Fiola – Maria Menu

Some of Washington, DC’s pricier restaurants have more affordable lunch deals during the week. You can take advantage of them if you know where to look. Luckily, we are here to give you a review of one of our favorite lunch spots.

Fabio Trabocchi’s restaurant group in particular has some wallet-friendly lunch offerings during the week. On a rainy Monday, we spent the morning exploring some of the Smithsonian museums and enjoyed a mid-day meal at Fiola in Penn Quarter.

Fiola menu

The Maria Menu is named for chef/restauranteur Fabio Trabiocchi’s wife and business partner, Maria Trabiocchi. Described as being based on a “healthy Mediteranean diet”, the Maria Menu is three courses for $32, which is a steal considering most entrees alone at Fiola cost more than $32.

Another great thing about the Maria menu for the cost-conscious diner (and let’s be real, we all are) is that it starts out with an amuse bouche plus housemade rosemary bread. In our case, it was watermelon-tomato gazpacho with chive oil – a good way to start the meal, although it could have used a touch of cream to cut the acidity.

Sometimes servers can be a little too informal for their own good, which can be offputting. That is certainly not a problem at Fiola, where the well-trained and impeccably dressed staff are completely focused on making sure you have the best meal possible, no fooling around.

The Madai snapper crudo, from Japan, was paired with slices of grilled Jersey peaches and peach gel for swiping. The chilled, well-salted fish was the perfect foil for the peaches, ripe but by no means cloying and kissed by the char of the grill.

Fiola Maria Menu: Madai snapper crudo

Our main course was a hulking Australian tiger prawn on a bed of Sicilian capunitina, similar to an eggplant caponata. This puree contained eggplant, pine nuts, capers and golden raisins. I found the capunitina to be too sweet at first, thanks to the raisins, but as I kept eating the flavors came together and made sense. The buttery, mild shrimp flesh needed the intense flavor of the capunitina.

Fiola Maria Menu: Australian tiger prawn on a bed of Sicilian capunitina

Dessert was billed simply as “Raspberry & Hazelnuts”, but it was far more interesting that those two ingredients. When it arrived at the table, it looked like raspberry custard with hazelnut flakes on top. A plunge of the spoon, however, revealed an entire ecosystem of flavors. Inside of custard was raspberry sorbet, whole raspberries and a luscious hazelnut praline.

Fiola Maria Menu: Raspberry and Hazelnuts

The restaurant had been crowded when we first sat down, and we observed people talking and eating. I couldn’t help but think, though, that we were spending a lot less than they were.

Fiola Marnay and Paul Meyer

Best Bite
Paul and Marnay: Raspberries & Hazelnuts

Address
Fiola: 601 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20004
Closest Metro: Archives or Judiciary Square

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Tail Up Goat Revisited

Every once in a while, we have a meal that absolutely blows us away. This week, we revisited Tail Up Goat and had a truly special experience. Last time we went to Tail Up Goat, we ate dinner at 5:00pm on a Saturday. This time, we had our meal at 8:00pm on a Thursday night. Why does this make a difference? The middle of the week is when the pros dine out—the true foodies. It’s when the kitchen has the most fun, too, because they don’t have to worry about picky eaters and/or diners who rarely eat out. That means that the kitchen can worry about doing the thing they do best, cooking.

Tail Up Goat on summer weeknights has an electric vibe. We were seated by the window, just one table behind we were on our last visit. We even had the same server as last time and she recognized us. We were thirsty, which was a good thing because Tail Up Goat has an exemplary wine list, created by sommelier Bill Jensen. The list is divided into many different sections, mainly by region, and the first section is based on whatever the sommelier is interested in at the moment. This day’s theme was “Summer of Riesling”. I absolutely love Riesling and we were in the mood for a bottle. We weren’t sure what bottle to get, so we asked our server for help. She took us on a tour of the wine list, going into impressive detail about each wine and covering Rieslings from all regions and price points. One wine stood out. She explained that the 2007 from Hermann J. Wiemer, one of the first wineries in New York’s Finger Lakes region, had a petrol smell, caused by a chemical reaction that occurs in Rieslings that have been aged for a long time. That sounded so cool!

Tail Up Goat Hermann J. Wiemer wine bottle

She did let us know that it was a bit of a splurge pricewise, but she talked it up so highly that we had to get it. I am glad that we did order it, because it was a truly special bottle of wine that made the evening even more enjoyable. The smell of petrol was intoxicating and the wine hit that sweet spot between dry and sweet Rieslings. Plus, the mouthfeel was out-of-this world.

Now that we had our wine to keep us company, we started ordering food. Tail Up Goat has a traditional first course, second course and entrée menu, and we ordered one of each. Our seaweed sourdough bread was slathered with ciccioli and topped with pickled fennel stems. Ciccioli is an Italian pork spread, similar to a rillette. The combination of the ciccioli and the fennel stems tasted remarkably like Italian sausage, which inspired memories of eating at baseball games as a kid.

