Nicoletta Italian Kitchen

It has been a very, very, very busy past few months, hence the lag between posts, but Eatnowrunlater is back! Yes, we are back and we want to introduce you to our son, Brendan Kieran Meyer! This big boy is now four months old! Following in his parents footsteps, he recently had his first big meal out, at Nicoletta Italian Kitchen.

Paul and Marnay's son, Brendan

Both Marnay and I had the day off, so we took the stroller onto the metro to Nicoletta Italian Kitchen, chef Michael White’s ode to the “Mid-Western style pizza” from his youth in Wisconsin. By the way, if you are going to be traveling to this restaurant with a stroller, we STRONGLY suggest using Judiciary Square. Gallery Place is just as close to the restaurant, but it requires three separate elevators to get to street level. On the other hand, Judiciary Square is only one elevator, from the platform directly to the street!

Now, we have heard of Detroit-style pizza, but Midwestern-style is new to us. If Nicoletta’s version is an accurate representation of the style, then let’s get some more Midwestern-style pizzerias in the DC area ASAP.

We ordered the Funghi pizza and the Classica. The Classica was similar to a margherita pizza. The pizza dough is a three-day process, and all that fermentation time lends itself to a marvelously flavorful crust. The Funghi was loaded with both beech and porcini mushrooms.  All those mushrooms were piled on top of a crust that isn’t exactly quite deep dish, but it’s certainly not thin-crust. Somehow, the crust tasted like a pretzel…it was different, but we really liked it.

Funghi pizza and the Classica pizza at Nicoletta Italian Kitchen in Washington DC

The best part of the Classica was the chunks of sweet(ish) tomatoes in the sauce. I am a sucker for chunky tomato sauce on pizza (see our Corner Slice review).

We didn’t only eat pizza, although we could have. That wouldn’t be setting a good example for Brendan now would it?! Luckily, the crispy, crunchy Veggie Fritto Misto tasted like calamari for vegetarians. Particularly tasty were the breaded and fried hot peppers, although everything was good. I am not a ranch fan, but I couldn’t stop dipping the hot and crunchy veggies in the Calabrian chili ranch. Marnay said that the crunchy broccoli was one of the only times she’s ever been actually excited to eat broccoli.

Veggie Fritto Misto at Nicoletta Italian Kitchen in Washington DC

Nicoletta was a great restaurant to go to with or without kids and we’d definitely make the trip again. In most ways, our lives have totally changed now that we have a baby. On the other hand, our love of food and running has never let up. Eatnowrunlater is here to stay!

Paul and Brendan eating at Nicoletta Italian Kitchen in Washington DC

Best Bite
Paul: Funghi Pizza
Marnay: Veggie Fritto Misto

Address
Nicoletta Italian Kitchen: 901 4th St NW Washington, DC 20001
Closest Metro: Judiciary Square

ZZQ

On the Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend, we made our final major pre-baby road trip to Richmond, where ZZQ is making destination-worthy Texas barbecue.

ZZQ has been on our radar for a while, as they’ve been receiving a lot of great press (Texas Monthly, Washington Post). But after our visit, we can’t help but add to the chorus of praise with our own post about their incredible barbecue and their warm hospitality.

We arrived at 10:30am, prior to the 11:00am opening. This allowed us to be first in line, a good idea since the line got very long very quickly. I was excited to eat barbecue again, so I was wearing my Terry Black’s Barbecue shirt. ZZQ is a meat-market style barbecue joint, similar to Terry Black’s in Austin. When you enter, you order your meats at the counter and the staff slices them right in front of you. It may not be the most efficient system, but (in my opinion) it’s the most fun and interactive experience for the customer since you get to chat with the staff and you might end up ordering more meat than you expected.

Ordering BBQ meat at ZZQ in Richmond, Virginia

The owners of ZZQ are Alex Fultz and Chris Graf. Chris was born in Austin and grew up outside of Dallas, while Alex is from the Richmond area. Both architects, they built and designed ZZQ from the ground up, and it looks incredible. There’s a large indoor (air conditioned) seating area as well as a smaller outdoor patio area, complete with picnic tables. The place even has a full bar with TVs. Honestly, even if they run out of barbecue it’s still a great place to watch a game.

One of the more notable interior features is a neon sign, spelled out in shapes, that says “Texas & Orange = Heart.” “Texas” represents where Chris is from and “Orange” is Alex’s nickname due to her unique hair color.

