Hill Country BBQ

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410 7th Street NW
202.556.2050
Metro: Gallery Place/Chinatown, Archives/Navy Memorial

Hours:
Sunday – Tuesday: 11:30 a.m.-1 a.m.
Wednesday – Saturday: 11:30 a.m. – 2 a.m.

It takes a lot for me to be blown away by a restaurant, but I think for the first time in D.C. this new establishment has done just that.  Hill Country BBQ just opened up last Saturday, and I took to opportunity to check it out tonight along with a buddy of mine.  I had heard earlier in the day from a couple of co-workers that the original location (which is located in New York City) was pretty damn good, so my expectations going in were high.  Not only were my expectations met, but Hill Country was everything I imagined and much, much more.

Having had BBQ down in Austin, TX, I can say that I can make this comparison with a certain degree of reliability.  Hill Country is the closest thing to a BBQ joint in Austin that’s not in Texas that I’ve seen so far.  The setup and feel reminded me a lot of Rudy’s BBQ.  When we first walked in, you could already tell the the place was going to be lively.  Looking like a typical country bar/restaurant, the venue was mainly wood with black and white photos of blue collar workers on the walls, Texas flags hanging from the ceiling, and chalkboard menus all around.  We waited at the bar (45 minute wait – but perfectly reasonable since it’s a new place in the heart of Penn Quarter) and had a beer.  The beers I’d like to quickly point out are served in honey jars, which warmed us up to the atmosphere right away.

Once our name was called, we were escorted to our table (by one of several gorgeous hostesses – that tidbit is for the guys) and were instructed on how to proceed.  Much like Vapiano’s, you’re given a “passport” and get whatever items in the cafeteria style line you’d like and then pay as you leave the restaurant after you’re done eating.  The first stop in the line is for the meat.   The brisket, chicken, pork ribs (and shoulder) are all priced by weight, and you pay for individual sausages.  Trying to figure out what to get was a daunting task, but there is an employee in line ready to answer questions and give advice on what to mix and match.  Once you get up to order (there were 6 stations to order meat), they measure out your requested order and then wrap it up in brown paper with a generous helping of white bread.  I ordered 1/4 lbs. of moist brisket (you can get lean as well which isn’t as fatty, but has less flavor in my opinion), 1/4 lbs. pork ribs (which ends up being one giant effing rib, Flintstones style) and one Kreuz sausage (I got the plain, but my friend ordered the Jalepeno style).

Moving on after that, you get to the Sides Station where you can order any number of sides from collared greens, to beans, to Mac and Cheese.   I went for the 8 oz. Mac and Cheese, and an order of cornbread (comes in 2 large pieces and Ancho Honey Butter).

We brought our food back to our table and our server, who looked like Ludacris (seriously, I’m not being racist – the guy looked like Luda), was super on top of getting us our drinks and checking in often to make sure everything was okay.  As for the food, I don’t even know where to begin.  IT. WAS. AMAZING.   The brisket was moist, flavorful, melted in your mouth, and was that perfect amount of juicy meat with bits of fat.  The rib didn’t fall off the bone, but the tenderness of the meat was there and was perfectly seasoned.  The sausage had a nice little spice, and when you bit into it it had a little crunch as you broke through the outer skin, and a deliciously soft and juicy interior.  There was a tasty Hill Country BBQ sauce on the table as well.

The Mac and Cheese; oh man, the Mac and Cheese could have been a meal itself.   The pasta was a penne style, and the cheese practically oozed everywhere (in a good way).   I think I tasted a bit of Worcestershire sauce and pepper in the cheese mix as well – it was heavenly.  The cornbread and honey butter were good, and probably better than normal because it was literally fresh out of the oven when I got my pieces.  Although the cornbread and honey butter were just okay on their own (it’s kinda hard to make cornbread really good or really bad), they complimented the meats and Mac and Cheese quite well.

The food already made the place worth going to, but then a woman came up to us and told us about the karaoke.  So I went downstairs to scout it out.  Downstairs is a whole other hall, with tables, a bar, and a stage.  I’m assuming that they normally have live music on some nights, but on karaoke night the patrons can go up and do their best Dolly Parton, Britney Spears, or Bruce Springsteen impression.  One great little thing is that the restaurant will give the singer a complimentary whiskey shot before or after they go up on stage.  And the karaoke isn’t just some video machine with the words and bouncing little ball on it; there’s a live band playing along with you (far cooler).  Now I’m not sure how many songs the musicians know, but when I went down there the woman was singing a song from “Mamma Mia” so I imagine they probably know quite a bit.

