed napkins, but fret not, for the stand provided us with the greatest napkins known to man, paper towels. Enthusiastic after the tacos we moved onto the taquitos. I am not the biggest fan of taquitos and rarely order them when out. These taquitos were hands down the best I’ve ever had. They were fried perfectly, leaving the chicken succulent and moist. They were topped with more of the pico de gallo on top, which frankly didn’t get eaten that much since it fell off. These single-handedly changed my opinion of taquitos.

Since the mercury was hovering around 99 degrees that day and we had just consumed a delicious meal, we decided beverages were a must. Every tent was offering some form of beverage, but we made the calculated decision to get ices. I am not a sno-cone man. Frankly, I hate it when things are colored bright blue (including Gatorade) and they generally offer me little joy. These ices were delicious, their syrup offerings far surpassed the traditional carnival fare with flavors such as pineapple, mango, coconut, etc. I went with a pineapple and mango blend, while my associate went straight mango. Our two ices were standard sno-cone sized and came in a small styrofoam cup with a plastic spoon with the price being $5 for both (seeing a pattern here?). As the ices melted in the sweltering DC Fall heat, they became better and better, allowing the flavors to seep into the ice with greater depth.

I know what you’re thinking and yes it was a good meal, but we weren’t done yet. On the way to the car, we passed by a stand selling empanadas and got two chicken empanadas for $5 ($3 for 1 or 2 for $5). It made a delicious snack about an hour later when I ate it. The dough was chewy, soft, and did a fantastic job of maintaining structure, thus preventing the filling from falling out as I munched on it, instead of disintegrating like a second-rate pastry. The filling was very simple composed mainly of chicken, onions, and a few other ingredients I have since forgotten. Overall a delicious snack, that was conveniently pocket-sized.

If you want simple, delicious food at great prices please make the trip out to Unity Park in Adams Morgan. I guarantee you will find something you like (unless you’re a vegetarian) at a price that’s quite reasonable. If you’re a fan of street food, make the pilgrimage.

Upon returning home I did a little research about this market and discovered that the neighboring restaurants in the area are not as big of fans as we were. But this isn’t a blog about local politics, it’s about reviewing food.

Article about the controversy surrounding the market

(The above image was not taken by me, but rather borrowed from Prince of Petworth)








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