Rosslyn Cider Fest on Thursday, October 17 featured eight different ciders serving samples of their best stuff, a s’mores firepit, live music from Justin Trawick and The Common Good, food trucks and more. Photos: Alan Kelly Photography
DC beer lovers sold out the eighth annual Snallygaster on Pennsylvania avenue on Saturday, October 12, featuring 400 of the craftiest craft beers and ciders from 150+ producers against a backdrop of food trucks, live music, fun and games. Photos: Mark Raker Photography
As adults, our Halloween event options are typically limited to costume parties with kegs and bar crawls with rail drinks. While we’re not opposed to dressing up as a Sailor Moon character and getting buzzed, DC has more to offer than your typical All Hallows’ Eve celebration. Why not elevate your experience and party at a historic cemetery or peep a super obscure horror flick? What we’re saying is: switch things up this year and do something spooky or weird or both. Read on for our off-the-beaten-path Halloween event picks.
Beetle House celebrates Halloween every single day. To make October 31 special, this gothic lounge bar will host performances and a costume contest. “When it comes to the actual holiday, we go all out,” says Todd Luongo, who partnered with Beetle House creator Zach Neil on the new DC location. There are two floors of horror. The first features art made of real human bones, haunted photos and more in addition to a dining space. And the second? “Our second floor is our bar [and] theater where we put the ‘fun’ in funeral, themed as a Tim Burtonesque look into the afterlife,” Luongo continues. Their signature drinks include The Beetle’s Juice and the Big Fishbowl for two. 21-plus. 816 H St. NE, DC; www.beetlehousenyc.com
For a bewitching night out, come to Hex. Get spooky for costume contests every Thursday in October. The best costume each night will receive a free bottle of champagne. Learn your future with a tarot reader, Tuesday through Friday all month between 6:30 p.m. and midnight. Hex will host a witching hour starting October 1 with special elixirs to sip from midnight to close on Tuesday through Friday. 21-plus. 1539 7th St. NW, DC; www.hexbardc.com
Beer. Burgers. Rock ‘n’ roll. Halloween. Throughout the month, be sure to check out one of Slash Run’s festive events. There are free movie nights featuring horror flicks such as Pet Cemetery and The Fly (the 1986 remake with Jeff Goldblum). Breakfast has never been so campy with a Beetlejuice-themed brunch. Other activities include pumpkin painting, Halloween cover shows and karaoke. Hallowzine will consist of zinesters, comedians and storytellers sharing scary tales. Various dates, times and ticket prices. 201 Upshur St. NW, DC; www.slashrun.com
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 10
October NGA Nights: After Hours at the National Gallery of Art
There’s a mystery to solve at the National Gallery of Art. Join after hours for a fun night of sleuthing and discoveries. Explore the gallery’s extensive art collection like a detective and learn the secrets hiding in the artwork. There will be pop-up talks, dancing and music by Les the DJ. 6-9 p.m. Free to attend. The National Gallery of Art East Building: 4th Street in NW, DC; www.nga.gov
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 19
Join the National Museum of American History in celebrating the spooky season with Disney’s Hocus Pocus, the 90s classic about three kids who accidentally free a coven of witches. In addition to the 35 mm film screening, there will be a party including drinks, music, dancing and giveaways. Costumes are encouraged, so be sure to wear some witchy attire. Party tickets include two drink tickets. Various times. Tickets $9-$36. The National Museum of American History: 1300 Constitution Ave. NW, DC; www.americanhistory.si.edu
MONDAY, OCTOBER 21
Boos & Brews
For a night of scary good fun, Boos & Brews is bringing Halloween early. Go on a ghost tour around the famous landmark, play some games and enter the costume contest. DJ EPX will be spinning while delicious food and beer from various breweries will be featured. Each ticket purchase will come with a voucher for two free beers. 21-plus. 6-9 p.m. Tickets $20. National Building Museum: 401 F St. NW, DC; www.nbm.org
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 25
Costumes & Cocktails
Suns Cinema is bringing an entire month of fright to the city, featuring over 45 horror films. “We don’t find a lot of horror movies to be that scary, but even the horror films that aren’t scary can be entertaining,” says Suns co-owner David Cabrera. If you’re looking for a movie that is actually scary, he recommends The Exorcist. “It still holds up as terrifying, and it’s a DC classic.” Join Suns Cinema for Costumes & Cocktails: there will be spooky food, music and visual projections. Try one of the horror-themed cocktails including Rye Rye My Darling, a devilish punch of some kind, and the Blood Rage, a spicy negroni. 9 p.m. Suns Cinema: 3107 Mt. Pleasant St. NW, DC; www.sunscinema.com
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 26
Eighties Mayhem: 80s Halloween Dance Party
Get ready to dance to the best alt sounds of the 80s featuring DJs Steve EP, Missguided and Killa K. The themes are REDRUM in the red room and Ghostbusters in the main room. Last year’s party sold out and was a big success, so get tickets before they sell out! Costumes are encouraged. 9 p.m. – 2:15 a.m. Tickets $15. Black Cat DC: 1811 14th St. NW, DC; www.blackcatdc.com
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 31
Rhizome Halloween Blowout
Rhizome is bringing the beats and noise this Halloween. This nonprofit community space is known for its innovative art, and this blowout will put a new spin on Halloween. DC native Sir E.U will be featured and is likely to perform a track off his 2019 album Red Helly / Twin Towers. Nashville artist B|_ank will be there showing off his experimental A/V drumming. Check out Rhizome’s Facebook page and website for more details to come. All ages. 8-11 p.m. Tickets $10. Rhizome: 6950 Maple St. NW, DC; www.rhizomedc.org
Wizard Fest: A Harry Potter Party
Still waiting on your Hogwarts letter? The wait is over – celebrate Halloween with Wizard Fest. This Harry Potter-themed DC pop-up party is sure to bring magic to the night. HP fans can enjoy themed trivia, music and a costume contest. For witches and wizards over 21, there will be specialty drinks such as polyjuice potion and butterbeer. Put your name in the Goblet of Fire for a chance to win a trip for two to London. 8 p.m. Tickets $25-$75. Union Stage: 740 Water St. SW, DC; www.unionstage.com
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 1
What better place to spend Halloween than a cemetery? Congressional Cemetery is hosting a costume party filled with music, dancing, an open bar and plenty of fun. In addition to a few surprises, there will be a few famous DC residents including the ghost of Mayor Marion Barry. 21-plus. 8 p.m. – 1 a.m. Tickets $55. All profits go to the Association for the Preservation of the Historic Congressional Cemetery. Congressional Cemetery: 1801 E St. SE, DC; www.congressionalcemetery.org
Greetings, beer nerds! As you likely know, there are a number of fantastic spots in the DMV where you can grab a pint, and their menus are always evolving and adapting to your tastes. If you’d rather avoid the guessing game, check out what’s coming up at a few of these fine establishments.
