2018 Year in Review

2018 was a year of traveling. I felt like we were Eater roving food critic Bill Addison, we were in so many different places. It definitely shows in our 2018 blog posts – there are more posts from outside the DC-area than there are posts within the DC-area. Marnay and I asked each other questions about our favorites of 2018, here are our responses:

What was your favorite meal of 2018?

Paul – My favorite meal was the Taste of Zahav prix fixe menu – a lot of incredible food for an absolute steal of a price, $48 per person. This may be one of the best dining deals in the country.

Marnay – My favorite was lunch at Al Ameer, the Lebanese palace in Dearborn, Michigan. We headed there as soon as our plane landed in Detroit and while we ate way too much food, I still can’t stop thinking about the stuffed lamb.

Stuffed lamb at Al Ameer, Lebanese food in Dearborn, Michigan

What was your favorite bar of 2018?

Paul – Maxwell, the wine bar in Shaw, which recently celebrated its first anniversary, is a wine-lover’s dream. They don’t take themselves too seriously, either. It is equally great for wine-geeks as it is for casual drinkers. It’s also the perfect place to go if you want to learn more about wine.

Marnay – Brenner Pass, Richmond. I really enjoyed the bar at this modern Alpine restaurant in Scotts Addition. We shared a bottle of wine with dessert – a perfect combination! The vibe was cozy, despite the fact that the place was packed and our bartender was incredibly knowledgeable.

Bar at Brenner Pass in Richmond, Virginia

Which restaurant do you want to visit again in 2018?

Paul – Commander’s Palace, in New Orleans. It made for an incredible, old school Creole experience.

Marnay – We loved eating breakfast every morning at Time Market when we were staying in Tucson. Closer to home, we are definitely going to back to All Purpose Shaw and Kuya Ja’s (for some lechon belly) ASAP.

Commander’s Palace, old school Creole in New Orleans, Louisiana

What was your favorite food/restaurant-related experience?

Paul – I would consider going outside of one’s comfort zone as a food-related experience. So in that case, my favorite experience was our meals in El Paso. That area feels closer to Mexico than the U.S.

Marnay – We went to “Mexico in a Bottle” at the Mexican Cultural Institute, the old Mexican Embassy on 16th Street. For a modest fee, we got to sip on unlimited mezcal, meet local chefs and eat some delicious Mexican food. It was a dream come true!

Lunch in El Paso, Texas

Which restaurant surprised you the most?

Paul – Chai Pani in Decatur, GA, just outside of Atlanta. I had no idea how much I enjoyed Indian street food until we ate there.

Marnay – Momofuku CCDC. We had not been there in years, mainly because we were not super impressed the first time we went. But the menu has been totally revamped and that bronzed whole roasted chicken was delicious – and enough to feed an entire family!

Bronzed whole roasted chicken at Momofuku CCDC in Washington DC

What was your favorite meal in Silver Spring?

Paul – The medium-rare ribeye from Urban Butcher hit the spot for me. And it is consistent.

Marnay – The calzones at Pacci’s are insanely good right now. For years, we stuck to ordering Neopolitan pizzas and a salad. This year, inspired by our trip to Milan, we started ordering calzones at Pacci’s and we haven’t looked back.

Calzone and pizza at Pacci's in Silver Spring, Maryland

What was your favorite meal outside of the DC-area?

Paul – There were so many meals outside of the DC area, but my favorite all-around meal was at H&H Car Wash in El Paso.

Marnay – Mine was dinner at Park Place Cafe in Merchantville, NJ. We were treated like family and the sauce on our pasta was something I will never forget. So incredibly simple yet so good.

Eating breakfast at H&H Car Wash in El Paso, Texas

What is your favorite recipe to make at home?

Paul – Grilled lamb chops with cucumber salad. Tender, crusty, fatty, salt and cooling. Mmmmmm.

Marnay – I’m a big fan of cooking weekend at breakfast at home. Since we are not home on the weekends very often, it’s a special treat. One of our go-to’s is making homemade biscuits and topping them with a fried egg and side of bacon. We use Alton Brown’s biscuit recipe. Who wants to go out for brunch, anyway??

Paul and Marnay in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Here’s a list of our favorites. Go ahead and give them a try!

