Archive for the ‘Restaurants’ Category

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Zombie Donuts

For a while when I initially started this blog, I would visit a restaurant on my last ride of each month and write a post about it.  I haven’t done that as frequently during the past year.  But I didn’t want 2016 to end without at least one more ride during which I treat myself to something better than the cafeteria fare I often eat at my desk after I get back from a bike ride.  So on this bike ride I sought out Zombie Coffee and Donuts, one of the few local doughnut shops that I hadn’t been to previously.   Zombie has two locations, and I chose the one located at 3100 14th Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Columbia Heights neighborhood.  I chose this location because the other is a little too far away for me to ride to on my break from work.  Their only other location is in Athens, Georgia.

Now, I’m not much of a coffee drinker.  I never have been.  I remember first trying it as a child and not liking it.  My parents said I would learn to like it, but I decided it wasn’t worth learning to like.  So on this bike ride I sought out Zombie not for the coffee but for their doughnuts.  And you might be able to tell from some of my previous blog posts, I like a good doughnut.

Zombie serves only fresh made-to-order cake doughnuts which can be topped with your of choice glazes and toppings.  The way that it normally works is that after entering the shop you’re handed an order form that asks you to specify which kind of glaze you’d like with which topping.   Some of their most popular combinations are listed at the top of the order form, and include Chocolate Icing and M&Ms, Vanilla Icing and crushed Oreos, Maple Icing and Bacon or Pecans, either Chocolate or Vanilla Icing and Caramel Drizzle, Lemon Glaze and Coconut, or Half Chocolate Icing and Half Vanilla Icing. Or you can check off your own individual choices such strawberry glaze with rainbow sprinkles, as I’m sure Homer Simpson would order if he were at Zombie.  Altogether there are 84 possible combinations of glazes and toppings.

I happened to walk in at one of the infrequent times when there was not a line, so I was able to just tell them what kind of doughnuts I wanted, and they made them as I stood there.  I chose one with just plain strawberry icing, and a chocolate iced doughnut with shredded coconut.  Now I’m not going to “sugarcoat” things here.  They were not the best doughnuts I’ve ever had.  But they were so fresh they were still warm, and they were darned good.  They’re so good, in fact, I can forgive them for spelling the word doughnut incorrectly.

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Mama Ayesha and the Presidents

During this lunchtime bike ride as I was riding across the Duke Ellington Memorial Bridge in northwest D.C.’s Adam’s Morgan neighborhood, I saw a mural on the side of a building on the eastern end of the bridge.  So I rode over to get a better look at the mural.  I discovered it was on the side of Mama Ayesha’s Restaurant, located at 1967 Calvert Street (MAP), and depicts the restaurant’s namesake standing in front of the White House.  She is flanked on either side by eleven different presidents standing in chronological order, starting with Dwight D. Eisenhower and ending with Barack Obama. The content of the public artwork is so unusual that I just had to find out more about it.

The mural was funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and private donors.  It was created in 2009 by Karla Rodas, also known as Karlísima, who is a native of El Salvador but moved with her family as a child to nearby Alexandria.  After graduating from Annandale High School and Washington University, she returned to D.C. and has since become one of the capital city’s most well-known and respected muralists.

The initial concept for the mural was planned by Mama Ayesha’s family members, who have run the restaurant since its opening in 1960. However, the original plan did not have Mama Ayesha as the centerpiece of the work. Instead, the family wanted Helen Thomas, a renowned White House reporter and regular customer at the restaurant, to be at the center of the mural. She was envisioned to be seated at a desk with pen and paper in her hand. However, Thomas politely declined the family’s request, opining that Mama Ayesha should be portrayed instead.

The final design depicts Mama Ayesha in traditional Palestinian garb standing in front of the White House. With six presidents on her right and five on her left, she stands in the middle between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, with their arms interlocked. Interspersed throughout the mural are other symbols and additional scenes and landmarks from the national capital city. They include a bald eagle, the city’s famous cherry blossoms, as well as the Lincoln Memorial and its Reflecting Pool, the Jefferson Memorial, the Washington Monument and the United States Capitol Building.  And representations of the U.S. flag appear on the sides of the painting.