SUNDAY, OCTOBER 6
D.C. United Pre-Game Oktoberfest Happy Hour
It is the last game of the season, so D.C. United is hosting the best pre-game party. Come celebrate Oktoberfest with beers, games and raffles. Your first beer is on the house. After the party, take your seats to watch D.C. United take on FC Cincinnati. 2:30-4 p.m. Tickets $25. Audi Field: 100 Potomac Ave. SW, DC; www.dcfray.com
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 8
Beer Dinner: Go Big or Go Home
Chef Bart celebrates 15 years of Belga Café. This time, the experts have dug deep in the beer cellar and have come up with a very personal selection of hard to find beers in big bottles, from 1.5 to 6 liters. Expect exceptional bottles like Gouden Carolus Van De Keizer Blauw vintage 2009 and Liefmans Gouden Band vintage 2000 and more. From the kitchen, you’ll enjoy a traditional Belgian food feast. 6:30-8:30 p.m. Tickets $76.96. Belga Café: 514 8th St. SE, DC; www.belgacafe.com
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 10
Four Course Beer Dinner
Pinstripes Georgetown is bringing craft beer lovers a taste of their culinary expertise, with a special dinner inspired by, and paired with, selections from DC Brau. A DC Brau representative and Pinstripes’ chef will lead guests through a deliciously fun four-course dinner. Tickets for the event include the dinner, beer pairings, tax and service. 7-9 p.m. Tickets $60. Pinstripes Georgetown: 1064 Wisconsin Ave. NW, DC; www.pinstripes.com/georgetown-washington
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 12
Bring a Guitar to the Bar: Battlecross, Gloom, Eyes of the Nile
Join bands Battlehouse, Gloom, No Tomorrow and Iron Maiden tribute band Eyes of the Nile, as they rock out in support of the Witt Black Music Foundation’s third annual Bring a Guitar to the Bar Fundraiser. You can also enjoy craft beer, tacos and raffle prizes. Donations of gently-used guitars for at-risk kids enrolled in the Foundation’s guitar classes are also being accepted at the door. 6:30-11 p.m. Tickets $15. Atlas Brew Works: 2052 West Virginia Ave. NE, DC; www.atlasbrewworks.com
Cigar and Beer Pairing
7 Locks Brewing will transform into a cigar lounge for this one of a kind event, highlighting the first release in their new Barrel Aged Bottle Program, the Lockhouse Cellar Reserve. Enjoy three Davidus cigars paired perfectly with three 7 Locks beers. Two of the beers will be full 16 oz. pints, and the third beer is their new 26 oz. barrel aged bottle. 2-5 p.m. Tickets $45. 7 Locks Brewing: 12227 Wilkins Ave. North Bethesda, MD; www.7locksbrewing.com
Snallygaster is the District’s beastliest beer festival, bar none. Returning for its eighth year, festivalgoers can expect an unbelievable array of no fewer than 400 highly sought after brews on draft. There will be more than 150 of the finest American and international producers, set against a backdrop of local food trucks and two stages of live music. This awesome event will benefit the Arcadia Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a more equitable and sustainable local food system. 12-6 p.m. Tickets start at $50. Downtown: Pennsylvania Avenue in NW, DC; www.snallygasterdc.com
SUNDAY, OCTOBER 13
Granite City Presents: Kegs and Crabs
Enjoy delicious Maryland crabs and hoppy pints at Granite City’s Kegs and Crabs. The brewery has partnered with Krewe of Pyros to host this tasty event. Twenty percent of proceeds will be donated to each company’s chosen initiative. Make sure to take advantage of the cigar friendly patio while you sip on a beer. 3-7 p.m. Tickets start at $50. Granite City Food and Brewery: 200 American Way. Oxon Hill, MD; www.gcfb.com/location/national-harbor-maryland
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 17
ChurchKey’s Tenth Anniversary Celebration: Vol. 4
ChurchKey turns 10 years old this October. In true ChurchKey fashion, they’re celebrating with a series of huge events, massive tap takeovers and unbelievable beer dinners until the end of the year. Join them as they continue their 10th anniversary series with their close friends from Allagash Brewing Company. Free to attend. 4-7:30 p.m. ChurchKey: 1337 14th St. NW, DC; www.churchkeydc.com
If you’re looking to expand your craft brewery experience beyond DC, head to Sinistral Brewing Company in Manassas, Virginia. Savor local Northern Virginia brews and music at a hop jam. It’s a great way to get a head start on your weekend festivities. 7 p.m. Free to attend. Sinistral Brewing Company: 9419 Main St. Manassas, VA; www.sinistralbrewingcompany.com
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 19
2nd Annual Shucktoberfest Beer & Oyster Festival
The second annual Shucktober Beer & Oyster Festival will take place in Arlington, Virginia, right in the heart of downtown Shirlington Village. At this year’s festival, you can expect more than 40 craft beer tents, double the oyster tents from last year’s event, and local food and merchant vendors. Bring your pup to enjoy the fun, because the festival is pet-friendly! 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Free to attend. Village at Shirlington: 2700 S. Quincy St. Arlington, VA; www.copperwoodtavern.com
Capital BrewFest: Fall Seasonal Beer, Wine & Music Festival
Capital BrewFest is a celebration of the very best time to drink delicious seasonal craft beer: the fall. For this year’s event, the best newly released fall brews available from your favorite breweries will be available to try. You’ll get a tasting glass, and enjoy unlimited tastings of more than 40 carefully selected beers, amazing food options, music from a DJ, games, arts, activities and more. 12:30-8 p.m. Tickets start at $17.95. The Bullpen: 1201 Half St. SE, DC; www.brewfestdc.com
Oyster Oyster grew out of a dream. Not just a vision for the future of the restaurant, but a disturbing image chef Rob Rubba conjured during slumber. He dreamt that his daughter fell while hiking and broke her leg.