Tail Up Goat Hermann J. Wiemer wine bottle

Next up was pasta primavera with salty trout roe, squash blossoms, garlic scapes and crunchy aleppo breadcrumbs. The trout roe and the squash blossoms brought an intense orange color that was fun to look at as we ate. If money weren’t an issue, we would have ordered three of these.

Tail Up Goat Hermann J. Wiemer wine bottle

After our pasta, we were waiting for our lamb ribs and enjoying our wine. Suddenly, the sommelier walks over carrying two large red wine glasses and a bottle. It turns out that he came to give us a pour of a delicious, fruity red wine from volcanic Mt. Etna in Italy. It was fun to watch his enthusiasm as he talked about the volcanic soil. The experience made our meal!

Within a few moments, our lamb ribs arrived, piping hot. We noticed that there had been a bit of a delay between our pasta and the lamb ribs, and perhaps that’s why we got free wine, but neither of us minded. Plus, the lamb ribs tasted even better than last time., possibly because they were right from the kitchen.  Unlike last time, we ate the ribs with our hands and I think it made the meal more fun.

Tail Up Goat Hermann J. Wiemer wine bottle

I feel like we gained a lot of trust with Tail Up Goat after this visit. By trust, I mean that the next time we’re there, and our server makes a suggestion, we will take it. It was an amazing meal and it would not be the same without the incredible service that we received from our server and the sommelier.

Best Bite
Paul and Marnay: Pasta primavera

Address
Tail Up Goat: 1827 Adams Mill Rd, NW Washington, DC 20009
Closest Metro: Columbia Heights or Woodley Park

Aldine

We were on our way to our annual beach trip in Margate and had some time in Philadelphia in between our Amtrak and NJ Transit trains. That meant that there was no better time to check out a new-to-us restaurant. We made the 0.5 mile walk from 30th Street Station to Aldine, located just outside of Rittenhouse Square in Center City.

Aldine, from owners George and Jennifer Sabatino, is creatively wedged into a second floor space between two storefronts. The front door leads to a staircase that takes you practically straight up into the restaurant. Inside, the space is airy, full of dark wood and surrounded by windows on almost all sides. From our perch, we were able to look out onto the bustling street life below.

Aldine restaurant interior in Philadelphia

When we first entered the restaurant, we noticed a plaque hanging outside the door. The plaque was from Philadelphia Magazine and it was the award for “Best Non-Vegetable Restaurant for Vegetarians”. I don’t know if we have eaten at enough Philadelphia-area restaurants to have an opinion on this, but I feel comfortable saying that Aldine is a good spot for vegetarians and pescetarians.

The restaurant was empty when we arrived, possibly a result of it being a summer Friday. In spite of the calm, Marnay and I got the party started with glass of Spanish rose and a truly interesting housemade cream soda. The sweet but not too sweet soda had vanilla beans floating on top and the server instructed me to stir them for maximum flavor.

Aldine Spanish rose and a truly interesting housemade cream soda

Aldine is a small plates restaurant and we want to thank them for flawlessly coursing out our meal without us having to say a word. The pace of the meal felt more fine-dining than small plates. There were two plates that we were most excited about ordering: the poached shrimp crudo and the corn custard. Neither disappointed. The custard was savory in the sense that there were no added sugars, but the fresh corn gave plenty of natural sweetness. The dish is topped off with crunchy hazelnuts and tart pickled corn kernels and pickled mushrooms. The shrimp crudo, made with chilled poached shrimp, sat on top of a crisp bed of fennel salad and aioli and then was topped with everything spice, the spice of the moment right now.

apps

The braised purple cabbage with black-garlic glaze was an example of how Aldine can make vegetables the star of a dish and was as good as any dish at Vedge. The thick slices of cabbage were layered in a broth that tasted like soy, mirin, sugar, plus a few other ingredients.

cabbage

We rounded everything out with a culotte steak. The steak came with grilled peaches, cucumbers and black garlic chips, and really, the non-steak components were the best parts of the dish. The steak was fine, just a little chewy. We are not against ordering steak at restaurants, but often times steak feels like a throwaway item that restaurants put on a menu, intended for less-adventurous diners. For more on this, I recommend this article from former Washingtonian food critic Todd Kliman on how to read a menu like a food critic.

That being said, you really can’t go wrong with anything that Aldine serves.

meat

Best Bite
Paul: Corn Custard
Marnay: Shrimp Crudo

Address
Aldine: 1901 Chestnut Street Philadelphia, PA 19103

5 Must Have Summer Cocktails in the Meyer Household

When summer comes around, we can’t help looking forward to sipping cocktails on our balcony. And when we think of cocktails, one word comes to mind: “Spritz”. Sure, we occasionally drink spritzes during the winter, but to us no drink feels more summery than the spritz. (As a side note, no cocktail book has been more influential than Spritz by Talia Baiocchi and Leslie Pariseau. I highly recommend this book as I am deeply indebted to it).