With President Obama’s successor to be determined in tomorrow’s election, I hope the mural will be updated.  There is sufficient space in front of the Reflecting Pool for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.  I very much look forward to the election being over.  And I also look forward to being able to come back to see the updated mural at some point in the near future.

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The Doughnut Vote

There are a lot of great doughnut shops in the city.  And one of my favorite shops is Astro Doughnuts and Fried Chicken, which I wrote about in this blog a couple of years ago.  I am writing about it again because they are temporarily offering a couple of new politically-themed flavors – “The Donald” and “The Hillary.”

The new doughnuts reflect the tastes of the candidates for which they are named.  The Donald is yeast doughnut filled with a delicious cherry compote and lightly coated with a vanilla-Cherry Coke glaze. The flavors were selected based on Mr. Trump’s reported love of both Diet Coke and cherry vanilla ice cream. The Hillary is a chocolate cake doughnut with a spicy-hot chocolate-Chipotle glaze. It was created based on Mrs. Clinton’s reported love for chocolate, and the fact that it has been reported that she eats a hot pepper every day. Both doughnuts are piped with vanilla icing lettering on top – an “R” for the Republican candidate, and a “D” for the Democratic candidate.

However, if you are disenchanted with the two-party system or just can’t bring yourself to vote for either of the candidates representing the major political parties this time around, there are a variety of independent candidates for who you can cast a vote.  They include Crème Brûlée, Vanilla Bean, Bourbon Pecan Pie, Sweet Potato, Peanut Butter and Jelly, Maple Bacon, and Cranberry Orange.

The Donald and The Hillary doughnuts are only available until the election next Tuesday.  On today’s bike ride I stopped by and cast a vote.  And with less than a week to go until the election, I recommend you hurry down to Astro and do the same.  Or you can cast more than one vote if you like.  Because when it comes to these doughnuts, my recommendation is to vote early and vote often.

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District Doughnut

During the spring and summer, I occasionally set out on my daily bike ride earlier in the day so I can beat the heat.  But as fall and winter weather begins to set in, I have begun to again find myself waiting until later in the day when it has warmed up a little.  On today’s ride, however, I took advantage of this week’s unseasonable warm weather and went out for what may end up being one of my last early rides of the year.  Today Julius and I got an early start, and along the way stopped for breakfast at District Doughnut, located on Barracks Row, at 749 8th Street (MAP), in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. 

The origins of District Doughnut began with a couple of locals named Juan Pablo Segura and Greg Menna who became friends in middle school, in part based on a shared love for doughnuts.  After graduating from high school, the two temporarily parted ways when Greg left to study philosophy at the College of William & Mary, and Juan Pablo went to the University of Notre Dame to major in accounting.  Then after graduating from college their careers brought them back to D.C. 

After their return, Juan Pablo met a chef named Christine Schaefer, a graduate of the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute’s Le Cordon Bleu Program, where she received a degree in Patisserie and Baking.  And after trying her brown butter doughnut, Juan Pablo knew he’d found something special.  So as Christine expanded and perfected her collection of doughnut recipes, Juan Pablo recruited his old friend Greg to manage the operations of the young company.  And with the three of them working together, District Doughnut came to be.

In addition to the original Brown Butter signature doughnut, the menu includes an ever-changing and diverse variety of flavors.  From staples like the Vanilla Bean Glazed and Salted Dulce de Leche yeast doughnuts, to cake doughnuts like Cookies and Cream and Apple Cider, I don’t think there’s a bad one on the menu.  And I’ve tried quite a few of them.  Of course, so may good options makes the decision of what to order that much more difficult.  So you may want  to take a look at their online menu and decide before you get there so you don’t hold up the line.  Or just go, and choose whatever strikes your fancy.  A couple of my favorites are the Key Lime Pie doughnut, and the Snickerdoodle cake doughnut.  And for those of you who enjoy pumpkin, as do I, their seasonal Pumpkin Crème Brûlée and Pumpkin Spice are as good as any I’ve ever tasted. 