“When I looked at her leg, it looked like a piece of chicken thigh or chicken leg,” he recalls. “It really grossed me out, and I was like, ‘Well, I would never eat my child. Why would I eat an animal?’”
He went cold-turkey vegetarian after that.
“It’s a little dark, but it’s an interesting illustration of this formative moment,” owner Max Kuller, who has been a vegetarian for his entire adult life, says with a laugh.
Rubba’s nightmare aside, Oyster Oyster – opening in Shaw next month – has been a long time coming. The two plant eaters had wanted to create a restaurant focused on vegetables, and the idea solidified after reading an article in Saveur Magazine that outlined the future of dining given the bleak realities of climate change.
“It was really centered around mushrooms and bivalves,” Rubba explains. “Both of them are extremely sustainable proteins and easy to produce and use almost no resources to create. From there, it just kind of stemmed off and kept growing.”
Kuller adds, “I think there was this real ‘a-ha’ moment for us when we were exploring this idea of a quote unquote vegetarian restaurant. If we frame this around sustainability instead, we can still be very much true to our ethos and our philosophies.”
That’s how oysters – and mussels – wriggled their way into Kuller and Rubba’s vegetarian diets.
“It was brought to my attention by Max originally because I had noticed he had started eating oysters,” Rubba says. “One day I was on his Instagram and I was like, ‘Why is this guy eating oysters? I thought he was vegetarian?’”
Rubba learned that oysters don’t feel pain like humans and animals because they lack a central nervous system and brain. The language used to describe an oyster’s lifecycle is also more plant-like than animal-like: they grow from seed, latch onto reefs and never move. On top of that, raising oysters is incredibly sustainable. Oyster farms have very little negative impact on the environment, and they are in fact used to improve water quality.
Kuller describes his first time trying oysters as a magical experience. Beyond the ethical and ecological rationale, he grew to love these bivalves because of their kinship with grapes and wine.
“I became incredibly fascinated with oysters as a sommelier because oysters also have ‘merroir.’ They reflect where they’re from in a way that no other protein I know of does.”
With that knowledge, it all started to click.
“That ability to kind of gerrymander oysters and mussels into a plant-based concept, it really is like we can pretty much have everything we want,” Kuller says.
Oyster Oyster’s driving philosophy is sustainability, with extra attention paid to sourcing and waste reduction. Instead of a blanket statement about a sourcing radius or set of requirements, Kuller and Rubba prefer to take everything on a case-by-case basis.
“We certainly favor Chesapeake oysters and we certainly favor relationships direct with farmers when we’re sourcing oysters,” Kuller says. “But we’re not going to try to claim that we’re only going to ever use a local oyster because the reality may be, based on the farming season and what’s going on, we may want to go further into the Northeast occasionally.”
The same goes for wine – natural, organic and local wines will be featured, but not to the exclusion of up-and-coming producers who are working hard to grow responsibly but may not be certified. Rubba is working to eliminate both food waste and plastic waste in the kitchen.
“I had always used sous-vide [low-temp, long-time cooking using plastic pouches],” he says. “I made the decision a long time ago that we weren’t [going to] because I just don’t know where these bags go.”
Plastic wrap and other disposables are also being kicked out of the kitchen. For organic material, the beverage program was a natural outlet for scraps and trimmings. That’s an opportunity to shine for Adam Bernbach, the bar director at Kuller’s Spanish restaurant Estadio.
“Collaboration is what excites me,” Bernbach says. “A lot of it is thinking about what we’re doing, and Rob’s food. I’m trying to do more closed-loop kind of things and using more of the resources that we have available to us.”
That led him to experimenting with low-ABV beverages like aromatized wine and “taking that template and those traditions and using [them] as a way to utilize the ingredients that are trimmings, but also as a way to highlight what the cuisine is.”
These drinks will make up an alternative beverage pairing option in addition to a more traditional wine pairing – “stuff that you would see in someone’s home, pre-modernization.” Expect infusions of herbs, vegetables, fruits and “anything that’s consumable that would be used in cooking.” The food will be offered exclusively as a three- or four-course tasting menu.