We’ve listed five essential cocktails for summer in our household. Not all of them are spritzes, but many of them are light cocktails that are low in alcohol. I love whiskey, but when it’s 90 degrees outside I really do not want a Manhattan. We have also included places in the DC area where we have had the drink or where we know it’s served. What are your essential summer cocktails? Let us know!

1. Venetian Spritz
The Venetian spritz is a spritz in its most classic form. It’s three parts prosecco, two parts bitter liquor and one part soda water. For the bitter liquor, the most popular and the sweetest is Aperol. However, our favorite is Select, an aperitvo that is very popular in Venice but which was just imported to the U.S. The only place we were able to find a bottle was Manhattan, actually. Feel free to use whichever bitter liquors you like.

Venetian Spritz cocktail

Ingredients:
3 oz. Prosecco
2 oz. Aperol, Select, Cappelletti, or Campari, or other bitter liquor
1 oz. soda water

Where to find it:
On the list at Acqua Al 2, 212 7th Street, SE Washington, DC 20003

2. Little Grey Lady
The Little Grey Lady cocktail features one of my favorite spirits, Cocchi Americano, an Italian fortified wine. This cocktail is on the sweeter side, although with a touch of bitterness from the Cocchi Americano. I found this cocktail in Wine Enthusiast magazine. Cocchi Americano is my favorite aperitivo, as it has a base of wine, some light sweetness and then it’s flavored with gentian root for bitterness. The powerhouse of this cocktail is the elderflower liquor.

Little Grey Lady cocktail

Ingredients:
¾ oz. gin
¾ oz. cocchi Americano
¾ oz. elderflower liquor
¾ oz. lemon juice
1 dash bitters

3. Rome with a View
Of all our of summer cocktails, this one looks the most like summer with it’s bright red color. While it contains Campari, the most bitter of the Italian bitter liquors, that robust bitterness is necessary to stand up to the tartness of the lime juice. It’s that combination of bitter and tart that makes this drink work.

Rome with a View cocktail

Ingredients:
1 oz. Campari
1 oz. dry vermouth
1 oz. lime juice
¾ oz. simple syrup
Soda water to top

4. The Rib Tickler
Close behind in the “looks like summer” category is the yellow-hued Rib Tickler. The rib tickler gets its color from Suze, a French bitter liquor made with gentian. To offset that bitterness, we bring sweet elderflower liquor in the mix, an essential ingredient in the Meyer household.

The Rib Tickler

Ingredients:
2 oz. dry vermouth
¼ oz. Suze
½ oz. elderflower liquor
¼ oz. lemon juice
½ oz simple syrup
Soda water to top

Where to find it:
This drink is very similar a white negroni, on the list at Dino’s Grotto, 1914 9th Street, NW Washington, DC 20001

5. The Last Word
The last cocktail on our list is aptly The Last Word, a great cocktail any time of year but particularly refreshing during summer. The Last Word is a classic pre-Prohibition cocktail, although the first time we had it was at The Gin Joint in Charleston, SC during our Charleston trip. We have been hooked ever since the first sip and we have turned many of our friends onto this drink.

The Last Word cocktail

Ingredients:
1 oz. gin
1 oz. lime juice
1 oz. maraschino liquor
1 oz. Green Chartreuse

Where to find it:
It’s not on the list, but we have had a good version at Whaley’s, 301 Water Street, SE Washington, DC 20003

Keep in mind that these are not the “five essential cocktails for summer”; they are the five essential cocktails in the Meyer household. Your experiences may differ. What drink would you add to this list?

Sally’s Middle Name

Many restaurants in Philadelphia have a “neighborhood” vibe – relaxed, intimate, unpretentious—possibly because of the low rents and less demand for older housing stock which can be used to create smaller restaurants. We are always on the lookout for restaurants with this vibe in DC, and were pleasantly surprised when we found Sally’s Middle Name.

Sally’s Middle Name restaurant

The restaurant has two levels: downstairs is decorated with white subway tiles and was bustling with the din of diners when we arrived. Upstairs, where we sat, was calmer and felt more like someone’s home. In fact, it is so much like a person’s home the upstairs bathroom even has a shower. The entire menu, including drinks and dessert, is written on a full-size chalk board on the wall. While I think this approach is cute, it is frustrating to have to keep getting up to check the board. We took a picture with our phones, but everyone may not recognize that as an option.