The interior restaurant space of ZZQ in Richmond, Virginia

When we got to the counter, they were just taking the briskets out of the wraps. We ordered a pound of brisket, ½ pound of pork ribs and ¼ pound pulled pork. Along the way, each employee commented on my Terry Black’s shirt. The brisket had perfectly rendered fat – this is exactly what Texas brisket is supposed to look and taste like. We ate some brisket on its own and some on white bread with pickles and onions, just like we did on a picnic table in the wind and cold at Micklethwait in East Austin.

A pound of brisket, half a pound of pork ribs and a quarter pound pulled pork at ZZQ in Richmond, Virginia

The glistening pork ribs surprised us when we first saw them, because to us it looked like they were covered in sauce. But in truth, it was just a layer of glaze that was applied during the cooking process. The glaze ended up being the key to our favorite barbecue pork ribs, both inside and outside of Texas. The initial bite gave a hint of sweetness, but it immediately subsided and turned into smoky, meaty goodness.

As we ate, Chris came over to talk with us. He asked about our favorite barbecue joint (Tejas Chocolate) and he told us that his favorites were 2M, Valentina’s Tex-Mex and Killen’s. Chris graciously offered us a tour of the smokehouse. We got to see the three Austin Smokeworks smokers, along with the Moberg smoker at that was out on the patio. That one is one for events and catering.

A tour of the smokehouse with Chris Graf at ZZQ in Richmond, Virginia

We couldn’t leave ZZQ without some merch, and of course we got a onesie for the baby. On our way out, we talked with Alex for a while. Her parting words to us: “Make sure you bring the baby next time!”

A baby onesie at ZZQ in Richmond, Virginia

Best Bite
Paul and Marnay: Pork ribs

Address
ZZQ: 3201 W Moore Street, Richmond, VA 23230
Transit: We have taken Amtrak to Richmond many times in the past, but for this trip we rented a ZipCar

Primrose

Recently, no restaurant has enchanted us like Primrose. In fact, we have had dinner there once a month for the last three months. That is a lot for us – we aren’t restaurant critics who can use the company credit card to eat. We also aren’t “influencers” who demand free meals in return for Instagram posts – we pay for every meal ourselves. At Primrose, it’s the smart service, beautiful design and superlative food that keeps us coming back for more.

Primrose in Brookland, DC

The interior decor at Primrose is beautiful, maybe one of the most Instagrammable restaurants in DC. I don’t mean that in a negative way, either. It is both whimsical and comfortable. The best way to take it all in is by sitting at the bar with a glass of wine or two (or hey, a bottle). Co-owner Sebastian Zutant is a winemaker himself, and you can try some of his wines under the Lightwell Survey label or go for the well-curated list of wines from (exclusively) France and Virginia.

Wine at the bar at Primrose in Brookland, DC

With a baby on the way, we appreciate the fact that Primrose also has the fanciest and most complete changing table we have ever seen in a restaurant bathroom. There are also plenty of booster seats and high chairs.

All of this would not matter if the food weren’t good. Luckily, Primrose’s food manages to outshine the décor. If it’s on the menu when you visit, a bracing bowl of gazpacho is a great way to start a meal.

Gazpacho at Primrose in Brookland, DC

Spring had certainly sprung at our most recent visit. We made a meal out of quintessential spring vegetables, including a tartine with fava bean crème fraiche topped with more fava beans, chives and microgreens. It made for an outstanding starter. Same thing goes for the outstanding simplicity of globe radishes, green tops intact, sea salt and whipped butter. Tre Bien!

Spring vegetable tartine at Primrose in Brookland, DC

For a medium plate, Spring brought a sublime bowl of plump ricotta gnocchi, chanterelle crème, peanuts and giant chunks of chanterelles. It was all topped with roasted spring onions for an extra kiss of Spring.

Ricotta gnocchi at Primrose in Brookland, DC

You can easily make a meal out of small and medium plates at Primrose. But if you did that, you would be missing out on the best roast chicken in DC. Every single bit of this brined bird is flavorful and tender, even the white meat. The chicken gets served with a date jus and cashew gremolata for some nice crunch and texture. It also comes with sides of thick cut fries and a side salad. If you don’t want the whole chicken, Primrose also serves a half portion as an entrée.