But for the best selection, or to ensure they will still have what you’ve already set your heart on, you can use their online ordering portal.  Otherwise, you will want to get there early because their doughnuts are so popular that on many days they sell out of one or more menu items. 

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Epilogue:  Today was actually a “do-over” for yesterday.  I rode to District Doughnut yesterday to check out their newest seasonal doughnuts.  But I it wasn’t until after I got there and had begun to place my order that I realized I had forgotten my wallet back at my office and had no money with me.   The friendly young lady waiting on me, apparently perceiving the crushing disappointment in my eyes when I told her I had forgotten my wallet, treated me to a couple of delicious doughnut holes. While that was sufficient to tide me over yesterday, I had been thinking about the Pumpkin Crème Brûlée doughnut ever since.  And today I wasn’t disappointed.  As if the flavorful pumpkin spice dough and creamy pumpkin pie filling were not already enough, I was able to watch the young lady taking my order get out a blow torch and create a freshly- caramelized sugar coating that provided just the right touch of sweetness and crunch.  I can’t say that it was better than the Key Lime Pie, which up until now has been my favorite.  But I can’t say it was worse either.  I guess there is now a tie for my favorite at District Doughnut.

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Uprising Muffin Company

During these recent dog days of summer, when the temperatures have been reaching the mid to upper 90’s by early afternoon, I have been opting to go for my daily bike ride early in the morning rather than waiting for lunchtime. This deviation in my routine has allowed me to try out some breakfast spots that I had not been to before.  And one of these places has become one of my new favorite places – the Uprising Muffin Company – which is located at 1817 7th Street (MAP), just outside of the entrance to the Shaw/Howard U Metro station in northwest D.C.’s Shaw/Uptown neighborhood.

Uprising offers muffins on a rotating basis in almost three dozen different flavors. Every day they have some of the more commonly-found flavor selections, such as traditional Banana Walnut, Blueberry Streusel, and Chocolate Chip.  By the way, you don’t have to wait until autumn to enjoy their delicious Pumpkin muffins, because they also offer daily and on a year round basis.  Uprising also serves up some additional and unusual choices on a rotating basis throughout the week.  These include Maple Pancake, Snickerdoodle, Strawberries and Cream, and Piña Colada.  On top of that, they occasionally also offer seasonal selections, such as the delicious Peach Cobbler muffin that I sampled this morning.  There are just too many varieties for me to list. So I guess you’ll just have to check them out for yourself, either in person or on their website.

They also offer a couple of savory options, which are Uprising’s take on breakfast sandwiches. The Bacon, Egg and Cheese muffin and the Southwest Veggie muffin are available every day. But they are often available only in the morning because they sell out so quickly. Uprising also features made-to-order signature sandwiches and fresh salads, along with coffee and espresso drinks featuring coffee from the Stumptown Coffee Company, which is roasted in small batches for freshness.

Uprising was opened by Donnie Simpson, Jr., a former local radio industry employee and the son of the popular longtime WPGC radio host Donnie Simpson. And from the beginning it seemed to be an overnight success.  But Uprising was actually four years in the making by the first-time restaurateur.  And taking the time to make sure they would get it right is evident in the quality of their muffins and other offerings. Every muffin they make starts from scratch and always contain 10 ingredients or less, which are obtained locally whenever possible. And what does go into their muffins is almost as important as what doesn’t. What doesn’t go into Uprising muffins are preservatives, artificial colors, or anything the average customer can’t pronounce.

One of the best things about Uprising muffins aside from their deliciousness is their consistent freshness.  And you can be assured that they are always fresh because at the end of each day they take any unsold muffins and donated them to the less fortunate in the local community.  Then the next morning they make more muffins, which are always simple, fresh, delicious, and ready to join or maybe even replace cupcakes and doughnuts as a local pastry favorite.

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Stoney’s Bar and Grill

This year the arrival of spring did not bring along with it the arrival of spring-like weather. In fact, on the first day of spring I was treated to sleet and snow flurries, and the weather has remained unseasonably cold for the past few days. So I decided thumb my nose at the weather’s refusal to adhere to a schedule, and have my favorite cold weather comfort food for lunch before the warmer weather is eventually ushered in.

