DC’s Independent Food Scene: A Work in Progress

Freshly baked artisan bread Mark Furstenberg caused quite a stir this week in his Washington Post article “What’s missing from D.C.’s food scene? A lot.” He writes: “I do not believe that we have the elements of a really wonderful food culture.” He paints DC as a hapless wannabe nipping at the heels of established foodie meccas like New Orleans and San Francisco. The results of an “unscientific survey of Washington Post readers” (whatever that means) support his assertion, with 64% saying that “no,” DC is not a great food city.

I agree with Furstenberg that we never really developed a food identity. We don’t have the vibrant food traditions of Chicago’s Greektown or LA’s Koreatown, nor do we have the long-standing local food movement of San Francisco, the BBQ of Kansas City, or the crab cakes of Baltimore.

But the problem with the piece is that it’s all about what we don’t have, rather than what we do. It’s a glass half empty critique of a city that is still finding its food identity. I’ve also been here many years–and I’m excited about where we are going.

Ten years ago, you couldn’t find a good slice of pizza in this town except maybe from Vace. Now there’s Pete’s Apizza, Two Amy’s, District of Pi and countless others.

Great bread? In the past, I’d have said forget about it. Now we have Leonora Bakery and Lyon Bakery.  Beer?  Three independent breweries have recently opened in DC alone, as has Port City in Alexandria.  Every day, I learn about another local food venture that is making the culinary landscape here more interesting. From Union Market to smaller restaurants like the Green Pig and the Red Hen, the movement here is taking shape.

Yes, the ubiquity of chains like Au Bon Pain and Chipotle is depressing, though hardly unique to D.C.  We need to do more as a city to support small markets and independent cafes and restaurants. But the way to do this isn’t by bashing DC, as so many have done in the past. We may never be able to compare to New York, LA, Chicago or San Francisco. We are a fraction of their size and will first and foremost be a government town.

But we can grow into a place with a proud local food community—one that supports independent purveyors like Smucker FarmsGordy’s Pickle Jar, MOM’s Organic Market, and Souper Girl. I do believe we have the elements of a wonderful food culture; we certainly have the appetite. Just take a stroll around Logan Circle, Clarendon, Del Ray, Columbia Heights or Silver Spring. The only question now is whether developers, landlords, and investors are willing to work together with independent businesses to make it flourish.

Editor’s Note: Shortly after writing this piece, we came across an article by City Paper’s Jessica Sidman, which is a terrific read in support of DC’s food scene

DC Restaurants Celebrate Earth Day

Tallula courtesy of Powers & Crewe

Dine deliciously and celebrate Earth Day with special events, menus, and offers from local area restaurants:

Sustainable Dinner at Tallula
Tallula will celebrate Earth Day with a special four-course dinner showcasing locally grown produce, humanely raised meats, and sustainable seafood.

Bev Eggleston, founder of EcoFriendly Foods and leading proponent of ethical farming, as well as Drew Koslow, biologist, clean water advocate, and brother of Executive Chef Barry Koslow, will also attend the dinner. The dinner will start at 7PM on Thursday, April 22nd in the restaurant’s intimate wine shop.

Priced at $85 per person including wine pairings (excluding tax and gratuity) the Earth Day dinner will feature dishes such as Bison Carpaccio, sourced from New Frontier Bison in Madison, VA, and a Pork Trio from EcoFriendly Farms. The dinner will also include dishes using local, sustainable seafood, such as Virginia Clams and Striped Bass and local Virginia wines.

Eco-Friendly Cocktails at JW Marriott
As an extension of Earth Day’s celebration, the JW Marriott Washington is creating a special menu of refreshing eco-cocktails and organic summer white wines by the glass to help raise awareness for preserving the rainforests.

The special beverage menu will be available at Bar 1331 beginning on Monday, April 19 and served throughout the summer.  Cocktails, including “Strawberry Fields” (muddled fresh strawberries, basil leaves, simple syrup), are $12.00 and organic wines by the glass start at $9.00.  Thirty percent of the proceeds from the new beverages will be donated toward the protection and preservation of 1.4 million acres of endangered rainforest in the Amazon, called the Juma Sustainable Development Reserve.