Roast chicken at Primrose in Brookland, DC

Even with all these great options, you would be wise to end your meal with the chocolate pot de crème. Trust us on this one.

Chocolate pot de creme at Primrose in Brookland, DC

Best Bite
Paul: Roast Chicken
Marnay: Ricotta Gnocchi

Address
Primrose: 3000 12th St, NE Washington, DC 20017
Closest Metro: Brookland

250 Texas BBQ

Marnay and I had never really thought that much about barbecue, until our trip to Texas changed everything. Now that we are back home in the DC area, we have been looking for a place to find authentic Texas barbecue. Somehow, 250 Texas BBQ appeared on my radar and I very glad that it did.

250 Texas BBQ consists of a husband and wife, Fernando and Debby. They operate mainly out of the Riverdale Park Farmers Market, which happens every Thursday year-round from 3pm-7pm. Let me tell you, they are the real deal. They use 100% wood when smoking their meats. There’s no gas-assist. As for the type of wood, they use apple wood for poultry and then either oak or hickory for pork and beef. Still, they will adapt to whatever wood is available from their farmer partners at the Farmers Market.

Fernando and Debby at 250 Texas BBQ in Riverdale Park, Maryland

Fernando spent a good amount of time in Austin, becoming a regular at some of the legendary Central Texas barbecue spots such as Louie Mueller Barbecue, La Barbecue, Black’s Barbecue, and others. He also learned from the master, Aaron Franklin, spending time at his pits at Franklin’s and learning from Aaron’s Meat-Smoking Manifesto.

The main thing that drew us to 250 Texas BBQ was to get their beef ribs. Beef ribs are such an important part of Texas barbecue, but they can be difficult to find in the DC area. 250 Texas BBQ’s beef ribs were tender, smoky and had a great salt and pepper bark, perhaps with some other spices added as well. Obviously, there was no sauce. These giant beef ribs are just so fun to bite into–I would definitely order these every time. They passed our “good barbecue” test. The beef ribs come from Groffs Content Farm, a local Maryland farm that also has a stand at the market.

Beef ribs at 250 Texas BBQ in Riverdale Park, Maryland

As good as the beef ribs were, though, the brisket was even better. (unfortunately, we didn’t get a great picture) They had GREAT fat, and that alone brought tons of flavor, but the bark was also excellent. Plus, the leftover brisket tasted just as good next the day when we used it for sandwiches.

Brisket at 250 Texas BBQ in Riverdale Park, Maryland

The thing I appreciate most about Fernando and Debby is their passion for making authentic Texas barbecue in the DC suburbs. It is well-worth a stop at the Riverdale Park Farmers Market. While you’re there, be sure to check out Town Center Market, one of my favorite spots for craft beer in the DC area. The best thing about Town Center Market; you can bring outside food. So grab your barbecue from 250 Texas BBQ, get yourself a cold beer and enjoy!

Paul eating barbecue at 250 Texas BBQ in Riverdale Park, Maryland

Best Bite
Paul: Beef rib
Marnay: Brisket

Address
250 Texas BBQ at the Riverdale Park Farmers Market: 4650 Queensbury Road, Riverdale Park, MD 20737
Closest Metro: Prince George’s Plaza

Mama Chang

As regulars at Q by Peter Chang, we eagerly anticipated the chef/restauranteur’s new spot, Mama Chang. This isn’t a strictly a Peter Chang restaurant, though. Mama Chang celebrates the women in the chef’s life – his daughter Lydia runs the front of the house as well as business development while his wife Lisa, is his pastry chef. In fact, Lisa was running the kitchen the day of our visit.

On a Sunday morning, we made our way from Silver Spring to Fairfax via public transit (doable) to see what Mama had to offer. I heard early reports on social media that the restaurant had been wildly popular, so we were not surprised to find a 20-30 minute wait when we arrived at 1pm. (It cleared out by the time we finished eating which you can see in the photo below.)

room

It’s a good idea to start your meal with dry-fried cauliflower, a take on Peter’s famous dry-fried eggplant. We actually found the cauliflower to be a little spicier than the dry-fried eggplant, and that is certainly no slouch on heat! The cauliflower was so green and fresh that for a moment I thought we were eating Romanesco, because of the color. But no, this is just fresher than your typical cauliflower.

cauliflower

The pan-fried noodles with vegetables were different than what we were expected – they are seriously fried to a crisp in the pan. In the picture below, you can see that some of the sections have been blackened. Once the noodles mix with the sauce, though, they suddenly reconstitute and become slippery yet toothsome. They go well with the bounty of fresh bok choy and carrots piled on top, which may be the secret star of this dish.

noodles

Everything we ate at Mama Chang was great, but the salt and pepper crispy lotus root sandwiches were truly a revelation. Lotus root gets stuffed with ground pork and fried until it is shatteringly crisp. The sweet flavor profile of the rich ground pork reminded us of the Dong Po pork belly at Masterpiece, in suburban Atlanta. All this is topped with chopped scallions and red onions for freshness.