“I feel the best way to show a meal that’s based around plants and oysters wouldn’t be ordering à la carte,” Rubba says.
Each menu will start with light canapes followed by slightly larger dishes, then robust entrées and ending with playful desserts – sans refined sugar. Of course, oysters and mushrooms will feature prominently. One composed oyster preparation includes fresh-pressed black walnut oil, cider and radishes. There will also likely be a whole roasted oyster mushroom on the menu in some form.
“Another fun dish that we’ve been experimenting with and [are] very happy with is our carrot steak,” Rubba adds.
It involves dozens of layers of slow-roasted carrot tightly rolled together, paired with roasted farro, fermented fennel and a vegetable demi-glace.
“I believe that dish is one that could change people’s perception of what a vegetable can be.”
In addition to meticulous sourcing, Rubba is also taking some ingredients into his own hands.
“We want to press our own oils out of nuts and things like that because we know where it’s coming from, and then we [can] upcycle what comes out of that. It’s important to have a purpose for everything.”
He’s also growing and dehydrating plants for the menu, like coriander berries to make coriander capers, fennel crowns to be pickled and marigold flowers to use in a farmhouse curry in place of turmeric. They have plans to make their own bread and butter, and potentially even mill their own grains for flour or grow their own mushrooms in the restaurant down the road. The menu will change six times a year in tandem with six seasons that Kuller and the team have delineated.
“We want to have these six special seasons that we’re thinking about in their own ways, where we’re adding things that are – to us – special about those times of the year,” Kuller says.
They plan to open at the beginning of holiday season, which runs from the middle of November through the end of December. This season will celebrate special or luxury items. Then comes mid-winter in January and February, playing with preserved items and root vegetables. The subsequent seasons highlight the produce available exclusively during that time of year: early spring, late spring and mid-summer. Harvest season, from September through mid-November, showcases the bounty of the harvest.
The restaurant is located in the City Market at O development in Shaw. It will be intimate, with just 35 seats inside and a covered outdoor annex they’re calling the Oyster Garage because it used to be the entrance to a parking garage.
“It’s a simple space,” Kuller says. “I would say it definitely has a little bit of a minimalist vibe.”
Gray, white, pink and soft green hues pair with wood, natural materials and living greenery.
“There’s a lot of reclaimed things,” he adds.
The back bar is made from recycled skateboard decks and there is a mosaic of weathered tiles that Kuller personally harvested from a beach in Italy. After many long months of development and construction, the Oyster Oyster team is more than ready to enter the sustainable dining scene.
“The underlying trends are staggering,” Kuller says. “There’s moments where we’re worried we’re behind the trend. We started by thinking, ‘Okay, we are totally on the forefront of this,’ but we feel like every time we open our browser now, it’s another chef who’s like, ‘Okay, we’re going to go vegetarian for a month or we’re going to focus on high-end veggie dining.’”
Rubba says he doesn’t think there’s really any other way to operate a restaurant.
“If you look in a 10-year span, it’ll be too expensive,” he continues. “You just financially could not run a restaurant with the prices you have now 10 years from now. For us to sustain living here and having restaurants and living comfortable lives, we have to change how we operate restaurants and create new concepts. We don’t have a choice.”
Kuller hopes that this is just the beginning of a movement.
“We’d love to ultimately teach things about technique in terms of reducing food waste. We’d love to be able to teach workshops on foraging, even urban foraging. It’s not about trying to carve out this thing and be special and unique. We want more restaurants like us.”
Oyster Oyster: 1440 8th St. NW, DC; www.oysteroysterdc.com
On Tap keeps locals in the know about the hottest new food and drink spots around town and the top culinary happenings of the month. Read on to get the inside scoop on what’s new and notable in the DC area.
Open: August 26
Location: Dupont Circle
Lowdown: The original Mandu has been transformed into a new restaurant from the Fried Rice Collective. It’s the second new concept from the group behind CHIKO, comprised of chef Danny Lee, chef Scott Drewno and partner Drew Kim. Anju is a contemporary Korean restaurant and pub inspired by the country’s culinary and cultural traditions, from street markets to royal court cuisine. The kitchen is overseen by executive chef Angel Barreto, who worked with Danny’s mother, chef Yesoon Lee of Mandu, to develop the menu. “Mama Lee’s Classics” like bibim bap and dak jjim, appear alongside Korean pub fare (‘anju’ refers to food eaten with alcohol) and modern creations. Start a meal with a selection of panchan, from sweet lotus root and gardenia-pickled baby radish to shredded bellflower root and house-fermented kimchi. The shareable bar snacks like the tornado potato and pan-fried pork and kimchi mandu are perfect to pair with a glass of soju or a teapot of infused makgeolli sparkling rice wine. 1805 18th St. NW, DC; www.anjurestaurant.com
CUT by Wolfgang Puck
Open: August 5
