• 13Apr

    IMG_4686

    Whether you’re traveling from out of town and want a dose of a little bit of everything DC has to offer in a couple of hours, or a DC metro dweller, Carpe DC Food Tours is a great way to explore several local fares in a short amount of time at an affordable price.

    I’ve lived in the DC Metro area now for a little over 10 years now and absolutely loved this tour.  I took a dive into the U Street Corridor Tour and learned so much of what I’ve missed over the years.  These tours are intimate groups of about 6-8 people with a knowledgeable tour guide who patiently gives you the historical background of the area you’re exploring. Each tour package offers a minimum of 4 restaurants, food samplings from each restaurant, and an alcohol pairing add-on option.  And the best part is that a portion of each ticket sale goes to local charity, Bread for the City.

    Living in the DC area for all of these years, you often forget how rich in history and art this city really holds.  Being so focused on the fact that politics seems to run this town, it’s often easy to overlook the beauty that encapsulates the city.

    So here’s the rundown of my U Street Food Tour:

    IMG_4682Ben’s Next Door
    Ok, so it’s pretty much a sacrilege for a Washingtonian to not have tried Ben’s Chili Bowl at least once in their lifetime.  Ben’s Chili Bowl is a family-run DC icon dating back to 1958 and is still operating in the same location to this day.  So it’s not a surprise that Ben’s Next Door is first stop on the tour.

    Ben’s Next Door is the sports bar version of the original Ben’s Chili Bowl, located right next door.  They offer the menu favorites from the restaurant next door along with an extended slightly upper scale cuisine.  At this location you could come watch sports team on the big screens, scarf down a classic half smoke and wash it down with a local brew.  What can I say about this place?  It never disappoints.

    IMG_4693Dukem Ethiopian
    Next stop was an Ethiopian restaurant, Duken Ethiophian.  Ethiopian cuisine has been popping up all over the metro area and becoming a popular trend.

    This was my first time trying Ethiopian food and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it.  We had a vegetarian platter of yellow peas, collard greens, red lentils, and a fresh tomato salad.  I’m by no means a vegetarian and this dish was deeply satisfying.   The beef tips were incredibly seasoned.  And after this tour stop, I won’t be hesitant to try out another Ethiopian restaurant again.

    IMG_4701Glen’s Garden Market
    Now I will be the first to admit, I thought that this was an odd stop on the tour.  I thought to myself, why in the world would we stop at a market?

    We came in and sat around the deli counter and were given cups of Kale and Apple Salad.  I dislike raw kale.  It’s not my favorite green.  Turn them into chips, bake them, sauté them—OK.  But a plate full of raw kale, I say no thank you.

    Boy was I wrong…this had to be the best salad I’ve ever had.  The kale mixed with sweet crunchy apples and picked radish drenched in a pumpkin seed dressing—sinfully good. I bought a tub of it and horded it at home.  This market is a great locally sourced, organic market with an amazing deli.  A gem I would’ve never guessed to stop in if not for this tour stop.

    IMG_4709Calabash Tea & Cafe
    Last stop on the tour and I was sad to see it come to an end was the perfect ending to a perfect Sunday afternoon.  Again, this was a cafe I would’ve never thought to make a pit stop at if not for this tour.  It’s a little bit off the beaten path in the Shaw neighborhood away from the hustle and bustle of U Street.

    I love tea so it’s really no wonder that I really enjoyed the chai here.  There are a number of different “potion” mixtures that are brewed in accordance to your ailments or your needs.  This cafe’s belief is that food is healing.  Have a cold, they’ll have the tea remedy to help you.  The Love Potion was full of rich flavors and I need to stop here to catch my breath because I can’t believe it myself–they offer vegan and gluten free chocolate chip cookies.  My first thought is … um no thank you.  But they serve it to you WARM and holy guacamole it was the best cookie I’ve ever had.  It didn’t taste like stale cardboard.

    So overall, this was an incredible experience.  My first food tour (first tour ever) of DC and I want more.  And a special thanks to our incredible tour guide, Laura.  I’ve learned so much about this fair city I now call home.