Zahav: 237 St. James Pl. Philadelphia, PA 19106
Al Ameer: 27346 Ford Rd Dearborn Heights, MI 48127
Maxwell: 1336 9th St, NW Washington, DC 20001
Brenner Pass: 3200 Rockbridge St #100 Richmond, VA 23230
Commander’s Palace: 1403 Washington Ave New Orleans, LA 70130
Time Market: 444 E. University Blvd Tucson, AZ 85705
All Purpose Shaw: 9th St NW, Washington, DC 20001
Kuya Ja’s Lechon Belly: 5268-H Nicholson Ln Rockville, MD 20895
Chai Pani: 406 W. Ponce de Leon Ave Decatur, GA 30030
Momofuku CCDC: 1090 I St NW, Washington, DC 20001
Urban Butcher: 8226 Georgia Ave Silver Spring, MD 20910
Pacci’s: 8113 Georgia Ave Silver Spring, MD 20910

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Bindaas – Foggy Bottom

On a frigid Thursday night, Marnay and I checked out Bindaas at the Indian street food purveyor’s Foggy Bottom location. This was our first time at Bindaas (the original is located in Cleveland Park). Afterwards, the most important question in our head was – what took us so long?!?

Bindaas Indian street food in Foggy Bottom, DC

I started out with a masala lassi – a traditional yogurt and spiced based traditional Indian beverage. It was nearly savory, although with a touch of sweetness. We ordered four dishes, and once they are ready they start appearing rapid-fire. There isn’t much coursing, but since you are going to end up sharing everything it is not a big deal.

The puffy, pillowy olive oil naan was a great way to orient our palates from the work day to the Indian subcontinent. A wild mushroom uttapam, or rice pancake, was a mushroom bonanza. Not only that, though, it was quite spicy. A swab of mint raita proved to be a worthy foil.

Wild mushroom uttapam at Bindaas Indian street food in Foggy Bottom, DC

Then there was the shrimp bezule, or breaded and fried shrimp, which was pleasantly light. The modest-sized shrimp gave off a very distinct jalepeno flavor. A garnish of mustard seeds, toasted in oil, added a bit more crunch and heat.

Shrimp bezule at Bindaas Indian street food in Foggy Bottom, DC

We rounded the meal out with a chicken kathi wrap. The chicken tikka masala, wrapped in naan, was dripping with flavor. A little mint chutney on the side for dipping helped lighten things and give a contrast in temperatures (the wrap was really hot, temperature-wise). It seriously was cold on the night that we went to Bindaas. But the Indian comfort food really warmed our souls and left us wanting more.

Chicken kathi wrap at Bindaas Indian street food in Foggy Bottom, DC

Best Bite
Paul: Chicken Kathi Wrap
Marnay: Shrimp bezule

Address
Bindaas Foggy Bottom: 2000 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20006
Closest Metro: Farragut North or Farragut West

Atlanta Recap

For my birthday weekend in November, Marnay and I headed to Atlanta for a quick getaway. This was our first time in Atlanta and we couldn’t wait to start exploring.

Atlanta skyline from the Beltline

Friday

We flew out of BWI on Friday night. Since I work in Baltimore and Marnay works in downtown DC, this is the easiest airport to get to on work nights. We don’t typically include our flights in our travel recaps, but we had to include our meal at the airport. Varasano’s Pizzeria, which has a location in Hartsfield-Jackson airport in Atlanta, is actually an incredible pizzeria. Jeff Varasano, the man who figured how to hack off the lock on the self-cleaning feature of his home oven so he could cook homemade pizzas at 800 degrees, is something of a pizza savant. While he is originally from New York, he chose Atlanta to open a pizzeria. (The main location is in the Buckhead neighborhood). As soon as we landed in Atlanta, we made our way to Concourse A. It was about 9:30pm and the restaurant was closing, so we took a Margherita Di Bufala pizza and ate it in the baggage claim. It was so much fun and so delicious.

Margharita Di Bufala pizza from Varasano's Pizza in the Hartsfield-Jackson airport in Atlanta

Saturday

Our Airbnb was in the Inman Park neighborhood, immediately behind the transformative rail trail called the Beltline. Inman Park is one of the most walkable neighborhoods in Atlanta, which is a very spread out city.

We wanted to explore and hike one of Georgia’s mountains so we rented a Zipcar from the Edgewood-Candler Park metro. On our 1-mile walk to the car, we picked up coffee and an incredible croissant from one of our Atlanta favorites, Bread and Butterfly. Conveniently, Bread and Butterfly was directly across the street from our Airbnb.

Breakfast at Bread and Butterfly in Atlanta

The highways in Atlanta are insane, mainly because this area has poor public transit and a tremendous amount of sprawl. We traveled to Forsyth County, in the northern exurbs, and stopped at Dutch Monkey Donuts for an excellent caramel apple fritter. Feeling sated, we drove about 20 more minutes north to Sawnee Mountain Preserve.

Eating a caramel apple fritter at Dutch Monkey Donuts in Forsyth County, Georgia

The brisk 4-mile hike led us up Sawnee Mountain on the Indian Seats Trail for some amazing views of Northern Georgia. This part of Georgia is at the southern end of the Appalachian Mountains, which stretch from Alabama to eastern Canada. From the top of the mountain, we could see as far as the Tennessee-North Carolina border, 52 miles away. The hike was just right – good exercise, but not so difficult that we would be worn out.