When I think of comfort food, I think of a grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup. What has become my lifelong fondness for the comfort combo began as a child with Velveeta cheese on two slices of Wonder Bread and a can of Campbell’s Tomato Soup. As a grown-up my tastes have progressed, but a good grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup can still make me feel as warm and secure as a little boy enjoying lunch in my Mom’s kitchen after playing in the snow.

Nowadays when I want to go out for a good grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup, I think of Stoney’s Bar and Grill, a tin-ceilinged dive bar located at 1433 P Street (MAP), in northwest D.C.’s Logan Circle neighborhood. Famous for their version, Stoney’s is consistently voted one of the city’s best places for grilled cheese in The Washington Post’s annual reader’s poll, and on consumer –driven apps such as Yelp and Foursquare. I attribute its popularity to owner Tony Harris preference for bulk American cheese over thinner, pre-sliced varieties.

So I braved today’s unseasonably cold weather and made Stoney’s the destination of my lunchtime bike ride. I walked into the dark, no frills joint, and was happy to be able to get a seat in the front window, which is usually one of my favorite spots to sit in a restaurant. Sitting in a restaurant’s front window often allows me to enjoy the show passing by on the sidewalk out front as I enjoy my meal. I was greeted right away by both the bartender and one of the waitresses, which instantly made me feel at home. I then ordered what I came for, a grilled cheese sandwich. Well, I actually splurged and ordered the Super Grilled Cheese. The Super is a delicious combination of their regular sandwich, consisting of thick-cut American cheese on farmhouse white bread, but with fresh tomato, red onion and bacon added. Combined with thick-cut fries and a cup of their Roasted Tomato Basil Soup, it was good enough to hope the winter weather lasts a little longer.

Unfortunately, the photo of my lunch came out dark and fails to show how appetizing the sandwich actually was.  I guess to correct that I’ll just have to go back to Stoney’s and order it again soon.  For the sake of this blog that is something I am willing to do.

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The Pretzel Bakery

It seemed like an unusually long morning at work, so despite the fact that it was pouring down rain by the time I was ready for my lunch break, I went for a bike ride anyway.  After the first few minutes I was thoroughly soaked.  So I quickly got past worrying about getting wet, and was able to enjoy the ride. In fact, it was so much fun that I used a little vacation time and took a longer than usual ride.

Near the end of the ride I stopped at a new place, or at least one that was new to me, named The Pretzel Bakery.  It is located at 340 15th Street, Southeast (MAP), in D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, on a block of small but tidy row houses, and across the street from Payne Elementary School.  The Pretzel Bakery serves hand-rolled, Philadelphia-style soft pretzels, and they make them in small batches so you can get them fresh-out-of-the-oven throughout the day.

The Pretzel Bakery is owned and run by Sean Haney, who opened the small neighborhood shop after he got frustrated with the lack of the quality pretzels he had grown up enjoying in Philadelphia.  After years of perfecting his Pennsylvania Dutch-style recipe, he began providing Washingtonians with a quality alternative to the mass-produced pretzels available at mall chain stores and the heated up frozen pretzels served by some local restaurants.  What distinguishes pretzels at The Pretzel Bakery from others is that they don’t coat the dough with butter before browning them in an oven.  Instead, The Pretzel Bakery briefly boils the made-from-scratch dough, much like an authentic New York bagel, resulting in a chewy texture and a more flavorful pretzel.

The menu includes the original Salted pretzel; the Everything, which is topped with poppy seeds, sesame seeds, onion, garlic, and salt, as well as; a cinnamon-glazed pretzel with a kiss of salt, named the Sweet. They also have something called Pretzel Bombs, which are Nutella-filled Sweet pretzel rolls.  And for breakfast, they offer a Breakfast Slider, a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich on an Everything pretzel roll, which was recently voted “Best Breakfast Sandwich” in D.C. by The City Paper.  I haven’t had one yet, but you can bet I’ll going back in the morning sometime soon to try one (or more).