Sally’s Middle Name cocktails and menu chalk board

Sally’s Middle Name is a small plates restaurant. We have noticed that servers at small plates restaurants tend to recommend an absurd amount of food—a suggestion of three to four dishes per person is not uncommon. It was a breath of fresh air, then, when our server at Sally’s Middle Name recommended 3 to 4 dishes total, meant to be shared. That immediately endeared us to the place.

We ordered four dishes, and we ordered them all at the same time: the housemade bread and butter, the cucumber salad, the braised collard greens with Szechuan pork and the seared scallops. The result was that all four dishes came out at the same time. Not a good look, in my opinion. I would have been much more annoyed, though, if our server demanded that we order four dishes per person and then eight dishes came out at the same time. If that were the case, we would have needed to steal a neighboring table.

Sally’s Middle Name housemade bread and butter, the cucumber salad, the braised collard greens with Szechuan pork and the seared scallops

Anyway, the housemade white and wheat breads were delicious and a great start to the meal. They were even better with creamy housemade butter, although the white bread would have been fine on its own. For our remaining three dishes, we mixed and matched bites, not eating the dishes in any particular order. The collards appropriately got top billing, as this was a collard dish and not a pork dish—not that we minded. It was a play on traditional Southern collard greens, cooked with spicy Szechuan pork instead of a more traditional ham hock. We first got a major hit of ginger and then the lingering spice of Szechuan peppercorns.

Both of us were big fans of the buttery seared scallops served with a sauce of fermented turnips, lightly smeared on plate. The scallops were then topped with pea shoots, a nice taste of early summer. The cucumber salad, on the other hand, could have used some salt, even with a dressing of fermented carrots.

All of the portions at Sally’s Middle Name were reasonable in size, so we had room for dessert. We got an impressive Olive Oil cake with strawberry jam. The jam and the olive oil cake, which actually tasted like olive oil, were a perfect match.

Sally's Middle Name Olive Oil cake with strawberry jam

Based on atmosphere alone, we would go back to Sally’s Middle Name. We loved the lack of pretense, and oh yeah, the food wasn’t bad either.

Best Bite
Paul: Olive Oil Cake
Marnay: Scallops

Address
Sally’s Middle Name: 1320 H Street NE Washington, DC 20002
Clsoest metro: Union Station to H Street Streetcar

Anchorage

As promised in our Ultimate Greenville recap, we are doing a full review of our meal at Anchorage. Anchorage is located on the western edge of town in the “Village of West Greenville”, an up and coming area. While there were empty storefronts nearby there also was a cool-looking coffee shop, a music venue and a small outdoor concert going on when we first arrived. When it comes to the meaning of the name Anchorage, think ships, not Alaska. I think it goes without saying that an Arctic-themed restaurant in western South Carolina would be strange.

Anchorage farm-themed mural

Much like crossing the Atlantic by ship seems tediously slow, our meal at Anchorage moved at a snail’s pace. And it’s not a cultural thing, either, us impatient northerners. There really did seem to be some confusion in the kitchen. We could tell, because we were sitting about five feet away from the small open kitchen. Still, we had not seen my family in months, so we did not mind the slow pace. Also, we were in a vacation-mode. Come what may, brother.

Both Marnay and I started out with well-made cocktails. Marnay went with the Bombeyonce, with gin, chartreuse, orange fennel shrub, floral bitters and lemon, a refreshing beginning. I went the tiki-route with The Village Swizzle: Angostura rum, Gosling Black Seal rum, falernum, lime and Angostura and Peychaud’s bitters.

Anchorage cocktails: Bombeyonce and The Village Swizzle

The five of us ordered nearly everything on the menu, although I will mostly focus on what Marnay and I ate. When eating at a restaurant with a such a large and diverse group, it can be difficult to come to a consensus when the menu is not divided into the “traditional” appetizer, entrée, dessert format. Luckily, our server sensed that we were having trouble and suggested that we order a few small plates to share as our first course. He waited until we completely finished eating and then came back for round two.

Anchorage pickled Royal Red Gulf shrimp

The pickled Royal Red Gulf shrimp was a standout from the first course, especially the contrast between the vinegary shrimp, the heat from thinly-sliced jalapeños and the cooling, partially caramelized grilled watermelon. The showstopper, though, was the perfectly browned Bahamian fish fritters, filled with clean-tasting and fresh conch, wreckfish and one other fish, the name I unfortunately do not remember. The fennel salad on the side brought a welcome lightness to the hot and crunchy fritters. We liked it so much that Marnay ordered it as her main course!

Anchorage Bahamian fish fritters

The best presentation of the evening was the cornmeal fried Virginia oysters. The fried oysters are served on the half shell, dressed with pickled green strawberries, fennel and dill and then placed on top of coarse salt, meant to resemble ice. Green strawberries are in ingredient that we are just starting to see on menus, and they are something that chefs can really be creative with.