Lowdown: Chef and restaurateur Wolfgang Puck debuted his second restaurant in DC – a mid-Atlantic iteration of CUT. The upscale steak restaurant has locations around the world, including Las Vegas and Doha. Puck wanted DC’s CUT to be rooted in the bounty of the region. That’s exactly what executive chef Andrew Skala has done, with a kitchen where vegetables and seafood shine just as brightly as the red meat. Skala has worked at Puck’s various restaurants for the last 13 years and he’s now building relationships with local farmers and fishermen to build his menu. It begins in the garden, with a coal-fired artichoke salad and charred leeks presented in a single translucent layer topped with Meyer lemon and toasted hazelnuts. The seafood bar offers bright ceviches, oysters and sashimi. The beef selection spans nose to tail, with steak tartare, oxtail bouillon, wagyu beef heart and beef cheek as well as the headlining cuts like dry-aged sirloin and a whopping porterhouse. The whole duck playfully is presented as tacos, with myriad toppings on a Lazy Susan. Don’t miss the chance to see a live cocktail show – old fashioneds are dispensed via a roving cocktail cart featuring various WhistlePig whiskies. 1050 31st St. NW, DC; www.rosewoodhotels.com/en/washington-dc/dining/Cut
Open: September 9
Lowdown: A decade after Bibiana Osteria-Enoteca opened downtown, restaurateur Ashok Bajaj decided to give his Italian restaurant a makeover. The space underwent a quick design refresh and extensive menu change before reopening as a brand-new concept. Modena is helmed by executive chef John Melfi, who previously served as the executive chef of Bajaj’s restaurant, The Oval Room. He’s worked with other big names in DC including Robert Wiedmaier, Fabio Trabocchi and Jeff Buben. In his current role, he aims to prove that fine dining can be fun, with unique touches like an antipasti trolley showcasing a rotating selection of salads, charcuterie and savory tarts on attractive vintage china. While much of the menu is seasonally driven by local products, the cuisine also spotlights imported ingredients from the restaurant’s namesake city, like balsamic vinegar, mortadella, prosciutto and Parmigiano-Reggiano. House-made pastas are not to be missed, especially the potato gnocchi with water buffalo butter and shaved truffles. Adept at both savory and sweet techniques, Melfi also oversees the desserts, which are as aesthetic as they are delicious. 1100 New York Ave. NW, DC; www.modenadc.com
Open: August 14
Location: Falls Church
Lowdown: Katherine Thompson’s move to open a neighborhood restaurant in Falls Church felt like a homecoming for the pastry chef, who grew up in Arlington. She and her husband, chef Gabe Thompson, moved back to the area after working in high end kitchens and running Italian restaurants in New York. They wanted to be close to family and to create a place where refined fare and a kids’ menu weren’t mutually exclusive. Thompson Italian is just that, welcoming diners young and old to enjoy shareable small plates, seasonal salads, hearty entrées and of course, Gabe’s fresh pasta made from scratch. Adults will appreciate the ricotta gnocchi with lamb ragu or sweet corn ravioli, while pint-sized diners can mix and match their pasta shape and sauce. Katherine handles the dessert menu, which includes Italian staples like cannoli, budino and affogato. The clear favorite is the rich olive oil cake with crème fraiche mousse, raisin marmellata and maldon salt. 124 N. Washington St. Falls Church, VA; www.thompsonitalian.com
New Kitchens on the Block 6
Date: October 20
Location: Mess Hall
Lowdown: It’s all about anticipation – New Kitchens on the Block is one of the most anticipated food events of the year because it offers a sneak peek at some of the most anticipated new restaurants of the year before they even open. The sixth edition boasts an impressive lineup, including Maialino Mare by restaurateur Danny Meyer and chef Rose Noel, Hi/Fi Taco by chef Nate Anda, Cranes by chef Pepe Moncayo, Tabla by Jonathan and Laura Nelms of Supra, Soko by chef Brad Feickert and restaurateur Chris Brown, Pearl’s Bagels by owners Allee and Oliver Cox and more. 703 Edgewood St. NE, DC; www.eventbrite.com
Date: October 12
Location: Pennsylvania Avenue
Lowdown: Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s monstrous beer and food festival is back with a new and improved ticket model. This year, beer enthusiasts will pay one price for admission and unlimited beer and wine tastings. The event brings together more than 150 brewers pouring more than 400 craft brews on draft. In addition, there will be local food trucks, live music and more. As usual, proceeds from the event benefit the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food & Agriculture. On Pennsylvania Avenue between 3rd and 6th Streets in NW, DC; www.snallygasterdc.com
Unite the District
Date: October 4-5
Location: Audi Field
Lowdown: For the first time, D.C. United is hosting a food, music and arts festival. Unite the District will take place over two days, highlighting the city’s culture with local chefs, brewers, musicians and artists. Tickets include unlimited tastings from more than 20 restaurants and 10 breweries and live music by Black Alley and White Ford Bronco. The event will also have interactive art installations, cooking competitions and more. 100 Potomac Ave. SW, DC; www.unitethedistrict.com
As rising stars in the restaurant industry, Kevin Tien and Carlie Steiner created a supernova in late 2016. Their debut restaurant in Petworth garnered an impressive mass of accolades during just three years in business, and then suddenly, Himitsu was gone.
The ending wasn’t as dramatic as a star exploding. It was abrupt yet amicable – the best choice for all parties involved as each owner grew their own empire. Many are mourning the loss of the quirky, welcoming restaurant, but the death of Himitsu marks the birth of two even more interesting concepts.
Tien announced his new restaurant last year. Emilie’s has a much larger footprint than Himitsu, and expectations are high.
“It’s pretty ambitious, what we want to do,” he says. “It was only right to me to focus my attention all on Emilie’s or else I don’t think we would be able to open a really great restaurant.”
Though Himitsu was Tien’s first restaurant, in partnership with Steiner, it wasn’t the one he first dreamed of opening.
“When I originally wrote up the plan for a restaurant many, many years ago, Emilie’s was actually that original business concept, with a cart-style service.”
Now, he’s poised to open Emilie’s on Capitol Hill in early to mid-October. His vision for the concept is to cultivate a dining experience focused on sharing.
“Growing up, sharing meant going out to eat dim sum with my family,” he says.