Today, however, I was fortunate enough to be able to get one of their limited seasonal offerings.  I got a couple of fresh-baked and still warm Pumpkin IPA Pretzels, and ate one with some ice tea under one of the large umbrellas on the patio in front.  I took the second one back to the office with me and enjoyed it there.  They offer mustards and dips, including Gulden’s Spicy Brown and French’s Yellow, as well as Caramel Mustard, Whole Grain Mustard, Nutella, and Philadelphia Cream Cheese. But my pretzel was so good that I decided it didn’t need anything added to it that might take away from its flavorful goodness.

I haven’t done a restaurant review here on this blog in a while.  And when I do a restaurant review, it is usually at the end of the month. But as a fan of soft pretzels, and an even bigger fan of pumpkin anything, I just couldn’t wait until the end of the month to give this place a try.  And I’m glad I didn’t.  Their pretzels are so good they’re worth getting soaking wet while riding on a bike in the rain just to get there.  But, of course, you can get there any way you choose.

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UPDATE:   The bad news is that On March 2, 2016, The Pretzel Bakery moved.  The good news is that they only moved down the street, to 257 15th Street.  And you can still enjoy their full menu, along with intermittently added special offerings such as Pretzel Dog Saturdays, in their new, larger location. 

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The New Pretzel Bakery

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Dog Tag Bakery

When I stopped during a recent bike ride to take a photo of a mural I saw on the side of a building, I met a very nice young woman named Andrea, who was also there photographing the mural. As we talked I found out that she had been discharged from the Marine Corps, and had moved to D.C. from Texas to go back to school. During the course of our conversation I also found out that she works at a place called Dog Tag Bakery. My initial thought was that it was probably one of those trendy boutique bakeries that makes dog treats and caters to wealthy pet owners. But when she went on to explain the background and purpose behind the bakery, I found it very interesting. So on this bike ride, I decided to go to the Dog Tag Bakery, located just off Wisconsin Avenue at 3206 Grace Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Georgetown neighborhood, and check it out for myself.

While it might seem like the idea behind the bakery is to sell delicious baked goods, the Dog Tag Bakery is really all about giving back to those who have served in the military.  The bakery is just a storefront for a larger program run by Dog Tag Inc., a nonprofit organization founded by Rick Curry, a Jesuit priest and adjunct professor of Catholic studies at Georgetown University, and Connie Milstein, a successful attorney, real estate investor, entrepreneur and philanthropist. The program utilizes baking and running a bakery business as a way to help ease the transition of entrepreneurial-minded wounded veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan, and their spouses, back into civilian life by providing an innovative training program and leadership development opportunities.

The Dog Tag Program is made up of courses that are tailored to the business focused goals of the participants.  The courses include accounting, principles of management, communication, corporate finance, marketing, business policy and entrepreneurship. Participants who successfully complete the six-month program earn a Certificate of Business Administration from Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies.

Dog Tag’s Grace Street facility not only contains the bakery and storefront, but a classroom and office space as well. It also contains a stage, which is where veterans participate in occasional spoken-word events in which they address audiences about their experiences as part of their training in communication. Not to be missed if you stop by the bakery is the chandelier that hangs above the stage. The Dog Tag chandelier is made from 3,456 individual military dog tags. The unique display is intended to honor all the servicemen and women.

One of the best aspects of the Dog Tag program is that it helps the participants to focus on their abilities and not the ir disability. The program helps them to not look at a disability as a hindrance. And Father Curry may be the ideal man for such a program. Despite being born with only one arm, Father Curry believes that disability is a gift. He has said. “It can be difficult to accept, but in the long run to accept your disability as a gift is positive.”

Second only to the graduates the program produces, the Dog Tag Bakery also produces delicious baked goods.  Open Tuesday through Sunday from 8:00am until 6:00pm, their menu not only includes a variety of breads, cookies, brownies and pastries, but breakfast and lunch items as well.  The breakfast menu includes items like breakfast sandwiches, fruit cups, a parfait with yogurt and homemade granola, or a veggie fritatta.  However, I stopped by for lunch.