Bottom line: This is hands down the most fun place you could go to eat in D.C. right now.  It’s laid-back, the workers are super-friendly, the food is phenomenal (since it’s by weight, you don’t have to pay for any more than you have to) and the price is actually pretty good.  I got a total of probably around 3/4 lbs. of meat (w/ white bread), 2 pieces of corn bread, a cup of Mac and Cheese and a Miller Lite for a grand total of $19 (and I took most of the sausage home with me because I was so full after the brisket and the rest).  Bring a group of friends and you’ll have a great time.  Grade: A-

Kafe Leopold’s

3318 M Street Northwest
Washington D.C., DC 20007
(202) 965-6005

Open Mon-Wed,Sun 8am-10:30pm; Thu-Sat 8am-12am

Now that the spring weather is starting to slowly come upon us, I like to try and take advantage of any restaurants with outdoor seating.  So on the first comfortable Sunday of March, my buddies and I tried to find a place to have brunch in Washington, D.C. and decided on Kafe Leopold‘s.

Located off the main drag of M Street in Georgetown, Kafe Leopold’s is a yuppi-ish, European joint with clientele that falls under the category of either having western European decent and/or upper middle class Georgetowner.  Needless to say my friends and I don’t really fit into either one of those categories, so we were sort of out of place (but not uncomfortably so).

With the goal of trying to get one of the tables outside, we came upon Kafe Leopold’s and the couple dozen other people trying to do the same thing.  There are about twelve tables on their patio, however only about five of them can accommodate more than two people.   And by the way, the outdoor section is dog friendly if you decide you want to bring your pooch along.

My party was hungry enough that we decided to pass on waiting for outdoor seating and signed up for first available.  The wait was long; we were told 30 minutes and it ended up being more like an hour.  The host was apologetic and checked in on us several times, which softened the irritation a little, but still an hour wait was a pretty long time.  We couldn’t really blame anyone however.  Sunday brunch is a time to lounge around and enjoy the company of the table you’re at, so we couldn’t really fault the current patrons who were enjoying their meals slowly.  Like I said, the clientele was very European.

When we did get seated, we were taken indoors.  The interior will remind you of a IKEA dining room, with a lot of white space all around and the solid, modern looking furniture.  The only hint of color was a curious orange couch in the middle of the room which reminded us of Gaudi’s bench in Park Guell in Barcelona.  There was also a fairly large display case of mouth watering pastries and cakes sitting there and teasing our rumbling stomachs.

Once seated, we ordered a few appetizers and bunch items.  I had a Mrs. Palmer cocktail (Sweet Tea Vodka, Lemonade, and Ginger Beer I think) which was the best part of the meal (sadly).  The croissant I ordered (I succumbed to the temptation of the pastry display) was buttery, flakey, and quite good, but nothing special.  We ordered a prosciutto platter as an appetizer as well, which was alright as well, except for the fact that it annoyingly showed up with our main dishes.

My $15 chive and cheese omlette however was pretty boring and I probably could have made a much better one myself at home.  The omlette came with a small green salad and three small pieces of toast (which added up to maybe one piece of white bread), and those didn’t really pair that well with the eggs.  One of my friends ordered the same thing and had the same reaction.  Our third friend had the Belgian waffle with chocolate and he too was underwhelmed by his meal because the waffle itself was no larger than a frozen Eggo waffle (probably better to get your brunch waffles at Belga Cafe in Eastern Market).

Bottom line: All in all, the experience wasn’t horrible, but it’s not worth it unless you get the outdoor seating on a nice day.  But I’m always willing to give a restaurant a second chance and I might go back to try their regular lunch/dinner because those menu items did look much better on other customers’ tables.  C+

A couple of places to eat in San Diego

So, taking a little break from the Egypt talk, I was recently in San Diego a few days after my Arabian adventure.  Although it was a work trip, my colleagues and I were able to see some of the sights of the town.  I won’t talk about seeing the things that most people visiting San Diego would see (San Diego Zoo, U.S.S. Midway, which is AWESOME by the way, etc)  even though all those sights are very well worth checking out.  I’d just like to quickly mention a couple places to eat if you’re out and about downtown.