Anchorage cornmeal fried Virginia oysters

Our server explained that most people order dishes to share, but he didn’t blink an eye or pressure us when we each got our own dish. I am fan of burrata, but it can be difficult to eat with bread when the bread comes on the side. Maybe “difficult” is not the right word, but it is at least one more step. Well, Anchorage solved the problem by serving their hand-pulled ramp burrata and salsa verde on top of housemade bread, topped with fried capers, dill and chili salt. All of the flavors were perfectly layered and went together like a dream. My family’s main courses, for the most part, were hit or miss. The Reedy River Baby Lettuces, grown on Reedy River Farms, a one-acre plot located less than a mile from downtown Greenville, were incredibly sweet and had a pleasantly leathery texture. On the other hand, the Bethel Trails Chicken Larb and the Baked Garganelli pasta with grilled squash were flat out misses.

Anchorage hand-pulled ramp burrata and salsa verde

Now, the whole meal had been a bit slow, starting with our drink orders, but it was when we ordered ice cream for dessert that things came to a grinding halt. As I mentioned earlier, we were sitting near the kitchen, so we were able to figure out that the delays were due to some confusion in the kitchen, not our server. Our server handled everything very well. Still, we had nowhere to be so we did not mind. It helped tremendously that our server had given us good service all night and that put us in a good mood.

Dining at Anchorage in Greenville, SC with our family

Despite the pace of the meal, Anchorage is restaurant we would return to. The food was good and the thing that we will remember the most was the superb service.

Best Bite
Paul and Marnay: Bahamian Fish Fritters

Address
Anchorage: 586 Perry Avenue Greenville, SC 29611

Ultimate Greenville Weekend: Part 2

Note: We divided our Ultimate Greenville Weekend into two posts. Click here to read Part 1.

Saturday

Because we were so tired on Friday, we went to sleep early but also woke up early. We left the house and walked to Methodical Coffee, a third-wave coffee shop located in an office building downtown. We sat upstairs, listened to tunes on their record player and ate one of the best almond croissants we had ever had. Afterwards we checked out the farmers market on Main Street and purchased a drawing of the Swamp Rabbit Railroad, which is now the location of the Swamp Rabbit Trail. We talked to the artist for a while and she said that it took her 40 hours to draw, using only dots!

Methodical Coffee with an almond croissant in Greenville, SC

We had been carrying helmets around all morning so that we could try out Greenville’s bikeshare system, B-Cycle. Greenville has a good amount of bike lanes and a tremendous amount of bike shops, which reflects a healthy biking culture. We rode east from downtown, down a large hill on Washington Street and then into Cleveland Park, home of the Greenville zoo. We dropped off the bikes and walked around but then headed uphill back into town. It was time for lunch!

Paul biking with B-Cycle in Greenville, SC

We met my parents at their hotel and then drove to Swamp Rabbit Café. Unlike Friday morning, when we made a very brief stop there, now we had time to check the place out. The outdoor pizza oven was open so my Dad and grandfather shared a nice thin-crust pie. Marnay and I ate picnic-style, choosing from the selection of mostly local products in the market: La Quercia prosciutto (delicious but not local), housemade stecca, a focaccia-like bread, local salami, local mozzarella and local strawberries. It was truly a feast! The mozzarella, made just up the road in Travelers Rest, was the star of the show. That and the bread!

Swamp Rabbit Cafe picnic in Greenville, SC

My parents dropped us off at our Airbnb, but we were not ready to rest. We walked about two miles through some interesting areas to the Birds Fly South Ale Project, which when we looked at the map later was actually very close to Swamp Rabbit Café. The brewery had garage-style doors that looked out onto a grassy lawn and it was a great place to spend the afternoon hanging out, drinking some brews.

Our dinner reservation that night was Jianna, the much-anticipated new Italian restaurant from Chef Michael Kramer. The second-story views overlooking Falls Park could not be beat, but our server was not well trained and had no idea what he was doing. The food wasn’t bad, but what will remember the most was server, especially compared to the incredible service at Anchorage the night before.

Jianna

Post-dinner, we walked to Falls Park on the Reedy, the beautiful park that is the centerpiece of Greenville. The only other place that we’ve been to where it seems as though the town was built around the waterfall is Niagara Falls. The best way to view the waterfall is from the pedestrian-only suspension bridge.

Falls Park on the Reedy waterfall in Greenville, SC

Sunday

Sunday was unfortunately our last day in Greenville. It was only a partial day, as we had a 3:00pm flight home. We woke up early (6:30am) in order to make the most of our time. It was lightly raining, the first non-sunny day since we arrived, but we still set out on foot and headed towards Methodical Coffee. We enjoyed their coffee but unfortunately they did not get their delivery of pastries until after we left.