Sweetlife Festival
Sweetgreen‘s free outdoor music festival, Saturday, April 24 from 3–9 PM (behind its Dupont Circle location), will raise money for Farm To School, an organization committed to connecting schools with local farms. Live performances will feature Hot Chip performing a DJ set, U.S. Royalty, The Love Language, Phil Ade, Will Eastman, DJ Grant Shapiro and more. Limited complementary tickets are available via the Sweetgreen beginning on April 9, with donations requested.

Mixt Greens Offers Tote with Green Goodies
The first 150 customers who visit one of Mixt Greens three DC locations on Thursday, April 22nd, will receive a complimentary tote bag filled with goodies including recipes from Chef/Co-Founder Andrew Swallow’s upcoming cookbook, Mixt Salads, and packets of herb seeds to plant at home.

Green Hours
The official Earth Day 2010 Sustainable Feast DC initiative encourages restaurants across the DC area to highlight the responsible decisions they make when buying and serving local or organic, sustainable foods. Participating restaurants include Bread & Brew, Pitango Gelato, Busboys & Poets, and more.

Earth Day Menu at Restaurant Nora
Restaurant Nora will be featuring an Earth Day tasting menu that includes seasonal spring vegetables such as artichokes, asparagus, and spinach as well as seasonal cocktails. On April 20th and 21st, the restaurant will be donate $1 from each seasonal cocktail to Earth Day Network.

Local Fresh Food Delivered

Tired of takeout? Too busy to cook? Now, there’s a local food delivery service that will help you be more sustainable and eat well, too. Your Urban Kitchen does all the prep work and cooking and delivers on an as-needed basis with a three-meal minimum.

The brainchild of Nashwa Beach, a Brightwood resident, Your Urban Kitchen just launched last week and is currently available throughout northwest DC. Beach’s inspiration? Helping others to get their busy lives in order without having to compromise on flavor and nutrition.

Sample menu items for January include Indonesian Ginger Chicken, Creamy Chicken Basil Pesto or Pan Seared Tilapia with Chile Lime Butter. The food comes prepared and vacuumed sealed so you determine if you put in the freezer or fridge. All you do is heat it up.

Each meal is enough for six servings (4-6 adults) and split portions are available to serve 2-3 adults. Meals are delivered Saturday afternoon and Monday afternoon/evening to customers throughout northwest; the company is planning to expand its delivery area later this year

Now that’s the kind of fast-food dining we can get behind!

5 tips for being more sustainable

You’ve likely heard the term “sustainable” about a million times in the past few years, but what in the heck does it mean? The most widely accepted definition is that “sustainability is the concept of meeting present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

The good news is that it’s easy to take steps that will turn you from a resource-guzzling biped to an informed, conscientious, and planet-friendly creature.

As this article points out, for many people, sustainability starts with food. Paying attention to where your food comes from, eating more locally, and eschewing fast food chains in favor of independent restaurants are all ways that you can start to be more sustainable.

Here are a few simple changes—from how you commute to what you eat for dinner—that can make a big difference.

  • Get a better buzz. When you need that caffeine fix, choose fair trade and locally grown coffee and tea. And, free yourself from the shackles of disposable cups by bringing your own cup or stainless steel thermal mug.
  • Dress for less. Consider consignment or gently-used clothing and furniture instead of buying brand new stuff. Our blog pal over at Righteous [re[]Style has oodles of great ideas from buying on eBay to decking yourself out in vintage duds from Eastern Market.
  • Buy local. Did you know that most food travels an average of 1,500 miles to get to your table? That’s a long haul that uses up tons of energy and contributes to pollution. Plus, local food generally uses less packaging, is fresher and tastier, and comes in more varieties. You can find locally grown food at area farmer’s markets or through community supported agriculture (CSA) in your area.
  • See the light. Talk about a bright idea. Replace all the bulbs in your home with energy-saving compact florescent lightbulbs. The bulbs, which can replace incandescent, halogen and other electric lights around your house, use between 60% and 80% less energy than their incandescent counterparts. Plus, they typically last between 6,000 and 15,000 hours, compared to 1,000 hours or so for incandescent bulbs.
  • Get trashed. You know you’re supposed to recycle plastic and paper, but sometimes even with the best of intentions, those items find their way into the regular trash bin, don’t they? Make it a no-brainer to do the right thing by outfitting your kitchen and office with a stylish and functional recycling trash masher.