Having to choose among the various sandwiches and salads on their lunch menu was difficult, but on this ride I chose was the Turkey, Brie & Cranberry Mayo on fresh-baked Honey Wheat Bread.  The softness of the bread combined with the moist, flavorful turkey combined with the sweetness of the cranberry mayo was perfectly complimented by the saltiness of the sea salt kettle chips they served with it.  I splurged and also got a slice of carrot cake for dessert.  It was moist and perfectly spiced.  It is a nut free bakery, so there were no walnuts in the carrot cake, which was to my liking because I prefer it without nuts anyway.  I also got some mini quick bread to go.  They offer banana, cranberry and pumpkin spice.  I chose the latter.

Although I have only been there once so far, everything I had was delicious, and everything else I saw looked equally appetizing.  So I’ll be going there again soon, and I recommend that you do the same.

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The Capitol City Brewing Company

The Capitol City Brewing Company (CCBC) opened its doors in 1992, and that’s about how long I’ve been going there. And I haven’t had a bad experience yet. So for this bike ride, as well as my traditional end-of-the-month restaurant review for April, I decided to ride there and have lunch. I patronized the original location, at 1100 New York Avenue (MAP), near the corner of 11th and H Streets in northwest D.C.’s Penn Quarter neighborhood. But the CCBC has become so popular that it has expanded to a second location across the river in Virginia, which is just off of the pedestrian promenade of the village in the Shirlington area of Arlington.

When it started just 23 years ago, CCBC became the first brewery in our nation’s capitol since prohibition ended in 1933. The current brew master is Kristi Matthews Griner, who is one of only a few female brew masters in the area. She is also a member of The Pink Boots Society, an 800-member-strong organization of women beer professionals. After completed the Draft Master Program at the Siebel Institute of Technology, Kristi got her experience at Hops Grill and Brewery in Alexandria, and Vintage 50 in Leesburg before moving to CCBC.

Kristi currently oversees the brewing of a number of great ales, lagers and pilsners, and ensures that CCBC always has at least seven or eight brews on tap. The four award-winning signature brews consist of a classic German-style blonde ale named Capitol Kolsch; an American-style Amber ale with a lovely red hue and citrusy aroma named Amber Waves; an American pale ale named Pale Rider, and; Prohibition Porter Traditional, an English style ruby-brown ale with a pronounced chocolate malt character. In addition to the signature brews, there are also a variety of seasonal choices which bring English, Belgian, and German style brews to the line-up. I’ve enjoyed a number of their different brews over the years but, of course, since my employee has a strict policy about alcohol consumption while on duty, never on a day like today when I was returning to work.

Luckily for me, the food at CCBC makes it a worthwhile destination with or without an accompanying libation. Starting right off the bat are their free hot pretzels with horseradish mustard. I must confess that I am a sucker for a hot pretzel, and it’s a perfect appetizer to start out a meal at CCBC. And yes, you read that correctly. They’re free. So you can’t beat the price. There are other appetizers available as well, including many of the pub standards such as wings, nachos, and beer-battered onion rings. I recommend the BBQ Bacon-Wrapped Shrimp. But if you can’t make up your mind, they have a sampler platter too. Other appetizers aren’t really necessary though, because the hot pretzels are not to be missed.

Many of the entrees on their fairly expansive menu were developed specifically with their beer in mind, and some actually utilize their brews in the preparation of the dishes. Menu offerings include everything from sandwiches and burgers to pizza and more formal entrees, with a focus on regional cuisine using fresh ingredients cultivated in the Mid-Atlantic area and delivered daily.

With so many good pizza places in the city, I have to confess that I’ve never tried their pizza. And I’m not much of a salad guy, and haven’t gone with the salad option their either. Since I most frequently go at lunchtime, I don’t usually go for the full-on meal from the entrée selection. However, I have tried the Prohibition Porter Bratwurst, which is excellent. I usually have a sandwich or a burger. The Hickory Burger is one of my favorites because it’s very flavorful, with just the right tang from the chipotle barbeque sauce. But the Steakhouse Burger with the porter-infused A1 sauce is excellent as well, as is the simple Brew Master Burger. If you are looking for something lighter, I recommend the Grilled Fish Tacos or the Grilled Chicken Wrap. And for vegetarians, or anyone else, they also have a Black Bean Burger which I’ve heard is excellent.