View from the top of our hike at Sawnee Mountain Preserve in Georgia

Although we had been snacking all day, we had not had an actual meal. We hopped in the car and drove to Masterpiece in Duluth, a suburb northeast of Atlanta known for its excellent Asian cuisine. Masterpiece was recently named a semi-finalist for Best Chef Southeast by the James Beard Awards, so we had high expectations. With one dish, Masterpiece immediately exceeded those expectations. The Dong Po Pork is a braised block of pork belly in an ethereal brown sauce, part sweet, part salty, party spicy. I want to eat that pork belly every day for a week.

Dong Po Pork, braised pork belly in an ethereal brown sauce at Masterpiece in Duluth, Georgia

Sunday

Since Saturday involved driving around the region, we decided to stay local on Sunday and explore the city. It was another beautiful day so Marnay and I walked on the Beltline to Little Tart Bakeshop, in Krog Street Market. Krog Street Market is a new-wave food hall in Inman Park, about half a mile from our Airbnb. Little Tart Bakeshop was a 2018 James Beard Foundation finalist for Best Baker (in the entire country!), so they also had a lot to live up to. Our best bites were a slice of the cranberry-almond butter cake and the apple gallete.

Breakfast at Little Tart Bakeshop at Krog Street Market in Atlanta

We then made a required stop at Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park to pay our respects. The park encompasses the famous Ebenezer Baptist Church and his birthplace. This is a important visit for any stay in Atlanta, as we cannot forget our country’s history.

Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park and Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta

Afterwards, we took the Atlanta Streetcar to Centennial Olympic Park, home of the 1996 Olympic opening and closing ceremonies. This is definitely the heart of the tourist area but it was a great outdoor space and surprisingly large.

Marnay and Paul at the Coca Cola sign in Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta

The issue with this area, though, is that the downtown is COMPLETELY dead. One of the worst downtowns we have even seen. It is most likely because Atlanta is so spread out, but this is definitely not where the action is. That is why we stayed in Inman Park!

We hopped right back on the streetcar to escape downtown and had some downtime at Chrome Yellow Trading Company, a very hip coffee shop near the King Historic District. We had a great time writing in our journal and sipping on a cold brew.

Drinking cold brew coffee at Chrome Yellow Trading Company near the King Historic District in Atlanta

After that relaxing time, though, it was back to more walking on the fantastic Beltline. It’s just a phenomenal addition to Atlanta (or any city), and the whole idea was cooked up by a couple of grad students. We checked out Ponce City Market, which was like a hyper-upscale version of Krog Street Market, with high-end stores in addition to food. To be honest, it was a little too much.

Walking by Ponce City Market on the Beltline in Atlanta

Later that night, after some relaxation at our Airbnb, we headed to dinner at Chai Pani in the close-in suburb of Decatur. It is so close to where we were staying, you could easily call Decatur part of Atlanta. Chai Pani, a purveyor of authentic Indian street food, ended up being our favorite meal of the trip. We were wild for the matchstick okra fries, so crispy and so salty (and absolutely not slimy). The vegetable uttapam, a rice pancake, was also stellar.

Matchstick okra fries and vegetable uttapam at Chai Pani in Atlanta

Monday

Happy birthday to me! We celebrated the morning by walking over to Bread and Butterfly for a chocolate croissant. I could have picked anything for my birthday, but all I really wanted to do was get a croissant from Bread and Butterfly and then go for a long walk on the Beltline.

Chocolate croissant and coffee at Bread and Butterfly in Atlanta

By early afternoon, unfortunately, it was time to head to the airport. But the fun wasn’t over, because that meant we could have another pizza at Varasano’s, and MAN was it good. Not only does this pizza look perfect, it tasted phenomenal. I can’t say enough about it.

Pizza at Varasano's Pizza in the Hartsfield-Jackson airport in Atlanta

What to know if you want to visit Atlanta:

  • Almost all of the hotels in Atlanta are downtown. There is absolutely nothing to do downtown outside of Centennial Olympic Park. Instead, try to stay in an Airbnb in a neighborhood along the Beltline, like we did.
  • Be aware that the public transit system is not great. You will need to either rent a car or take Uber/Lyft.
  • Make sure you don’t miss out on the restaurants that are just outside the city, such as Masterpiece and Chai Pani.
  • Spend some time on the Beltline! Seriously, we can’t stress that enough. It’s the coolest attraction in Atlanta.

Ultimate Staunton Weekend

Friday

Staunton weekend was birthday weekend for me. We picked out Staunton because of the fact that we could take Amtrak there and because there was a restaurant that we wanted to try. Of course, we have taken Amtrak many times. However, we had never taken this line or been on these tracks before. I was SO excited!