    -ADT (Angie)

    Editor’s Notes: Glen’s has a good and affordable beer selection, indoor and outdoor seating, and tons of interesting options, including hot food. Callabash makes great herbal tea blends; I usually buy two bags of Rescue Me at a time in the winter to take home. -JAY

  • 27Jun

    I loved fried chicken…it’s my go-to “cheer-me-up meal” on a crappy day.  A great Friday night binge on juicy fried chicken can only be topped by a delectable Saturday morning brunch of Belgian waffles and maple syrup.  So when I heard you can have both in one meal, I had to have it!  I heard about this chicken and waffles craze on the west coast, but wasn’t sure I could find a binge-worthy version here in DC.  Well, I’m a researcher (that’s my day job) and I exercised my skills over the Memorial Day weekend to search out the best chicken and waffles spot in DC.  I was joined by my faithful family foodies to explore a sample size of four U street corridor staples: Oohs and Aahs, Marvin, Ben’s Next Door and Crème.  All have chicken and waffles on their menu.

    Oohs and Aahs (2)

    Our journey began at Oohs and Aahs at noon on a Sunday. We were one of the first groups as they opened and sat in the stools right by the front doors.  It had the feel of sitting at a chefs table for a tasting menu but at a total hole in the wall joint.  Most of the cooks ignored us, but one of them got a kick out of our newbie giddiness and offered us samples of a couple of Oohs and Aahs favorites on the house.  I drooled over a bite of their slow cooked ribs, but this article is about chicken and waffles.  To our dismay, Chicken and Waffles is a late night specialty at Oohs and Aahs so we settled on an order of the freshly fried chicken that usually adorns their waffles.  It was spectacular.  The outer skin had a great crunch and great spicy flavor while the meat on the inside was soft and juicy.  I could only dream great dreams of how it would have tasted on a waffle with syrup and powdered sugar.

    Ben's Next Door (2)

    Next we ventured to Ben’s Next Door.  Coupled with discombobulated service and hair in our shrimp and grits, it was only our pure determination to complete our chicken and waffles challenge that kept us here.  (Yes, we also tasted Shrimp and Grits at all four establishments, but that’s a topic for our next blog.)  Unfortunately, their chicken and waffles suffered greatly along with their service.  To their defense is was Sunday afternoon on Memorial Day weekend…but on the other hand, Ben’s Next Door wasn’t born yesterday and they were making rookie mistakes.  With that said, Ben’s waffles were the best we had all day.  The waffles were slightly sweet, with a perfectly crisp shell and a moist inner sponge.  It soaked up the maple syrup without disintegrating.  Their chicken, on the other hand, was nothing to write home about.  It wasn’t dry, but it wasn’t flavorful either.  We were spoiled by the depth of flavor of the chicken at Oohs and Aahs.Creme (2)

    Our third spot was Crème.  I was particularly excited about Crème doing some sort of a refined take on the chicken and waffles craze.  Instead they offered us underwhelming fried chicken atop a soggy waffle.  It was soggy even before we added syrup…not a good sign.  No twists or surprises except for how disappointed we were.  When the nice waiter asked why we took less than a single bit of our dish, we lied and told him we were full.  We didn’t have the courage to tell him how bad it was.Marvin

    We finished at Marvin based on the genius suggestion of a work colleague.  The vibe at their open air roof-top lounge/restaurant with their live DJ (and a great one at that) was the perfect ending to our adventure allowing us to reminisce on the day’s discoveries over a cold beverage and great tunes.  They offered an interesting not-so-comfort-food and more-“let’s–chill-with-a-beer” backdrop with our last chicken and waffles tasting.  Though I expected a twist at Crème, it was Marvin that attempted an out-of-the-box amalgamation of chicken and waffles and country fried chicken.  Their chicken had a wonderfully thick and crispy breading.  For full disclosure, though I found the chicken juicy, my comrades did feel that Marvin fried chicken was greasier…especially when pitted against Oohs and Aahs perfection for fried chicken.  Marvin added a layer of collard greens in between the chicken and the waffle and placed it all on a bed of country gravy.  Not sure I was confident about adding maple syrup to that mix.  I tried it, but it wasn’t a hit in my book.  Sadly the waffle was soggy here too, though not nearly as inedible as at Crème’s.

    So there you have it folks, our verdict is as follows:

    1. Oohs and Aahs
    2. Marvin
    3. Ben’s Next Door
    4. Crème

    Before I go, I leave you with this teaser.  None of the four chicken and waffles establishments paired the dish with a sauce that married the sweetness of the waffle and the crisp savory juiciness of the chicken.  So our following mission is to invent a sauce that could solve this issue.  I know some purists may gawk at this effort, but we have to give it a try and will report back soon.

    Till then…don’t waste calories on food that doesn’t taste good!

    **I should add that in order to succeed in our chicken and waffles challenge we ordered only 1 plate of chicken and waffles per 3 people.  Otherwise, we would have abandoned our mission after Oohs and Aahs itself. 

    Guest post by Jamie S.

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