If you’ve taken a ride along the eastern segment of the Metro Red Line lately, you’ve probably noticed that the train takes you through one construction zone after another. There is an explosion of growth taking place in northeast DC with previously neglected areas being revitalized into destination neighborhoods.
While it will be fun to explore the neighborhoods around each Metro stop in detail, we thought we would start bigger to get an overview of the area. We use the Metro to get around the city anyway, so why not try a Redline food crawl? We started just outside of the northeast border of the District in Silver Spring, MD and worked our way back in to the Noma-Gallaudet station.
Silver Spring has gone through a remarkable transformation over the last decade. The once dying area is now a thriving community with weekly outdoor markets, festivals, and over 150 restaurants. While it’s impossible to choose one restaurant to represent Silver Spring, one of our favorites is Urban Butcher. Opened in December 2013 by Cuban-born chef/owner Raynold Mendizabal, the bright, rustic space has a comfortable feel that makes us want to linger longer than we probably should. During nice weather, garage doors on the backside of the bar open to expose outdoor bar seats that are the perfect place to hang out and watch the character of Silver Spring walk by.
Urban Butcher is a meat-lovers dream. Just take a look inside the glass-enclosed curing room, where the house-made charcuterie and gorgeous cuts of beef hang to acquire that concentrated flavor that comes with aging. You can’t go wrong with a charcuterie board to try a sampling of their cured meats, salami, pates, and terrines, but the one thing that I crave the most is the pastrami butcher sandwich. The unbelievably tender, thick-cut house-made pastrami was paired with pickled purple cabbage and dijon on rye.
The beverage menu is small, but well designed. The house wines by the glass are only $6 and are usually more interesting selections than typical house wines. We had a glass of both the white – a vinho verde, and the red – a tempranillo. Vinho Verde from Portugal is a great light summer wine that is slightly effervescent and pairs well with light fare. Tempranillo is Spain’s claim to fame red grape varietal. Largely coming from the North Central wine regions of Rioja and Rubero de Deuro, this is a big, rich wine with good acidity, making it a fantastic pick for charcuterie. If you’re not in the mood for wine, another great choice is the lavender margarita – not too sweet, delicately flavored with lavender, and only $6 during happy hour. A weekend bonus – happy hour is extended from 11:30am to 7:30pm on Sundays, which makes us very happy.
A five minute walk from the Takoma Park Metro takes you to the Old Takoma business area, which spans the MD/DC border. Our destination was Republic, a member of the Black Restaurant Group that opened in December 2013. The eclectic décor and relaxed vibe of this restaurant reflects the eccentricity of the Takoma Park neighborhood – a declared nuclear free zone where many private yards are certified wildlife habitats and 16 year olds can vote in the municipal elections.
In keeping with the rest of Jeff Black’s restaurants, oysters stand out on the menu at Republic. There was a selection of 6 different varieties on the raw bar, but they always use local Chesapeake Bay oysters for the wood grilled oysters. Oh my god, those wood grilled oysters! The aroma of wood smoke wafting up from the plate permeated the oysters with flavor. Barely cooked through with garlic butter and red chili, these are the same oysters served at their 14th Street Pearl Dive Oyster Palace. An order comes with four oysters, which isn’t nearly enough for satisfaction. It was tempting to order several more rounds, but we restrained ourselves and instead tried the duck confit Cubano sandwich. We were glad that we did. The crispy grilled bread was filled with shredded duck confit, country ham, poblano chiles and tangy pickles. Salty, smoky and rich, it is a very satisfying sandwich.
Their mixologists have designed an interesting list of both specialty and classic cocktails. The wines by the glass are all $9, taking price out of the equation when making a selection. We had a nice French Cotes du Rhone Blanc with the oysters. The crisp fruitiness and minerality complemented the smoky salinity of the oysters. We thought that the intense flavors of the Cubano would be best with a beer. They have a small selection of local draft beers on tap, including several from Denizens Brewing Company, just up the street in Silver Spring.
That beautiful big building with the blue and gold dome that you see from the Metro is the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the largest Roman Catholic church in the US. It was built on land donated by the Catholic University of America, which is just next to the Brookland-CUA Metro station. Exiting from the Metro station to the west towards Catholic University, you emerge at the foot of the new Monroe Street Market. Three luxury apartment developments provide the foundation for this project, which includes restaurant and retail space and The Arts Walk. The closed street is lined with workspace studios where artists can create and display their work, including photography, leather goods, fabrics, sculpture and fine arts.