Chang

The only thing we did not love was the red pepper fried chicken with sesame, and that was only because it was not as crispy as we imagined. That, though, is the smallest of quibbles.

Although it’s still new, Mama Chang has already become the place to go in Northern Virginia for authentic regional Chinese cooking. Our only question to you, dear reader, is: When are you going to go?

Best Bite
Paul and Marnay: Salt and Pepper Crispy Lotus Root Sandwich

Address
Mama Chang: 3251 Old Lee Highway, Suite 101 Fairfax, VA 22030
Closest Metro: Vienna

Best Donuts in the DMV

Similar to our Barbecue Tour of Texas and our Best Pizzarias in the DMV posts, this was a fun post to do research for. Who doesn’t like eating donuts?!? We tried four different donut shops and, while there were some we liked more than others, they were all delicious.

In this post, we do not plan on resolving the spelling question: “Donut” vs. “Doughnut”. I think “doughnut” sounds fancier (good) but perhaps more pretentious (bad). Only you can make the final call!

Diablo Doughnuts

Diablo Doughnuts, in Baltimore’s Federal Hill neighborhood, makes destination-worthy donuts. They make a limited number a day and when they run out, that’s it. Top picks include the Captain Chesapeake, a yeast-donut with a caramel glaze topped with Old Bay, it is pleasantly savory and not too sweet. A great change of pace from traditional donut flavors. The donuts at Diablo do tend to run oily, so eating one is usually enough for us. Did we mention they serve them in a reversed pizza box?

Diablo Doughnuts in Baltimore, Maryland

It was Mardi Gras season when we went so we picked up the visually appealing King Cake donut, complete with a tiny baby on top! The donut was fresh, sugary and delicious.

The crème brulee was a good donut, but I wouldn’t say it tasted that much like crème brulee. The first thing you notice is how HEAVY it is. That’s because it is absolutely packed with filling. The filling tastes more like vanilla pudding than crème brulee custard, but hey it’s a good donut that I would get again. It just doesn’t taste much like crème brulee.

Astro Doughnuts

The crème brulee donut at Astro Doughnuts, meanwhile, is what all donut shops aspire to. The sugar glaze on the outside shatters when you bite into, and the char is evident in each bite. There is a more modest amount of filling than Diablo and it really tastes like crème brulee custard.

Astro Doughnuts in Washington DC

The vanilla glazed tasted fresh, like an authentic glazed donut. We only got mild notes of vanilla but it was still excellent. While you are at Astro, consider picking up some top-notch fried chicken to go along with your donuts.

Vanilla glazed at Astro Doughnuts in Washington DC

Duck Donuts

The draw to Duck Donuts is the fact that the donuts are made-to-order. I am aware that it is a chain, but for the purposes of this discussion we will be talking about the location on Rockville Pike. And it definitely does draw a lot of people – the shop was packed as we left, at 5pm on a Saturday.

S'more donut at Duck Donuts in Rockville, Maryland

The donuts at Duck Donuts were smaller than any of the other places. They are also cake donuts, which I find unusual these days. Most fancy donuts shops make mainly yeast donuts. The flavors were also not quite as strong. For example, the S’more was good but lacking in chocolate/marshmallow flavor.

Duck Donuts in Rockville, Maryland

The donuts definitely get points for having toppings that are still melty from the heat but overall they just don’t quite match up to the others. If I’m in the mood for fresh, hot donuts with melty icing (which is often), Duck Donuts is where I’m going to go.

Sugar Shack

Sugar Shack is a local chain, based out of Richmond, Virginia. We chose to visit the Shaw location in DC. The texture of the donuts was somewhere between Diablo/Astro and Duck. Sugar Shack’s donuts were not nearly as cakey as Duck but also did not have that fresh taste like Diablo or Astro.