Marnay at Falls Park on the Reedy in Greenville, SC

After having a snack on the go, we spent more time walking through Falls Park. It’s clear that the city put a serious investment into the park, and boy did it pay off. You could say that the entire town is built around the park, much in the way towns are built around transit. We capped things off by sitting on a wooden swinging-bench and took in the sights for one last time. Until next time, Greenville! If you are interested in visiting Greenville, I strongly suggest taking the train at least one way. It is a unique experience and while it takes longer than flying, it is much more comfortable.

Places we visited
Amtrak Crescent

Swamp Rabbit Café 205 Cedar Lane Road Greenville, SC 29611

Swamp Rabbit Trail

OJ’s Diner 907 Pendleton Street Greenville, SC 29601

Anchorage 586 Perry Avenue Greenville, SC 29611

Methodical Coffee 101 N. Main Street Greenville, SC 29601

B-Cycle Greenville

Birds Fly South Ale Project 1320 Hampton Avenue Ext Greenville, SC 29601

Falls Park on the Reedy 601 S Main Street Greenville, SC 29601

Jianna 600 S Main Street Greenville, SC 29601

Ultimate Greenville Weekend: Part 1

Thursday

This Memorial Day Weekend, we took Amtrak’s Crescent from Washington, DC to Greenville, SC. That’s right, we took at 10 hour, overnight train to South Carolina! We stayed in a sleeper car, which included our own bedroom and own bathroom. When we boarded the train, we met our extremely helpful sleeping car attendant who showed us around our room, gave us bottles of water and then made a dinner reservation for us.

Paul boarding the Amtrak Crescent train at Union Station

The room was nicer and more spacious than we imagined. We had bunk beds, although they were folded up at this time. The bottom bunk folded into a couch and we also had a fold-out chair along the window. There was a sink next to the couch, which was a minor inconvenience but not a big deal.

Amtrak Crescent train sleeper car room

We boarded the train at 6:15pm and at 6:45pm, it was time for dinner in the adjacent dining car. The dining car is community seating, so the attendant matched us up at a four seat table with our new friends, Al and Sheila (names changed), a retired couple from southwest Virginia. Our tablemates were great and very interesting—they were on their way back from Seattle so we got to hear what it’s like to ride the rails cross-country. We talked a lot about beer, one of our areas of expertise, and I let Al know about the soon-to-open east coast location of Deschutes, which will be in Roanoke. Al is a stout fan so I told him about the Abyss, Deschutes famous Imperial Stout, and he made sure to write the name down for future reference.

The décor of the dining car reminded me of a classic Jersey diner, although believe it or not, the Amtrak menu had more interesting options than traditional Jersey diner food. Plus, all of our food was cooked in a real kitchen located in the dining car. None of it was like the café car food in Northeast Regional trains, which gets “cooked” in the microwave. I ordered the Amtrak signature steak cooked to medium, which came with a side of succotash. The steak was a tad overcooked but still tasted good and the succotash tasted fresh. The best bite of the meal, in my opinion, was Marnay’s seared shrimp, served jambalaya-style. Marnay’s meal had some serious kick to it.

Amtrak Crescent train dining car dinner

After dinner, we went back to our room to relax, listen to Spotify and watch the Virginia scenery fly by through our huge windows. When it was time for sleep, our sleeping car attendant made our beds and gave us bottles of water. The last thing I remember before falling asleep was arriving in Danville, VA around 11:30pm. We had a short night of sleep ahead of us, since we were going to arrive in Greenville at 5:00am on Friday.

Amtrak Crescent train sleeper car beds

Friday

We got off the train in Greenville very early Friday morning and made our way to downtown. Of course, it was before 6am so there was not much that we could do. We were able to at least get some coffee at a hotel Starbucks to keep us awake and energized because we had a full day of exploring ahead. Fortified by coffee, we took a local Greenlink bus to Swamp Rabbit Café.

Marnay and Paul at Greenville station with the Amtrak Crescent train

Swamp Rabbit Café is a local produce market plus has prepared sandwiches and coffee and is located along the Swamp Rabbit Trail, a transformative rail trail that runs through the region. The Swamp Rabbit Trail has spurred a lot of development in the area, particularly in Greenville and the nearby community of Travelers Rest. The café is an extremely popular stop for bikers along the trail, as it also hosts a bike shop. We sat outside at the café’s outdoor tables and relaxed for a while, then put on sunscreen and went for a walk!

Swamp Rabbit Cafe in Greenville, SC

The Swamp Rabbit Trail follows the Reedy River, and it was pleasant to walk along the shaded trail and watch as the water goes by. There is something about moving water that is just so relaxing. From the café to downtown Greenville, it is a little under 3 miles.

walking

However, we were not headed back to our Airbnb, located in a residential neighbor just north of downtown. No, we were headed for OJ’s Diner, a classic Southern meat-and-three. A meat-and-three is usually a buffet-style restaurant where a person chooses a meat option, usually fried chicken, pork chops, ribs, etc. and then three sides. Everything is scratch made and very inexpensive. To be honest, we were a bit intimidated because it was our first time and we didn’t even know how to order.