The first place is Currant American Brasserie.   This restaurant is just south of the Gaslamp District (a fantastic bar and restaurant scene in San Diego), near Petco Park.  The menu is simple; it has your typical sandwiches, salads, and deserts.  There is also a pretty good brunch deal with $8 all you can drink mimosas.  We ate on the outdoor patio, so I didn’t get a real good look on the inside, but when I went in to use the restroom, the interior had a sort of New Orleans architectural style.

Despite the vanilla choices on the menu, the food was extremely good.  We started off with an appetizer of taters tots with a spicy habanero ketchup.  The tater tots were nice and crispy on the outside, but the inside was more buttery mashed potatoes than the shredded potato Napoleon Dynamite/Ore Ida style tater tots.   Three of the four of our group all ordered the Chicken Club sandwich.  I’d have to think really hard to come up with a place that made a better chicken sandwich.  The chicken was juicy and grilled to perfection and was smothered with a chipotle aioli that gave it a nice chili-garlic taste.  The key though was the avocado.   Southern California is known for the fruit and the sandwich had a generous heaping of it.  And finally the french fries were the perfect compliment to the sandwich.  They were pretty close to the McDonald’s style fries, but with a nice thyme seasoning.  Currant is a great place to eat if you want to get a bite to eat without having to have to deal with the hustle and bustle of Gaslamp, but still want to be close enough to head to that area for a drink afterward.

140 West Broadway
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 702-6309

Open Weekdays 11:30am-12am; Weekends 9am-12am

The second place I’d recommend checking out is Fillipi’s Pizza Grotto.  From what I understand, this restaurant now has several branches, but the original is in the Little Italy district of San Diego.  The Little Italy district’s main road is India Street (not sure how that happened) which is where Fillipi’s is located.  From the outside, the restaurant doesn’t look like much, especially being next to the shi-shier venues on the main drag.  In fact, we walked right by the main entrance at first because there were some local, old Italian guys sitting outside the market which makes up the front of the restaurant; its very a nonchalant looking entry way.  Once we went it, and walked through the small little market, we were seated in the back.

The restaurant is very much an Italian mom and pop restaurant.  Nothing fancy, nothing flashy.  The menu was really, really simple – pizzas, pastas, soups, and salads and that was it.  The lamanted white menu didn’t even have any descriptions or many varieties of pizza and pasta.  The menu simplicity actually admittedly made me not expect much from our meal for some reason.  But once we took a bite into our food, there was nothing cheap about it.  The pizza I ordered was excellent.  The crust had a little more thickness than what you’d expect from a New York style slice, but was nice and crispy unlike a Naples style pizza (where the sauce and cheese sometimes makes the crust soggier).  The pizza was delicious; and that was the least impressive dish on the table.  The pastas were by far the favorite of the group.  The homemade pasta on all the pasta dishes tasted really fresh (if you haven’t had fresh/homemade pasta, go to a local Italian store or even Whole Foods and get the pasta from the refrigerated aisle.  You’ll be able to tell the difference immediately from the raw, uncooked box pasta you get normally).  The linguine with clams had a nice creamy taste, and the bits of clam weren’t too overbearing on the dish.  The bolognese sauce on the ricotta lasagna actually melted in your mouth with savoriness was easily my favorite of the entire meal.  And you get a good amount of food.  Admittedly the portions aren’t as big as a Maggiano’s or Buca di Pepo chain size, but be prepared to share.

Now I’ll get back to Egypt in the next post.

Skydiving in Chambersburg, PA

Most people have a list of things they want to do in life before they die.  Whether these things are big or small, everyone at some point has said “I gotta try that sometime”.   They even made a movie about this very idea recently called “The Bucket List“.   Now I’m not saying that I have a terminal illness, but one of the things I’ve always wanted to give a shot was skydiving.

People skydive for several different reasons.  Some jump for the adrenaline; some to try something that scares them.  Others jump to prove something to themselves, and I’m sure a few people are just plain crazy.  I think my reason for wanting to do it was a combination of all of those things.