Emilie’s will feature carts roving around the dining room, as well as large-format, family-style entrées with shareable sides. The menu will incorporate flavors and dishes from around the country and the world, while reflecting from the kitchen team’s backgrounds. He’s calling it new American, but not in the sense you might expect.
“Before, I think American was very steak and potatoes and roast chicken or casseroles, but I think American looks very different now,” he continues. “There’s Italian food, there’s Ethiopian food, there’s Asian cuisine. That’s what American food really is now.”
As a nod to Tien’s Louisiana upbringing, there will be a fried chicken dinner with caviar deviled eggs. His Vietnamese heritage will be represented by family-style woven noodles served with various fish sauces and grilled items. Himitsu fans won’t find Tien’s famous hamachi crudo – but he promises there will be a crudo of some sort – honoring the 12 years he spent cooking Japanese cuisine.
His kitchen management team’s influence can be seen in various aspects of the menu as well, like Davy Bourne’s house-made breads and Autumn Cline and Mikey Fabian’s seafood prowess. When Emilie’s opens, Tien wants to capture the feeling that made Himitsu special.
“A lot of the magic from Himitsu came from everyone working together as a team,” he says. “My biggest hope is that with the staff that we have here, with everyone working together on the menu and the service, we’re able to recreate some of that same magic.”
Now the sole owner of a popular restaurant on Upshur Street, Steiner has also turned her attention to building a team.
“We are not a chef-driven restaurant,” she says. “We are a team-driven restaurant.”
She tapped chef Amanda Moll and beverage director Lauren Paylor to reopen the restaurant as a new concept: Pom Pom. In just 36 hours, they redesigned the space, adding a forest green accent wall and upholstery as well as an explosion of brightly colored pom poms.
“I hope that we can continue to make that meticulous, beautiful food,” Steiner says. “What we’ve added is a lot more whimsy.”
She says Pom Pom feels like the living room of her home – a joyful, playful space for everyone. Just as Steiner wants her guests to feel at home, she wants her staff to feel safe.
“Most of our staff actually identifies in some way as queer,” she adds. “It’s naturally become a very welcoming space for queer people.”
In the coming months, she plans to offer benefits for staff.
“Safety is probably number one and that, for me, is about protecting my employees. My employees then come back and do an incredible job protecting the guests.”
Part of that is staying true to the team mentality. Instead of championing one individual, Steiner appreciates the value in all her staff.
“What about the service members? What about the cooks? What about the dishwashers? Those are the people making this place run.”
Moll takes that literally by calling everyone chef – a habit she formed long before joining Pom Pom.
“It’s a respect thing,” she explains. “We’re all on the same level. We all are just as important in this restaurant.”
The menus at Pom Pom are similarly collaborative. Steiner, who previously oversaw the beverage program at Himitsu, now has a 50 percent influence over both the food and drink menus along with Moll and Paylor. They’ve designed the offerings so you can enjoy a refined meal to celebrate a milestone, or a burger and a beer after work. Steiner describes the food as international cuisine, or “cuisine nonconforming.”
“I will not put one cuisine on it, because a) I don’t want to pigeonhole ourselves and b) I’m not claiming to cook any classic dish at all whatsoever,” she says. “We are not claiming to do anything except put out food that we like to eat.”
There are Southeast Asian dishes, which reflect Moll’s time as a sous chef at Doi Moi, as well as Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine, which is what Steiner likes to cook. Highlights include Moll’s Balinese roast duck, Steiner’s take on hamachi crudo with house-made labneh, za’atar and pomegranate seeds, and their collaborative tahdig – a crispy Peruvian green rice. This is Moll’s first executive chef role, and she has embraced the opportunity to set the tone for kitchen culture.
“I’m excited that I’m able to be in a position where I can help build up other people now, [and] just be able to have a safe environment for people to learn, feel supported, grow and test out different ideas,” Moll says.
With the new concept well underway, Steiner hopes neighbors and visitors will give Pom Pom a chance.
“I’ve always been here,” she says. “The team is amazing and I’m hoping that people are excited to get onboard this f–king happy train, because we’re just here to throw a damn good party every night and we just want you to be a part of it.”
DC wasn’t always a place for folks looking to eat healthy. For some living in the city, it still isn’t. For example, in Southeast DC, there is still an utter lack of grocery stores – even with the announcement of new additions earlier this year. Low-income and at-risk residents often lack the resources and education to make healthy decisions with regards to food. Add that to scarcity, and the impact – or lack thereof – of healthy food options can reverberate through the community on a multitude of levels.
That isn’t to say there aren’t nonprofits and other organizations in DC looking to either provide or educate people of all backgrounds on the values of nutrition. There is a range of places for people to learn and discover the merits of healthy eating in the nation’s capital, and for our Dine the District issue, we decided to highlight a few organizations embracing the initiative in different ways.
Healthy Living Starts with Education
When Healthy Living, Inc.’s founder and executive director Juliette Tahar arrived in the United States in the late 1960s after spending her childhood in West Africa and France, she was surprised at the meager emphasis on fresh foods found in American grocery stores.
“The biggest shock wasn’t the culture [or] the language,” Tahar says. “It was the food. I grew up with an abundance of fresh food. For me, when I came to the U.S., the options were limited. There were aisles and aisles of frozen food. Fresh produce was limited to iceberg lettuce and tomatoes. I think my interest in food started there because of this food cultural shock. I wanted to reconnect to what I knew as a child.”
After years spent cooking, catering and educating on the merits of macrobiotics in food, Tahar founded Healthy Living in 2003 with a mission to create programs built around nutrition education and healthy cooking. Whether it be hands-on demos or simple Q&A opportunities for eager learners, Tahar and youth program manager Mark Weinberger have been able to utilize their culinary backgrounds to help DC’s less privileged.