OJ's Diner in Greenville, SC

As it turned out, the staff at OJ’s could not possibly have been any friendlier. Our sweet teas were never empty for more than 30 seconds, as a server kept making her rounds. At the cafeteria-style line, I ordered fried chicken with turnip greens, pinto beans and a biscuit. Marnay ordered fried croaker along with turnip greens, rice and gravy and cornbread. From now on, when we think about fried fish, this is what we will think about. OJ’s is a place we would HAPPILY go back to.

fish

After some much needed sleep at our Airbnb, we made our way to dinner at Anchorage in West Greenville with my parents and grandfather. (Read our full review for Anchorage here.) Anchorage is a modern American restaurant that serves whatever is available and in-season from local farms. The restaurant is helmed by Greg McPhee, a Husk-alum. The outside of the restaurant is one large farm-themed mural, full of fruits and vegetables, and it is really quite beautiful.

Anchorage large farm-themed mural in Greenville, SC

The menu is mainly made up of small plates, and I believe that we got every single one to share among the 5 of us. The best bite of the meal was the Bahamian Salted Fish Fritters, which we liked so much we go two orders!

Note: We divided our Ultimate Greenville Weekend into two posts. Click here to read Part 2.

Fairfax County Adventure

On Sunday, we took the metro Silver Line for the first time since 2014 and got off at the Greensboro station. After a walk of about three miles (and dodging cicadas along the way), we arrived in downtown Vienna and to our lunch destination, Chase the Submarine.

Paul at Greensboro station on the Silver Line Metro

Chase the Submarine

Chase the Submarine is a deli and specialty market operated by Tim and Joey Ma, the minds behind Water & Wall and Kyirisan. We heard about Chase the Submarine through Washingtonian’s Best Cheap Eats issue, and since we rarely make it out to this part of Virginia, we were excited to try it and see if it lived up to the hype. It did not disappoint! We shared the housemade pastrami sandwich served with carrot sauerkraut, whole grain mustard, crème fraiche and pickled shallots on toasted rye. The thinly-sliced crispy pastrami reminded me of bacon, while the carrots gave a nice crunch but were thin enough so that they did not detract from the rest of the sandwich.

Chase the Submarine: housemade pastrami sandwich served with carrot sauerkraut, whole grain mustard, crème fraiche and pickled shallots on toasted rye

The ultimate test: How did this pastrami sandwich compare to Smoked & Stacked? I think that Chase the Submarine is slightly better, while Marnay gives Smoked & Stacked the edge. We also ordered the crème fraiche wings, which are coated in a mix of crème fraiche, gochujang and tamari. I think that it is genius to coat hot wings in crème fraiche, since it cools off the heat from the gochujang, without the need for dipping sauce. The tamari rounded things out with its umami flavor. I would order the wings every time at Chase the Submarine.

Chase the Submarine sign

Caboose Brewing

Afterwards, we walked west on the W&OD Trail to Caboose Brewing. Caboose’s patio looks out on the trail, and it’s incredible the amount of bikers that stop in for a bite to eat or a beer, or even just to use the restroom. Caboose even has bike tools that they’re able to use.

Marnay with the Caboose Brewing trail sign

We stood on the patio and people-watched while enjoying some beers. Our favorite was the Citra Session IPA. Its low alcohol content makes it refreshing for a warm day full of exercise. The perfect late-Spring afternoon beer.

Caboose Brewing Citra Session IPA

Taco Bamba

Even with all we had done, we were not ready to go home just yet. Instead, we walked almost 5 miles to Taco Bamba in Falls Church. Of course, there was a perfectly good Taco Bamba in Vienna but we wanted the adventure and exercise. We arrived during the peak of the Sunday rush and my gosh was it crowded! Still, we were still able to squeeze into two of the high top chairs that ring the restaurant, which is basically a takeout joint. Taco Bamba is the creation of Victor Albisu, the chef behind the downtown DC steakhouse Del Campo.

Taco Bamba

The chef’s menu has many more adventurous options than your typical taqueria. Whether you think that is a good thing is up to you. We ordered three tacos each, which is our usual amount, although we quickly found out that these were more substantial than we are used to. A highlight of the meal was the “guest” taco from Centrolina’s Amy Brandwein, called “The Porky Pulpo”. It included braised octopus and pork belly with mache salad and Calabrian chiles. So good! Also good was the lightly battered and fried tilapia in the Black Pearl taco, although the black aioli resembled sludge and was not pleasant to look at nor was it particularly appetizing. I think we will return to Taco Bamba at some point, but there are other taquerias we would go to first.