Now as an idea, the desire to try jumping out of a plane is not very uncommon, however I would never had gone out of my way to find a place and make it happen on my own.  So when my buddy Vik calls me up and invites me to go with him and his friends, I “jump” at the opportunity (sorry, had to throw the pun in there).

One of Vik’s friends has experience with skydiving and took us to Chambersburg Skydiving Center, which is in southern PA, about 2 hours away from D.C.  Much like the website, the actual skydiving center isn’t much to look at.  The hangar and airfield are in the middle of farmland and the plane that takes the skydivers up is a simple 2 propeller Cessna.  Up until we arrived, I was surprisingly calm, telling myself that thousands of people from soldiers to civilians jump out of planes everyday.  But once you get there, pay (skydiving is not cheap by the way) and they sit you down to watch the instructional video and you start signing waivers saying “You could die doing this“, your heart starts to race.  You would be a total psycho if it didn’t (the instructor in the safety video even acknowledged the fact that it’s absolutely normal to be afraid).

After the video, the instructors take you outside to a mock airplane door for some rehearsal on what positions to assume, the procedures, and answer any questions you may have.  The type of jump that I was doing was a tandem jump, so I wouldn’t be doing as much of the work, but there were still several important points that my instructor, John, showed me about the skydive.  I’ll say that the confidence and thoroughness of all the seasoned jumpers put my mind immediately to ease.   They were the perfect combination of easy-going and competent.   And just knowing that they’ve all made hundreds of jumps helped calm us all down.

Also luckily for us, it was a beautiful November day.  Temperatures were in the mid-60s and there weren’t any clouds or wind to affect us.  Jumping out of a plane was enough of a heart-stopper, we didn’t need high winds and freezing temperatures on top of it.  After gearing up (and feeling like a total bad ass in the jump suit) we load up into the plane.  The cabin is small and cramped, holding about a dozen people sardine style.  As we climb in altitude, John starts to attach himself to my back and goes over again the procedure for when we get out of the plane.

It’s a tight space

At 14,000 feet, the door opens.  I pop my goggles on.  My heart is speeding up.  The wind is deafening and all I can hear is “Go, Go, Go” as the instructor orders each of the seasoned individual jumpers who rode up with us to jump.  Once those folks are out of the plane, my videographer (once I figure out how to convert a DVD, I’ll post the video) hangs right outside the door on the aircraft to film John and myself as we get to the door.

This is my defining “Oh Shit” moment

I slide up to the edge of the door and it finally hits me.  “Oh Shit” – literally.  And it wasn’t a reaction necessarily of fear, but more of a “I have no idea what’s going to happen next” feeling.  John thankfully doesn’t let me ponder this for long as I hear “ONE! TWO! ….”  I don’t think he even yelled “Three!” as he pushed the two of us out of the plane.  That first split second I’ll never forget.  It’s not the sensation of falling like on a roller-coaster because the plane is already going so fast.  It’s more of a feeling that your body has no idea what is going on.   The wind hits your face, and my eyes immediately begin to water.  After a second or two, I get my head together and remember to get into the skydiving position that we were instructed to get into.  From there, it’s literally flying.  There’s no other word to describe it.  I look up and I see the videographer right across from us.  Even as we’re free-falling I distinctly remember thinking to myself how cool the collected that dude must have to be.

I don’t think Tom Petty ever did anything like this

I did my best to try and smile for the camera, but when the wind is going 120 mph into your mouth, it’s a challenge.  What’s amazing was how quickly you can fall from 14,000 feet to 6,000 feet.  It was probably at most 60 seconds.  Once our altimeters hit 6,000, John hit me on the head three times and yelled “Pull, Pull, Pull!”.  I reached down and yanked the cord to open the chute (John said afterward that I didn’t hear him the first time and was a second away from doing it himself).

Yeah, my crotch definitely felt the parachute open

When the chute opened, my body was thrown up and back.  Not only did my legs almost kick me in the face, my groin yanked upward and I thanked god that everything on me was “centered”.  The 5 minute glide down was so serene compared to the windy craziness of the previous minute.  John and I chatted and we made some acrobatic turns in the area, which gave me more of the roller coaster sensation that you don’t get in the initial jump.  I was amazed just at how free I felt.  Suspending in air like we were really gives you time (even as short as it was) to appreciate the view and too be honest, just being alive.