Brookland Pint, sister restaurant to Meridian Pint in Columbia Heights, opened this past summer. The restaurant occupies a prime corner location at the end of The Arts Walk with a large patio and windows that slide open giving the whole bar area a nice open air feeling in pleasant weather. Our stomachs needed a break and we haven’t had the chance to dine here, so unfortunately we cannot comment on the food yet. However, we can say that the craft beer is impressive. There is an extensive selection of 24 craft beers on tap and almost 50 in large format bottles. We particularly like that they offer 4 ounce pours of the draft beers, so we can work our way through several without filling up. Refreshed, it was back to the Metro to continue our crawl.
Rhode Island Ave – Brentwood
Our next stop was Rhode Island Avenue – Brentwood. Just steps away from the Metro station, a former WMATA commuter parking lot has been transformed into Rhode Island Row, a mix of residential and commercial space developed as part of a public/private partnership. Rhode Island Row celebrated its grand opening in 2012. Most of the dining options are chain restaurants; however, the locally owned The Carolina Kitchen opened their third location here in March 2014. We went straight to the bar, where we were warmly welcomed by the bartender.
The Carolina Kitchen serves up southern food with lots of fried goodness to choose from. There were lighter options, but we like to try to stick within the specialty of a restaurant. The standout item on the menu was chitterlings, country style. Unfortunately, they are not available in a small plate size, but only as a full pound bowl. If you’ve got a pal willing to share with you, you should try them. The guy next to us was very happy with his. We, however, needed to save room. The portions seemed large, so we decided to split the catfish tenders and were very pleased. The breading was light and just a tad spicy, while the fish inside was still juicy.
For our cocktails, we went with the bartender’s recommendations: a classic mojito and a Georgia Tea, which was a strong blend of vodka, rum and tequila with freshly brewed tea and peach schnapps. If you go this route, I hope you have a sweet tooth, as the drinks were overly sweet for our liking. The sugar fix continued when the server lined up corn muffins topped with a sweet cinnamon butter glaze for all of the patrons at the bar. A quick look at the reviews for The Carolina Kitchen reveals that they are famous for these muffins – people love them. I agree and eagerly devoured mine. The sweetness was still lingering on our tongues as we made our way back to the Metro.
The 2004 opening of the NoMa-Gallaudet Metro station provided a welcome boost to development in this area that is north of Union Station and, of course, North of Massachusetts Avenue; hence the name NoMa. The freshly revamped Union Market is a 4 block walk from the Metro station. You will need to walk through a few sketchy blocks of industrial wasteland, but I promise it gets better.
The original Union Terminal Market opened in 1931, housing over 700 vendors. After a law banning the outdoor sale of meats and eggs, a new indoor market was built in 1967. This is the location of the recently revitalized Union Market, where 40 local food artisans sell produce, meats, seafood, cheese, desserts, and more. The 25,000 square foot space opened in 2012 and provides so many options that you could do an entire food crawl within its walls: the BBQ Joint serving Andrew Evan’s signature barbecue, Rappahannock Oyster Co. shucking fresh oysters, Neopol Savory Smokery where they smoke everything from salmon to duck to egg salad, Lyon Bakery for fresh breads, Dolcezza’s daily-made gelato, and – I really wish that I had room to mention them all.
We chose charcuterie from Red Apron: a slice of the Bourbon Fig Rillette and a few slices of the Biraldo blood sausage, which was rich and slightly sweet with golden raisins and pinenuts. We added a chunk of creamy blue cheese and crackers from Righteous Cheese and spread our feast out on a table in the middle of the market. We also grabbed a glass of wine from Righteous Cheese, but it was a pretty miserly pour for the $11 price tag. With insufficient wine to get through our snacks, we bought a bottle of Spanish grenacha from the wine purveyor in the market and proudly poured ourselves two more glasses. Granacha is another great varietal that works well with food. It makes a medium body wine with good balance of red fruit flavors, some earthiness, and good acidity which is important when pairing with food.
By the way, you should NOT open a bottle of wine in public when purchased at the wine shop – security quickly let us know that this was not okay. It seemed like a fitting thing to do in the market atmosphere, but the wine is for off-premises consumption only. The security guard was very kind but firmly refused to let us finish the wine. He watched us put the cork back in the bottle tightly to take it with us. Not a problem, because it was time to go home.
You may have noticed that all of the restaurants that we visited on this food crawl opened within the last two years. These neighborhoods are changing rapidly and we came away with just a taste of what is going on. Silver Spring is the furthest along in its renewal and it will take more than one visit to properly explore the culinary culture of this city. So for the next crawl, it’s back to Silver Spring.
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