Best Bite and Location
Chase the Submarine:
Paul and Marnay: Pastrami Sandwich
Address: 132 Church Street, NW Vienna, VA 22180
Closest Metro: Vienna or Greensboro

Caboose Brewing:
Paul and Marnay: Session IPA
Address: 520 Mill Street, NE Vienna, VA 22180
Closest Metro: Vienna or Greensboro

Taco Bamba:
Paul: Porky Pulpo
Marnay: Fried Tilapia
Address: 2190 Pimmit Drive Falls Church, VA 22043
Closest Metro: West Falls Church

2 Amy’s / Inferno Pizzeria Napoletana

2 Amys

We have been writing this blog long enough that we are starting to revisit some earlier restaurants. It’s always good to check in with an old favorite every now and then to see if they are still putting out quality dishes. This past weekend, we went to both 2 Amys and Inferno Pizzeria Napoletana.

2 Amys Paul

Our assessment of 2 Amys remains the same: the crazy good small plates steal the show from the good but not quite as amazing pizzas. The last time we went to 2 Amys it was winter, so this time the ever-changing small plates menu was full of spring produce. The radishes with ramp butter and “sexy salt” was an example of a spring menu item, as ramps have a very short window. I tasted the butter on its own and got a hit of garlicky, oniony flavor from those ramps mellowed out by the creamy room-temperature butter. The ramp butter on housemade bread, topped with radish slices rolled in salt was one of my favorite dishes of the month and something we would happily order again. Another winner: Cantabrian anchovies, which are from the northern coast of Spain, on top of the same housemade bread with a dollop of butter.

2 Amys radishes with ramp butter and “sexy salt”

A surprise hit was a salad of orange-segments splayed out on a plate and simply topped with sliced red onions, olives and chives. The salt and pepper topping was an effective way to bring out the flavors of the oranges.

2 Amys salad of orange-segments topped with sliced red onions, olives and chives

After all these incredible small plates, the pizza was almost anti-climactic. We ordered the special of the day, which was tender squid, green tomato sauce, ramps, parsley and hot pepper. We could taste the hot pepper, for sure, and the squid would have been great on its own or as a small plate. But the (intentionally) floppy authentic Neapolitan crust could not hold the ingredients. It was a mess. And it could have used some salt.

2 Amys pizza

Inferno Pizzeria Napoletana

Inferno Pizzeria Napoletana is in Gaithersburg, which is not that easy to access from Silver Spring if you don’t have a car. As a result, we decided to make a day out of it. We started with brunch at Peter Chang in Rockville and then biked to Downtown Crown in Gaithersburg. We walked around the mixed-use neighborhood and then sat outside drinking refreshing local beers at Downtown Crown Wine and Beer.

Marnay outside drinking refreshing local beers at Downtown Crown Wine and Beer

The last time we went to Inferno, it was late summer, and as such our favorite dishes involved sweet corn. This time, we made sure to hit anything involving asparagus, rhubarb or strawberries. A creamy orb of burrata sat on top of sweet and sour strawberry-rhubarb puree that tasted like sorbet and was a welcome start to a fantastic meal. Another hit was tender roasted asparagus with sauces of black truffle and egg yolk, topped with crunchy hazelnuts. A large plate of this would make for a hearty vegetarian meal. Ember roasted beets, on the other hand, were a little too one-note (vinegar).

Inferno Pizzeria Napoletana tender roasted asparagus with sauces of black truffle and egg yolk, topped with crunchy hazelnuts

The pie de resistance (get it?) was artichoke with San Marzano tomatoes, fior di latte mozzarella and nduja, that spicy spreadable salami that is having its moment right now. The nduja came in big chunks and it brought some welcome heat and texture to the pizza. In general, whenever I think of artichokes, I think of the artichoke hearts in a jar sitting in a salty brine. These, on the other hand, brought freshness and lightness to the pizza. It didn’t hurt that the crust was able to hold the ingredients much better than our pizza from 2Amys.

Inferno Pizzeria Napoletana artichoke with San Marzano tomatoes, fior di latte mozzarella and nduja

Not only did we get dessert, we went all out and got one dessert each. A root beer float transported me back to childhood days at Sundae’s Sweet Shop in Branchburg, NJ. This time the float was upgraded with housemade vanilla soft-serve and Sprecher’s root beer, from Wisconsin. I did not think I was going to be able to finish even half of it, but it was just so good I inhaled the whole thing. We also couldn’t go to Inferno without getting the soft-serve special. On this day, it was wildflower-honey with a strawberry rhubarb topping.

Inferno Pizzeria Napoletana ice cream

We ate extremely well at both 2Amys and Inferno. While there were some very minor hiccups among the food, service was excellent at both and we would happily go back again and again.

Best Bite
2 Amys
Paul: Radishes and ramp butter
Marnay: Orange salad

Inferno Pizzeria Napoletana
Paul: Artichoke pizza
Marnay: Soft-serve