Coming in for landing

As we neared touchdown, John reminded me of the procedure (another nerve-racking moment because failure to follow his instructions would have lead to my legs being broken by the ground) and we slid into the landing zone like we were sliding into home plate.

Thanks John for not letting us die

Hitting the ground, with all my senses returned,I literally couldn’t stop laughing with glee.  We had all done something pretty amazing, something that most normal, sane people wouldn’t even think about trying.  But I’ll tell you this: the adrenaline rush is addictive.  The only thing we could think about was going up again and taking it to the next level.  I think when the opportunity arises, next time – I’ll be launching out of the plane on my own.

Charlottesville, VA – Day 2

Waking up the next day was a little tough considering the festivities the night before, but we had a full day of activities ahead of us.  Our first stop was Bodo’s Bagels, a local bagel chain that Matt swore to us had the best breakfast sandwiches in the area.  Judging by the line of customers at the location we went to (and seeing the crowd outside the UVA campus location) it appeared that most of the people in Charlottesville agreed with him.  There wasn’t anything flashy about the restaurant and line moved quickly.  Bodo’s offers the usual bagel flavors and cream cheeses, as well as the typical bagel sandwiches.  The menu also features lunch sandwiches at a reasonable price.  I think the best way to describe the place is that it’s the blue collar Bruegger’s Bagel.

As much as I wanted to love the place, I was lukewarm about what I had.  I ordered a bacon, egg, and cheese breakfast sandwich on an everything, whole wheat bagel.  I wasn’t blown away by it.  Maybe it was because it was Sunday morning and busy, but the bagel itself wasn’t very toasted, and the kids in the kitchen left off the cheese.  The bagel itself was actually pretty good and like I said earlier, the price was cheap.  I’m more than willing to go back there and give the place a second try to really impress me, but I have to admit, I still prefer Bruegger’s Bagels.

After our breakfast, we had a few hours to kill before heading to watch the New England Patriots game.  Since we were in Charlottesville, it wouldn’t have been a trip down there without at least a trip to the Monticello area.   Our first stop however was at Carter Mountain Orchard, which is down the road from Monticello.  The orchard was located high up on a hill overlooking downtown Charlottesville.  The view was spectacular, and it was so serene being able to just sit back and enjoy the view.  Since it was early November (which is past the prime season for apple picking) there wasn’t much of a crowd.  But there were still pumpkins to be sold, hayrides, and it looked like there were actually still some apples that you could pick.  For those of you who don’t know, when you pay the orchard for a bag and go into the orchard, you keep the apples you pick.  You don’t give them the apples.  Yes, Mel asked us this.

We didn’t end up taking any hayrides or picked any apples.   But we did enjoy the hot apple cider for 50 cents and a delicious apple cider doughnut (which tasted almost like a apple pie strudel crossed with a churro crossed with an old fashioned doughnut).

After the orchard, we made our way to Monticello, home of Thomas Jefferson.  We arrived to the main visitor’s center and quickly came to the realization that we had spent so much time at the orchard, that we didn’t think we’d be able to squeeze in a trip to the actual house that TJ built for himself.  The price to see the house (which required a separate bus ride up the hill) is $17, and we elected to save the actual house visit for another time.  There was however, time to see the free museum exhibition, which consisted of an impressive gallery of antique items that Jefferson owned (such as his journals, pocket watches, dishes, etc).   There were also interactive computers and movies about how TJ built the house and his general history from youth through the Revolutionary War to his death.  Walking through the museum, both Mel and I regretted the decision to skip seeing the actual house, but it gives us an excuse to return.

We wrapped up at Monticello and headed back into town to Wild Wing Cafe.  This chain restaurant is pretty similar to any sports wing bar like Buffalo Wild Wings or Quaker Steak, so there isn’t really much to tell other than it was uniquely connected to an old-school Amtrak terminal.  I can say the wings there are very good however.  The “Virginia Fireballs” were tasty and spicy enough to have a kick, but not make you wish you had a glass of milk next to you.  That isn’t the case however with some of their other wings.  Both Matt and I each tried a “China’s Chernobyl” wing, and were literally sweating bullets in our seats.   To Mel’s credit, she ate an entire plate like it was a plate of cheese.  So we challenged her to try the “Braveheart”, which is Wild Wing Cafe’s hottest wing. The waitress brought her one wing, amusingly garnished with lettuce and jalapeno peppers, and we (along with every table around us), watched Mel take it down.  Mel being the spicy food lover she is left us disappointed initially, and gave no indication that the wing was at all the spicy wing it was talked up as.   Then a minute later, it set in and she gave us the painful look on her face we were waiting for.  Her exact words were “It’s not the heat, it’s the knives going into my tongue that hurts”.  But she’s got more balls than I do; bravo, Mel.