On Friday morning, we got Shake Shack breakfast at Union Station. We enjoyed our greasy (in a good way) sausage and egg sandwiches and before we knew it, we were boarding Amtrak Cardinal train 52 en route to Chicago. The trip took a little over four hours and it brought us through the Blue Ridge Mountains of southwestern Virginia. We got some picturesque views of the Shenandoah Valley after we left Charlottesville.

Once we arrived in Staunton, we walked from the station to our Airbnb. I would describe it as a fancy treehouse located on the fourth floor of a 19th century mansion, with a scenic rooftop deck.

Staunton Virginia Airbnb

We started our tour of Staunton by scaling the steep streets to the highest point, Mary Baldwin College. The main building of the college is a great example of Greek-revival architecture, slightly resembling the White House.

Mary Baldwin College

Hungry from our journey, we had an early dinner at Taste of India where we enjoyed two different types of naan, Lamb Rogan Josh and Aloo Tikka.

Taste of India

We happened to go to Staunton during their annual holiday event, known as Sparkles & Sweets. All of the stores on Beverley Street are open later than usual and they give out cookies and refreshments. Many have live music and events. Our Airbnb host owns an antique store, which was having an art show that night in their “Artisans Loft.”

Later on in the night, we checked out Yelping Dog Wine, a retail store which also served wine by the glass. Each of us had two glasses of Virginia wine. After that, we were tired and ready to call it a night.

Yelping Dog Wine

Saturday

We woke up early to go to the Staunton Farmers Market. There were a lot of vendors selling root vegetables, as you would expect this time of year. More surprising was a food truck serving Salvadoran food, which I would not expect in this corner of Appalachia.

Next, we took a self-guided tour of the 19th century homes in the Gospel Hill neighborhood. There is some truly stunning architecture in this area.

Staunton Virginia architecture

Staunton Virginia architecture

After traipsing around Gospel Hill, we walked north and checked out Gypsy Hill Park and sat around the duck pond. We watched the birds and the children trying to play with them.

Paul standing at Gypsy Hill Park

On the walk back, we shared a maple bacon doughnut from Rolling Pin Pastries. Rolling Pin is only open 3 hours a day, 3 days a week and the doughnut was one of my best bites of the weekend.

Rolling Pin Pastries: maple bacon doughnut

Still hungry, we shared a bratwurst sandwich with local sausage from By & By. At this point, we had done a lot of walking and a lot of snacking, so we headed back to the treehouse to nap. The big activity of the day, anyway, was dinner at The Shack.

The Shack lives up to its name; it really is a shack, and in a less than desirable location at that. These factors allow the chef, Ian Boden, to focus on food rather than trying to make rent. By the way, our Airbnb hosts were actually the chef’s parents! They were very nice and welcoming to us.

We went with the four course pre-fixe meal at The Shack. Both the food and the hospitality met our high expectations. Some highlights included crispy sunchokes and sweet potatoes with black garlic and chile dressing, squid ink rigatoni with pesto, crispy garlic chips and bottarga and an apple fry pie.

The Shack: Squid Ink Rigatoni

The Shack: Farro Pappardelle

The Shack: Lambchette

The Shack: Wild Black Bass

Sunday

On Sunday morning, we made coffee and enjoyed the mountain views from our Airbnb’s rooftop deck one last time. Next, we walked down the hill on Beverley Street for bagel sandwiches at the By & By.

By & By bagels

Fortified by breakfast, we walked up a very steep hill in the Sears Hill neighborhood. Our reward was the overlook at Wilson Park, where we got a view of the entire town. We stopped in Gospel Hill to see the homes and then got a quick lunch to go at Cranberry’s Grocery & Eatery, a natural foods store.

Wilson Park

At 2:03pm, exactly on time, Amtrak Train 50 stopped at Staunton and we started our journey home. I am emphasizing the fact that it was on time because the train left Chicago at 5:45pm Saturday!

Staunton makes a great weekend trip from the DC area and is accessible by public transportation. It has a perfect combination of history, nature and food. We highly recommend it!

Ultimate Staunton Weekend: Marnay and Paul

Where we went
Taste of India: 105 West Beverley Street Staunton, VA 24401
Yelping Dog Wine: 9 East Beverley Street Staunton, VA 24401
Gypsy Hill Park: 600 Churchville Avenue Staunton, VA 24401
Rolling Pin Pastries: 302 N Central Ave Staunton, VA 24401
By & By: 140 East Beverley Street Staunton, VA 24401
The Shack: 105 S Coalter Street Staunton, VA 24401
Cranberry’s Grocery & Eatery: 7 S New Street Staunton, VA 24401