Sugar Shack in Shaw, DC

Our favorite thing about the S’mores donut were the chewy marshmallows in the center. It brought great texture, which was the theme for Sugar Shack’s donuts, texture and flavor in every bite.

We also had a chocolate frosted with sprinkles, where the top of the donut was completely covered with rainbow sprinkles. That sounds almost too simple, right? It was actually really good! I enjoyed the crunch with each bite, even if it was pretty messy.

So which is our favorite?

Astro takes the cake (donut). We like Astro and Diablo the best because their donuts taste the freshest. Astro is the clear winner, though, because the donuts are not as greasy and because the flavors really can’t be beat.

Places we visited
Diablo Doughnuts: 1035 Light St Baltimore, MD 21230
Astro Doughnuts and Fried Chicken: 1308 G St, NW Washington, DC 20004
Duck Donuts: 1327 Rockville Pike Rockville, MD 20852
Sugar Shack Donuts & Coffee: 1932 9th St, NW Washington, DC 20001

A Barbecue Tour of Texas

Marnay and I just had our “Babymoon” in the great state of Texas, specifically Austin and Houston. We were in El Paso last summer, but barbecue country West Texas is not.

Austin, Texas vacation

In preparation for our trip, I read a lot of articles and listened to a lot of podcasts about barbecue. I would like to thank Daniel Vaughn of Texas Monthly and J.C. Reid of the Houston Chronicle for giving me a crash course on Texas barbecue. I also don’t want to leave out Houston Chronicle food critic Alison Cook. If you are traveling to Houston any time soon, I definitely recommend the Barbecue State of Mind podcast from the Houston Chronicle.

And while I always enjoy Daniel Vaughn’s writing, his Texas Monthly’s Top 50 is the barbecue list that every single barbecue joint in Texas wants to be on. It is like the Bible of barbecue.

Below is a recap of the barbecue joints we visited on our trip. We won’t be ranking them in any particular order, because they were all amazing. Also, we consider all of them to be important building blocks in our Texas barbecue journey.

Micklethwait Craft Meats
Micklethwait, in East Austin, consists of a barbecue trailer, a giant outdoor smoker and a covered picnic area. The morning we went, it was in the 30s and windy. That would stop a lot of folks from going (resulting in a very short line) but it didn’t stop us! These were the meatiest pork ribs of the trip and they were our favorite item at Micklethwait. If you take a look at them, the smoke ring is insane. The brisket stood on its own, but was even better on Texas toast with pickles and onions.

Micklethwait Craft Meats barbecue plate in Austin, Texas

All of the joints we visited were friendly, but Micklethwait gets bonus points for being friendliest. And even though it was really cold on the day we went, it was a lot of fun eating the barbecue outside, picnic-style.

Micklethwait Craft Meats barbecue truck in Austin, Texas

Terry Black’s Barbecue
This was the best beef rib of the trip. It was gigantic and SO fatty, in a good way, but not too fatty either. You bet we each took pictures of ourselves trying to eat the whole thing. The flavor reminded us of pastrami. Terry Black’s brisket was top notch, superbly fatty and with a killer bark. The sausage was also quite good.

Marnay eating a giant beef rib at Terry Black’s Barbecue in Austin, Texas

The atmosphere at Terry Black’s is a little touristy, likely owing to its location across the Colorado River, near downtown. That means doubling up with strangers at tables, but the staff is very helpful in organizing the restaurant and eating barbecue with strangers is fun.

Terry Black’s Barbecue in Austin, Texas

Kreuz Market
Kreuz, in Lockhart, was on our 3 hour drive between Austin and Houston, so of course we made a stop. The sausage was excellent, with a nice kick to it. However, we were a little disappointed by the beef rib as it was too dry for our liking. Kreuz’s shoulder clod, which is a leaner cut than brisket, did have a nice meaty “chew” to it.

Kreuz Market barbecue in Lockhart, Texas

The sausage, which Kreuz is famous for, was the best of the trip, with some serious heat. We had eaten Kreuz sausage at Hill Country in DC and, fortunately, the real deal tasted MUCH better. No surprise that it would taste better fresh versus shipped halfway across the country! If we went back I would get the pork chop, which is a rare sight in a barbecue restaurant. Alas, we did not see the famous pitmaster Roy Perez, who is a ringer for Elvis Presley.