Let’s just say the weekend didn’t end on a high note as the Patriots got their asses kicked by the Cleveland Browns.  But that wasn’t enough to dampen what was a fantastic 48(9) hours of good times and I’ll be taking a trip back down there for sure before Matt’s time at UVA is up.

Charlottesville, VA – Day 1

So my buddy Matt has been a student at the University of Virginia (UVA) law school and is in his final third year.  The entire time he’s been there, he’s been trying to get me to drive down from Washington, D.C. to check out the sites of Charlottesville, Virgina where the university is located.  I finally decided to get my butt down there this past weekend had a great time and have come to the realization that I should have done the trip much sooner.

Charlottesville is located about two and half miles south of Washington, D.C.  If you Google map, and/or Garmin the directions, both will tell you to take 95 south all the way down.  Here’s a tip from the locals: Take 66 West, to 29 South if you’re coming from the north.  The trip may take a little longer distance wise, but there’s a very good chance that you’ll hit traffic on 95 and waste seeing a good amount of pretty (for lack of a better word) foliage on the way down.

So I jumped in my car, along with my friend Mel, and we got down to UVA around 1 PM on Saturday.  The first order of business was lunch since we were all pretty famished.  Matt took us down to the “Corner” which is essentially Main Street UVA.  There you run into a street full of undergraduates and can buy any sort of Cavaliers gear that you can imagine.  For lunch we grabbed a couple of slices of pizza at Christian’s Pizza on the Corner.

Christian’s was a perfectly decent take-out pizza joint (you could eat there as well, which is what we did) with the basic offerings of pizzas, calzones, etc.   The pizza itself was above average, but not spectacular.  I had a chicken parmigiana slice and a spicy chicken and peppers slice; both were quite tasty with a nice NY style thin, crispy crust.  Although, I was a little surprised at the price and thought that it was a bit more expensive than it should be considering it’s a local college pizza place.

After we ate, Matt took us to the main UVA campus.  Needless to say, Thomas Jefferson (who founded the school) went to great lengths to make it architecturally majestic and he succeeded.  Being in the college textbook business (my day job), I’ve seen quite a few college campuses and this one was up there with some of the finest.  We walked by the statue of TJ on the Rotunda, where the students go to get some good luck before their exams.  After walking by the Rotunda, we strolled over to the “Lawn”.  The “Lawn” was a site to see.  It’s pretty much how you would envision the perfect college campus scene.  A perfectly green strip of grass running down with trees along side.  On the “Lawn” were families, dogs, students studying, a group playing football, and anything else you can think of as being stereotypically “American”.  I half expected to see Joe Montana quarterbacking group playing football and John Mellencamp playing the guitar under a tree.

The most unique and impressive thing about the “Lawn” however were the  unique little dorm rooms within the building along the outside that actually formed the courtyard.  Each one of these one bedroom dorms were actual rooms from the old days.  They were small, had wooden floors and walls, and were heated by wood.  From what I could tell as well, each came with a rocking chair of some sort.  According to Matt, the only students who were lucky enough to reside in these “Lawn” dorms pretty much had to be the All-Stars of UVA (the high caliber students who excelled in class, star football players, or were very active on campus), and they had to apply well in advance for these 20 or so dorms if you wanted one.

After getting the tour of UVA, we decided to take a drive down to the Starr Hill Brewery.  Starr Hill is a local brewery that makes the award-winning Dark Starr stout and Jomo lager to name just a few.  For those of you not in the Mid-Atlantic region reading this, you probably haven’t come across this brand since they’re not huge outside the area.  But if you do come across it at any point, I would highly recommend their brand.