“The education aspect is the strong foundation we apply that is useful for all people,” Weinberger says. “The knowledge is basic, and people get culinary skills and knowledge of why they’re eating what they’re eating. We implement after school programs and summer programs for younger participants so they can learn to be aware of what’s growing in the region seasonally. You have to get people engaged.”
Though the programs are largely based on plant-based foods, Weinberger says they make an effort to keep it simple with items people can find at chain grocery stores and even some corner stores. With the understanding that not everyone can purchase organic foods, the point of emphasis is often on preparation.
“Yesterday, I taught at an organization that works with young families to show what you can accomplish on a budget,” Tahar says. “We want to get families cooking together. We want them to own the cooking. We want to empower people because when you cook for yourself, you’re in charge.”
Weinberger makes it a point to differentiate from the misnomer that having a healthy diet requires people to become vegan or vegetarian. Healthy Living does not advocate any one way of eating, he says. Because of the varied backgrounds of the DC residents they serve, their programs focus on diets that work for individuals and their families.
“The approach is more about education and helping them figure out what works best for them,” Weinberger says. “We want people to understand and make the best choices for themselves.”
Part of understanding a topic is asking the right questions, and Tahar has noticed a hunger for knowledge from people who have participated in their programs.
“People come with questions and ask my opinion,” Tahar says. “People do listen and want to be in the programs and learn. Change doesn’t happen all of a sudden. It’s about being totally inclusive and inviting people to explore their relationship with what they eat. It’s building consciousness and awareness. It takes a long time. We build relationships with partners in the long term.”
For more information about Healthy Living, Inc., visit www.healthyliving.org.
Bread for the City Makes Impact with Farmers Market
Farmers markets are often associated with affluence – people casually strolling in a downtown location sifting through various vegetables and an assortment of artisanal products, most often with a backdrop of music. However, Bread for the City operates two free farmers markets on a monthly basis, offering a different way for people to get nutritious goods.
“There are usually about 200 people present at the sessions, and they’re able to get fruits, vegetables and other staples that people need,” says Sonya Springfield, Bread for the City’s volunteer and in-kind manager.
Springfield views the need for more healthy options among DC residents as fairly straightforward, pointing out an extremely simplified cause and effect that has to be addressed.
“It’s pretty uncomplicated,” she continues. “Poverty leads to food insecurity and that leads to poor nutrition, and that then leads to all sorts of consequences for people’s health. Poverty in DC is higher among black residents. When individuals have low income, they usually buy foods that are really cheap. In the cases of Ward 7 and 8, there aren’t many grocery stores. Fifty percent of the city’s youth live in those wards, so a lack of access is having a big impact.”
That’s where Bread for the City’s programs come in, including the aforementioned farmers markets as well as food pantries that provide healthy options to people near or below the federal poverty line. According to the website, Bread for the City serves more than 8,400 people per month through their food programs.
“People can get the amount of food needed dependent on their household size,” Springfield says. “People are happy to have access to fresh foods and vegetables.”
While Bread for the City provides what it can to the underserved of DC, Springfield mentions how the scarcity of viable grocery stores and price of vegetables at higher-end locations can be a deterrent for the people who use the organizations pantries and farmers markets. While education plays a big part in helping shape people’s eating habits, access and affordability are just as important to the cause.
“People want to eat well and be healthy, but survival comes before health, and survival has to take a lot of different things into consideration,” Springfield says. “When people with limited funds are deciding what to trade off on a particular month to make everything fit, expensive food just doesn’t make the cut when there’s a cheap option that will also keep them alive for the time being. We can take a bunch of grapes to the counter and they’ll cost about $12. When you compare that to a $2 bag of chips, it’s easy to see why some parents are forced to give their children the less healthy option to snack on.”
For more information about Bread for the City, visit www.breadforthecity.org.
Miriam’s Kitchen Shows and Tells
For Miriam’s Kitchen Executive Chef Cheryl Bell, a large component of educating people about nutrition is by showing them how it can taste.
“We have to get very creative about how we’re making healthy alternatives for foods that people like,” Bell says. “You’re never going to have fried chicken here, but we’ll do baked chicken. We’ll do oven-baked steak fries. We try to elevate everything from a taste perspective. We want foods to nourish you, not harm you.”
Miriam’s Kitchen was founded in 1983 when the Western Presbyterian Church, Unity Church and the George Washington University Hillel banded together to serve meals to their neighbors. Shortly after, the organization added case management and a therapeutic art program. Now the nonprofit partners with hundreds of corporations and faith communities to end chronic homelessness. This includes a housing program, advocacy program and several others.
“I don’t want someone to get housing and then die a year later because they were unhealthy,” Bell says. “That’s my goal: to help people understand. We often see people who have struggled to get off the streets then get housing, only for them to die because of health [reasons]. It happens.”
One key component separating Miriam’s from other shelters or soup kitchens is Bell’s ability to showcase healthy options of familiar dishes. For instance, Bell mentions that the kitchen cooks recognizable things like lasagna or cheeseburgers but uses all-natural ingredients. She concedes that in the past, kitchens for the malnourished were more focused on quantity over quality. But in her own kitchen, this has shifted dramatically.
“I have a responsibility as a chef to serve and take care of people, and that means I have to think about all the ways I can do that,” Bell says. “We work with guests to educate them so they can be aware when they go somewhere else and know what they can and can’t have. It’s not about providing meals. It’s about providing people with a better quality of life.”