My usual, go-to meal at CCBC, however, is the Amber Chicken Sandwich.  First, they take a bonelss chicken breast and marinate it in their fresh-brewed Amber Waves Ale.  Then they grill it just long enough to cook it through but not too long so it looses it juiciness.  Then they top it with melted Swiss cheese, thick-cut bacon, lettuce, tomato and red onion, and serve it on a fresh-baked brioche bun.  It’s the sandwich I had the first time I went to CCBC and it got me going back.  And it’s the sandwich I had today.

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The Vienna Inn

There are plenty of noteworthy restaurants in this city that that are worthy of recognition, but I chose an establishment outside of D.C. for the first time this month because the place I went to is just that good.  Located at 120 Maple Avenue in Vienna, Virginia (MAP), I rode to The Vienna Inn for lunch, and for February’s end-of-the-month restaurant review for this blog.

Draped in smoke and the aroma of chili dogs and beer, “The Inn” as it is often fondly referred to, has been a preeminent “dive” in the Northern Virginia area for more than half a century. Opened in 1960 by Mike and Mollie Abraham, the restaurant’s décor falls squarely within the category of “Restaurants That Time Forgot.” The classic neighborhood restaurant and bar has changed so little since it opened that one would be hard pressed to know what decade it currently is from its no-frills eclectic decor, which includes wood-paneled walls adorned with photographs and trophies from local area sports teams sponsored by The Vienna Inn over the years, as well as hand-drawn works of art from their youngest patrons, pinball machines in a corner, vintage booths and tables, all of which wobble and creak, and dim lighting that somehow just puts you at ease. And despite being sold by the Abraham family in 2000, current owner Marty Volk and manager Katie Herron have been able to maintain the same traditional laid-back and friendly atmosphere.

Despite being a dive bar, The Inn enjoys the dichotomy of also being a family-friendly restaurant as well. Despite an always boisterous crowd, one of its main differences from other bars is that cursing is not allowed in The Inn – even if you’re a local icon, like Washington Redskins Hall of Fame running back John Riggins. There is a local story about John Riggins visiting The Inn one night and using profanity, at which point the whole place went quiet. After being appropriately chastised by the owner, he had to stand up and apologize to the crowd for cursing. At that point he was told that he could stay.

The Inn is known for its chili, especially its ridiculously inexpensive chili dogs and French fries, which are my favorite. The fact that they sell more than 10,000 chili dogs every month indicates how good they are. But there is enough variety on the menu that there is definitely something for almost every taste. You can start off with their take on classic bar food and appetizers such as Buffalo Shrimp, Fried Red Chili Peppers or Boneless Chicken Wings. But don’t fill up too quickly, because the rest of the menu is not to be missed. You can enjoy lighter fare such as their soup of the day or a fresh salad. The Blackened Tuna Salad is particularly good. But if you’re hungering for something more substantial, classic comfort food such as meatloaf is always a good choice.  As I said, their world famous chili dogs and fries are my go-to choice, but if you’re still looking for something else I also highly recommend any of their more than two dozen varieties of specialty sandwiches and burgers.

And don’t forget breakfast. The Inn opens early, at 7:00am every day except Sunday, when they open at 9:00am.  And it’s worth a separate trip for their extensive breakfast menu. They offer all the morning basics.  But their offerings also include such diverse choices as Tex-Mex omelets, chocolate-chip hotcakes, cream chipped beef on toast, salami and scrambled eggs, and fat French toast. In my opinion, if you can’t find something you like on their menu, at breakfast or any other time of the day, then you’re either not trying or not hungry.

Finally, adding to The Inn’s distinctive nature is the fact that it’s also a great haunt for area bike riders. I frequently enjoy a stop for breakfast while on a long weekend bike ride on the nearby Washington & Old Dominion Rail Trail, which runs through the town of Vienna and right past The Inn, which is located near Milepost 11.5.  The bike racks out front serve as a welcome mat to area bike riders, but everyone is always welcome at The Inn.

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