The brewery itself was nothing special; just a typical factory with huge steel containers fermenting beer, a place for the hops, and a machine to bottle the batches.  But the 30 minute tour itself was quite informative, run by one of the 27 employees there.  Their passion for beer is evident, especially during the tasting session at the makeshift bar they have set up.  During the tasting, they let you try all 8 beers that they have on tap (a mix of all year, and seasonal beers), and give you a little story behind each type.

We went back to the main Charlottesville area after the brewery and picked up a few more of Matt’s friends.  We headed to the Mall area of Charlottesville which is a quaint little outside, walking commercial area.  Along the brick corridor, which had a hint of a European feel to it, were shops, cafes, movie theaters, and banks.  We stopped over at Miller’s Downtown, a great little old-school drug store turned into bar, for a quick drink.  The place itself is nothing to write home about, but it was comfortable and had a dark, pub-like feel to it.  The beer list there was quite extensive, and the prices were good considering the offerings.  Since we had just come from the Starr Hill Brewery, I decided to help out the local company and ordered a Jomo Lager.

For dinner, we made an attempt to go to Blue Moon Diner, a little diner near the Corner area.  Much to Matt’s chagrin, the Blue Moon Diner was closed that evening (yes, on a Saturday night) and Matt went on a rant about how they have the best breakfast and great burgers, but that the hipsters who work there are so unreliable.  So, I guess if you ever make it in there when it’s open, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

But alas, our back-up plan was Boylan Heights, also on the Corner, two doors down from Christian’s Pizza.  Boylan’s had more of the modern, sports bar feel than Miller’s, although there was a random giant-sized painting of the movie “Rushmore” that I never really got the story of why it was there.  I’ll say this much, if this was the “back-up” for getting burgers to Blue Moon, than Blue Moon must be awesome because Boylan Heights had one of the best burgers I’ve tasted.  Literally, the burger could probably be in the Top 7 or 8 best burgers I’ve had the pleasure of consuming.  Their gourmet burgers have patties that melt in your mouth and a bun that is buttery and soft.  The patties are probably the size of a typical Five-Guys or In-and-Out patty, but Boylan’s are far juicier.  The burger I had, “The Room 121”, has a Boylan’s sauce which I’m not totally sure was, but tasted a hell of a lot like a mix of Thousand Island Dressing, Ranch, and Honey Mustard and was delicious.  Also, the menu offers a build your own burger option on a form that you fill out (much like at a sushi bar).  And the prices there were reasonable, not any more than you would pay at Chili’s or Applebee’s, but the food was far superior.  If I were a UVA undergrad, my freshman 15 could have easily  come directly from Boylan Heights.

After finishing our delicious meal, we headed back to Matt’s apartment for some pre-game fun with his law school pals and a growler of Starr Hill Gift ale that we purchased at the brewery.  After some drinking games, we grabbed a taxi for the Biltmore Grill, which was back on campus.  From what I understand, the Biltmore’s patrons consists of more of the older crowd (graduate students, law school students, etc), versus some of the other bars in the area that allow kids of a questionable drinking age into their venues.  I can’t really say anything exceptionally good or bad about the Biltmore.  The drinks were cheap, the crowd was fun, and the place had a huge patio for the smokers.  And since we were switching the clocks back that evening, we all celebrated Daylight Savings Holiday when 2 AM turned into 1 AM, allowing us another solid hour of killing our brain cells.

When the night was done, we jumped back into a cab to head home, when it was explained to me that the cabbies in Charlottesville work in a far different way than they do in any major city.  Most of the cabbies actually give out their business cards in order to get repeat business from the students.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but the cab we took to the Biltmore was actually called ahead in advance by one of the girls in the group, who had used that cab driver’s services before.  It was quite bizarre, yet refreshing having a cab driver be extra nice and conversational with you because they want the repeat business.