Kreuz Market in Lockhart, Texas

Valentina’s Tex-Mex BBQ
I can think of few better combinations than barbecue and tacos. It is likely the future of Texas barbecue and has always been important in the San Antonio area, where pitmaster Miguel Vidal grew up. Valentina’s is a food truck in a parking lot in suburban South Austin. It was originally an unincorporated area and was very recently annexed by the City. Behind the truck is a wonderful partially enclosed dining area with picnic tables, TVs and lot of sports memorabilia. You can tell that this is a great place to watch the big game.

Valentina’s Tex-Mex BBQ in Austin, Texas

The menu is separated between “Tex” and “Mex”. Anything on the “Mex” side of the menu gets served in Valentina’s incredible housemade flour tortillas. The smoked brisket taco was unreal – we got two! The brisket itself is perfect, but then it is topped with sea salt lime guacamole and tomato serrano salsa. We LOVED the guac! The smoked carnitas tacos, made from Kurobuta (Berkshire) pork, had a sweet taste from the super high-quality meat and were topped with caramelized onions, cilantro and a tomatillo habanero salsa for heat.

Lunch at Valentina’s Tex-Mex BBQ in Austin, Texas

We did not get a chance to try it, but Valentina’s opens at 7:30am for breakfast and it looks like it would be fantastic. In fact, you could probably do a barbecue tour of Austin starting out with breakfast at Valentina’s. Maybe an idea for us in the future??

Tejas Chocolate
Our favorite all-around barbecue joint of the trip, as well as the best brisket. They open at 11am and despite the fact that we arrived at 11:10am on Thursday, the line was well out the door. It is an indisputable fact of life that fatty brisket is better than lean brisket. That being said, the brisket at Tejas Chocolate managed to be the best EVEN THOUGH it was not the fattiest. That feat can be attributed to the cooking technique and to the well-seasoned bark. Similarly, the pork ribs were not as fatty as some other places but were still a cut above the rest. Tejas Chocolate also was the only barbecue joint we visited on the trip that had pork belly and boy, was it tasty. It was great on its own but even better with the famous mole barbecue sauce, aka “the most expensive barbecue sauce in the world.”

Tejas Chocolate in Houston, Texas

The crazy thing about Tejas Chocolate is that, as the name suggests, they started out making bean-to-bar chocolate. Their revenue wasn’t as good as they hoped and they realized that they needed to try something different. After a few years of experimenting at home making barbecue, they started serving it at the shop and almost IMMEDIATELY landed in the top 10 of the Texas Monthly Top 50. What a story!

Lunch at Tejas Chocolate in Houston, texas

I bought a T-shirt at each barbecue joint and chef Greg at Tejas noticed my Valentina’s shirt when I went to pick up our food. “Great food and great people,” he said.

We couldn’t agree more.

Paul eating barbecue at Tejas Chocolate in Houston, Texas

Best Bite of the trip
Paul: a tie between the Brisket at Tejas Chocolate and Beef Rib at Terry Black’s
Marnay: brisket at Tejas Chocolate

Places we visited
Micklethwait Craft Meats: 1309 Rosewood Ave Austin, TX 78702
Terry Black’s Barbecue: 1003 Barton Springs Rd Austin, TX 78704
Kreuz Market: 619 N Colorado St Lockhart, TX 78644
Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ: 11500 Manchaca Rd Austin, TX 78745
Tejas Chocolate + Barbecue: 200 N Elm St Tomball, TX 77375

A Guide to Mocktails

As you may have seen in our Instagram post from our recent trip to Austin and Houston, we are expecting!

Marnay and Paul are expecting a baby boy

Yes, Marnay is pregnant and baby boy Meyer will be making his arrival in July 2019. As a result of this, we have gotten quite good at ordering mocktails (non-alcoholic cocktails) at bars and restaurants. For the record, I am also not drinking during the pregnancy. I figure if Marnay can do it, so can I. If you are also expecting, don’t drink, or just want to give drinking a break, here are some tips we picked up along the way:

Ask Your Server
If you don’t see anything you like on the menu, just ask your server if the bartender can make something special for you. We did exactly this at Himitsu and they came up with a drink simply called “Orange-Ginger,” a very well-balanced mocktail.