Up next: Charlottesville, VA – Day 2 (obviously)

Ted’s Bulletin

505 8th Street Southeast
Washington D.C., DC 20003-2835
(202) 544-8337

Open Daily 7am-10:30pm

Some of you may or may not know, but I’ve been living in Washington, D.C. these past few years.  Recently this town has becoming quite the go-to place because of the recent presidential election, various reality television shows (e.g. The Real World, Housewives, Top Chef, and much to the annoyance of the 33rd St. residents in Georgetown, that cupcake shop show on TLC), and of course the food.  D.C. has become quite the foodie town with high end restaurants popping up all over the place, along with competing burger joints left and right.  And I think it’s safe to say that most everyone in this city is a foodie.  My theory is it’s because of the size of Washington.  It’s not huge like NYC or L.A. where because there are thousands of places to eat, you don’t have to be picky because you’re overwhelmed by the choices around.  You’ll probably find a place within a block that will have what you’re in the mood for.  But it’s also not so small that there are only a few good restaurants worth trying.  Cities like D.C. and Boston are that right city size where the people tend to be more foodish because it’s still a growing restaurant environment, but the standard local places are still around.   So you’ll hear a lot of “I like this burger place more than that, I think the seafood here at this new place is better than there.”   And believe me, the folks in Washington have their opinions.

So as a resident D.C. foodie, I’ve banded together with a group of friends and we’ve been affectionately calling ourselves Team Dinner Out (TDO).  For the past year, every week or so the seven of us try out a new place to eat in the D.C. Metro area.  Choices have ranged from the swankiest of French bistros to literally hole in the wall, no table service BBQ joints (which “the hole in the wall” part was unbeknown to the member of the group who chose that particular venue for that week and tried to call for reservations).

This past week, to celebrate the one year anniversary of our group we had dinner at Ted’s Bulletin.  The restaurant is located south of the U.S. Capitol in an area called Barrack’s Row (named as such because at the end of the street is a Marine Corps barracks).  Ted’s just opened up recently and is the product of the owners of another popular restaurant chain called Matchbox.  Unlike Matchbox, which is quite good, but almost a little too fancy and shi-shi for the simple American food that they serve (think of a yuppie T.G.I.Friday’s), Ted’s has more of the home style feel.  The restaurant itself looks like something out of the 1930’s, with several wooden booths and tables, and a giant chalkboard with the day’s deserts and children’s menu written on the wall.

When we sit we’re greeted by our waiter who pours us water out of old milk bottles and we’re given what looks like newspapers that you would find in your grandma’s basement.  When you open the newspapers, on the inside are the actual food choices.  The menu itself isn’t anything remarkable (burgers, pastas, breakfast food, diner food essentially), but don’t let the simplicity of the choices fool you.  All the food we had was excellent.  Ted’s Bulletin hits that comfort food bulls-eye.

For starters, we ordered french fries covered in gravy (the white kind since there are two vegetarians in the group, and the staff was kind enough to bring us our special request) and it pretty much foreshadowed how good our meals would be.  Several of us, including myself, ordered the breakfast food (served all day) for dinner.  The hash browns were that perfectly brown shredded potato kind and the homemade pop tarts were delectable.  The bacon was crispy and wasn’t fatty, just the way I like it.  The eggs were just okay, I would have liked to have them a tad bit less dry.  However, to go along with my eggs and bacon, I had to try the Mac and Cheese, and I’m glad I did.  The side order I got came in a little iron cast dish, and the Mac and Cheese was savory, warm, and had a nice little bread crumb crunch on top.  Other members of our group ordered regular dinner type food.  The herb roasted 1/2 chicken probably could have been a little bit juicier, but it was still bursting with flavor. And of course, I can’t forget the milkshakes that two members of the group ordered.  These milkshakes were meals themselves, coming out in a full, large pint glass along with the still half-full shaker it was mixed in.  We tried the Cherry Vanilla and S’more shakes; both were heaven.  They also offer “Adult” milkshakes such as Bailey’s Caramel Macchiato and Spiked Thai Coffee that I need to go back and try sometime. If there was one flaw in an otherwise excellent meal, it would be the Peanut Chocolate cake.  To be fair, I was already pretty damn full when we started eating it, but it really wasn’t that impressive.  The cake itself was chocolate, but dry.  And the peanut part was literally peanuts on the back of the cake, with peanut butter acting as the frosting.  For how much it cost ($7.00) it wasn’t worth the extra calories.  I did hear however that the Blueberry Pie a la mode was quite good, so maybe I’ll give that a shot next time around.

All in all though, I would highly recommend this joint.  The price is right, the atmosphere is warm and inviting, and the food will leave you satisfied.  But be warned; the restaurant is extremely popular for brunch on the weekends, so don’t try to stop in at 11 on a Saturday and expected to be seated without a 30-45 minute wait.  Grade: B+