Orange-Ginger cocktail at Himitsu in Washington DC

Consider Agua Frescas
Tacos, Tortas, Tequila (TTT) in Silver Spring makes great margaritas. (I mean, it has tequila in the name). But now that we’re not drinking, it was time to discover agua frescas, non-alcoholic sodas made from fruit, spices and nuts. At TTT, Marnay’s favorite agua fresca is the Jamaica and I am a fan of the Horchata.

Jamaica and Horchata agua fresca's at Tacos, Tortas, Tequila (TTT) in Silver Spring, Maryland

Step Outside of Your Comfort Zone
When eating Indian street food at Chai Pani in Decatur, Georgia we looked for a non-alcoholic drink that would complement the food. We ordered a Lime Ricky and a drink called a Salt Lassi, which was purely savory. One of the most unique beverages I’ve ever had. It was a lot to handle on its own but it complemented the food very well.

Salt Lassi cocktail at Chai Pani in Decatur, Georgia

You Don’t Need to Avoid Bars
Even though we aren’t drinking, we do not need to avoid the fun and energy of sitting at a bar. At Anvil Bar & Refuge in Houston, we had the best mocktail of our lives. The bartender asked us what we wanted and Marnay said “something refreshing with cucumber.” The bartender put a lot of effort into making a drink with cucumber, lime, mint and sparkling water. It’s no surprise that Anvil was recently named a 2019 Semifinalist for a James Beard Foundation Award.

Cucumber mocktails at Anvil Bar and Refuge in Houston, Texas

Topo Chico
We love Topo Chico! It is our go-to sparkling water and while we can find it at Whole Foods in the DC area, it was EVERYWHERE is Texas. During our recent trip to Houston and Austin, we had Topo Chico at least once per day, usually twice. The source is from a spring in Monterrey, Mexico and it just feels exotic, like a fine wine. It is something fun to drink. We also enjoy drinking it for “happy hour” at home before we cook dinner.

Topo Chico in Austin, Texas

We honestly have not missed alcohol during these last five months. It makes it easier not drinking when you can still have fun with cool non-alcoholic drinks. It’s helping us to became more well-rounded in our knowledge of food and drink which, frankly, is exciting! We hope this guide helps you on your journey!

Himitsu

Himitsu has been open for almost 3 years, but the fact that it did not accept reservations gave us pause every time we considered going. The restaurant is tiny and we never felt like standing in line for hours. However, they finally started taking reservations a few months ago. With a place as small as Himitsu, though, actually getting a reservation isn’t easy. We were fortunate enough to snag a reservation on a Tuesday night, the week of Valentine’s Day.

Himitsu restaurant in Petworth, DC

We told our server up front that we were not drinking alcohol and she accommodated us with a non-alcoholic cocktail simply called “Orange-Ginger.” A frequent concern about mocktails is that they often skew sweet, but this one had a nice kick from the ginger which balanced the orange’s natural sweetness.

Orange Ginger cocktails at Himitsu restaurant in Petworth, DC

We started out with the “French Onion Dip” with chives and ranch powder, which is meant to evoke Lays’ French Onion Dip. Believe it or not, I have made it 32 years without eating French onion dip, so the flavors were new to me! But if all French onion dip tastes like Himitsu’s, I certainly will not be going another 32 years before eating it again. The best part of the dish was the deep, narrow bowl of seasonal veggies, all you could see were the green tops which made it feel like reaching into a garden and not knowing which veggie you were going to get.

French Onion Dip appetizer at Himitsu restaurant in Petworth, DC

Vegetarians take note – you can eat well at Himitsu. In fact, three of our four dishes were vegetarian. Marnay thought that the vegan Nasu Dengaku, thin slices of grilled eggplant in a Szechuan black bean paste with pickled red onions, tasted more like pork belly than a vegetable. The eggplant tasted like so many different amazing textures and flavors I couldn’t decide what it reminded me of. Whatever it was, it was thrilling—and very spicy.

Vegan Nasu Dengaku eggplant at Himitsu restaurant in Petworth, DC

The piece de resistance, as our server put it (to our table to and to all the tables surrounding us), is the kaarage fried chicken in a gochujang glaze. It is served with hot housemade buttermilk biscuits that easily break in half, Japanese mayo and pickles. Those easy-to-break biscuits come in handy for making sandwiches, which is the way the chef intends that you eat it. As Marnay put it, this may have been one of her favorite “first-bites” in a long time. It was so crunchy and flavorful, with a little bit of heat from the gochujang. The thing that puts it over the top, though, is the salt sprinkled on top of the biscuits.

Kaarage Fried Chicken with buttermilk biscuits at Himitsu restaurant in Petworth, DC

The service at Himitsu is relaxed and professional, if perhaps a bit scripted. That being said, the restaurant is so small and cozy every meal feels like a special occasion. There is no doubt that we will be back soon.

Best Bite
Paul: Eggplant in Szechuan black bean sauce
Marnay: Kaarage Fried Chicken

Address
Himitsu: 828 Upshur St, NW Washington, DC 20011
Closest Metro: Georgia Avenue – Petworth

A Pizza Tour of New York

Inspired by the three part podcast on the history of pizza, we made a pilgrimage to New York to sample as many different pizzas slices as possible. With so much possible pizza to eat, we fortunately were not alone. We were joined by Marnay’s sister, Cheray, and her boyfriend, Chris. From Friday night to Sunday afternoon, we ate at five different pizzerias. Here is our take, presented in chronological order.

Corner Slice
Corner Slice had our favorite crust out of the five. It tasted like freshly made focaccia, but it had a sourdough tang to it. Although the crust was thick, it was by no means doughy. Somehow they made a thick Grandma slice that was neither too thick nor too thin. It had good cheese coverage and the large chunks of tomatoes tasted fantastic. Corner Slice was the unanimous favorite. In fact, Marnay said that it may have been the best pizza she had ever had.

Corner Slice pizza from our New York Pizza tour

Scarr’s
This was thinnest slice of our tour. It was so thin that it was practically a bar slice, although without the crack crust. A lesser slice that was this thin would have fallen apart under the weight of the sauce and cheese. Scarr’s slice admirably kept its crispness intact. The margherita may have been even better than its plain cheese slice. Scarr’s does gets a negative point though for having a rude pizzaiolo.

Scarr's pizza slice from our New York Pizza tour

Williamsburg Pizza
We visited the Lower East Side location of Williamsburg Pizza, totally unplanned. We just happened to walk by it. The grandma slice tasted exactly like garlic bread – it was oily and super garlicky, but with a crispy crust instead of that loaf of bread style. The plain slice had an airy crust and a flavorful sauce, with a good sauce-to-cheese ratio.

Williamsburg pizza slice from our New York Pizza tour

My Pie Pizzeria Romana
This was another square slice, but not nearly as thick as Corner Slice. It was very crispy and had more sauce then cheese, which is something that can be good when done right. Cheray and Chris got meatball pizza but unfortunately, the proportions were off. These were the least visually appealing slices, but the simple margherita was very tasty. Bonus points for having extremely friendly staff and for opening at 10am on a Sunday so we could pack in as much as possible before our train back to DC.

My Pie Pizzeria Romana pizza slice from our New York Pizza tour

Sofia Pizza Shoppe
The slices at Sofia tasted most similar to a “traditional” deck oven pizza slice. As with all five places we went, the slices were elevated by the crispy crust. There was a little more cheese than either Williamsburg or Scarr’s, but what draws it back into the realm of elite pizzerias is the marvelously crispy crust.

Sofia Pizza Shoppe pizza slice from our New York Pizza tour

Too often, at your run-of-the-mill strip mall deck oven pizzeria, the crust is an afterthought. Usually the crust is undercooked and practically soft. This lack of a crispy crust compounds itself when you load the crust with sauce and cheese.Now, I’m not saying that these types of deck oven pizzerias are bad – we grew up on them. In fact, I could go for one right now. But the way to differentiate a good pizza from a great pizza is in the crust. Every pizzeria we went to on our pizza tour of New York had incredible crust.

Marnay and her sister Cheray from our New York Pizza tour

PS: If you want to make great pizza at home, you need to check out Pizza Camp from Joe Beddia. We swear by this book for making homemade pizza.

Best Bite:
Paul and Marnay: Corner Slice

Places we went:
Corner Slice – 600 11th Avenue New York, NY 10036
Scarr’s – 22 Orchard Street New York, NY 10002
Williamsburg Pizza – 277 Broome Street New York, NY 10002
My Pie Pizzeria Romana – 690 Lexington Avenue New York, NY 10022
Sofia Pizza Shoppe – 989 1st Avenue New York, NY 10022