For more information about Miriam’s Kitchen, visit www.miriamskitchen.org.
Broccoli City Puts Emphasis on Educating Festivalgoers
Renowned for its ability to draw large musical acts and talented artists to the DC area, the annual Broccoli City Festival has also provided opportunities for food education in a place you’d otherwise not expect to find it. Though nutrition and hip-hop seem like an odd combination, cofounder Brandon McEachern says it’s actually pretty organic.
“It’s all important – that’s why we do it,” McEachern says. “We just try to touch them. You think it’s a hip-hop concert, but you leave with a bag of fresh vegetables. That’s the kind of vendors we have. You leave with stuff that you really needed. [That’s the] basis of Broccoli City. It’s community over competition. The message and the mission is love and community and giving back. Get your hands dirty. It’s an organic thing.”
McEachern says part of what spurred the idea was his time spent in California as a production assistant, where he worked in Santa Monica but got haircuts in South Central. He describes the difference as obvious, and it inspired an idea to promote health-conscious foods through means that would allow people to keep their “swag.”
“I looked at the differences between the neighborhoods. In South Central, there’s liquor store, liquor store, McDonald’s. When I saw that, I wanted to create a festival where you can feel healthy and still be on some swag sh-t. Broccoli represents fresh, and City represents the rawness of urban.”
Broccoli City also promotes health awareness at the Shaw-based Broccoli City Bar, including events hosted by #DontMuteMyHealth, a local grassroots movement in DC to reclaim community health from outside influences and interests. The festival itself also hosts a number of events focused on health-related activities including a 5K, a conference and several panel discussions.
“Man, they show it love,” McEachern says. “We’re an option. You have to present it. It’s a consistent way to deliver the message. Keep coming back, keep trying to educate.”
Broccoli City’s next endeavor is Food and Grooves at Union Market’s Dock5 on October 26 with appearances from Questlove, Chef Kwame Onwuachi of Kith/Kin and a score of other culinary and musical talent. Though the focus isn’t inherently on health or nutrition, McEachern assures that Broccoli City’s mission will be felt at the festival.
Learn more about Broccoli City Festival at www.bcfestival.com.
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated Bread for the City’s food programs served 8,400 people without the phrase “per month,” which was an error.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated Sonya Springfield’s title and said she was a volunteer. Her title is Volunteer and In-Kind Manager.
Fast-casual food is hot and shows no signs of slowing down. Since the explosion of the fast-casual segment, DC diners have started expecting even more from these quick options – and restaurants have delivered. They are incorporating creative bites, hanging menus, well-plated dishes, interesting décor and extensive beverage services into the casual dining experience. This new niche, referred to as elevated fast casual or fine fast casual, combines the familiar elements of fast casual with aspects of fine dining. In DC, we have plenty of choices when it comes to fine fast casual, with diverse cuisines at modest price points. Here’s what seven local spots, each truly highlighting the best in the fine fast casual space, have to say about the trend.
This Indian restaurant has cemented its spot in DC’s fine fast-casual market with its innovative and accessible flavors. It continues to make waves in the space with upcoming new locations and celebrity endorsements.
According to Sahil Rahman, co-owner of RASA, “Fine fast casuals are continuing to innovate and push the market forward. The big trends we are seeing today include the promotion of unique ingredients, elevated interior design and an increase in healthful offerings.”
All of these are at the forefront of RASA’s brand. Rahman believes this is the fastest-growing market segment because it solves multiple consumer needs at once.
“The brilliance of the model is that it maintains the quick service while also offering guests the opportunity to eat delicious and nutritious meals, all at an affordable price point.”
1247 First St. SE, DC; www.rasagrill.com
Co-owners Bettina Stern and Suzanne Simon have been ahead of the curve not just on the fine fast casual trend, but also on the plant-forward movement. What started off as a market stand now has two storefront locations in DC featuring vegetarian tacos with local, seasonal vegetables served in homemade tortillas to diners.
“Fast casual is the perfect fit for serving best-quality, fresh, delicious, local, seasonal vegetables to everyone,” Stern says. “It is convenient, easy and affordable.”
Indeed, this is what makes them appealing to diners. Interest in the fine fast casual and quick-service side of the restaurant industry is only growing.
As Stern puts it: “It appears that deliciousness is at the intersection of health, sustainability, cultural discovery and business insight.”
3207 Grace St. and 615 I St. in NW, DC; www.chaiatacos.com
Plant-based options are one of the fastest-growing segments in the food industry, and the Israeli-focused Shouk caters to this with delicious hummus bowls, salads and sandwiches.
Ran Nussbacher and Dennis Friedman of Shouk say that, “In the past, when people wanted to grab a quick bite, the majority of their options were highly-processed, sugary foods with unknown ingredients.”
By offering highly craveable, nutritious options at modest prices, Shouk has truly managed to win locals’ stomachs – the eggplant burger is one of the best vegetarian sandwich options around.
655 K St. NW, DC and 395 Morse St. NE, DC; www.shouk.com
Big name chefs are keen to be part of the movement, too. José Andrés’ Beefsteak is a plant-based concept that has proven popular. Getting creative with using plant-based ingredients remains ever important to keep diners interested. Eric Martino, COO of ThinkFoodGroup, also sees another direction for some companies as ghost kitchens become more of a trend.
“As third-party deliveries continue to increase in metro markets, I could see multi-concept units doing delivery only out of kitchen-only spaces,” Martino says. “Engaging with guests digitally through apps and online strategies are no longer a “nice to have” but more of a necessity.
1528 Connecticut Ave. and on GWU’s campus at 800 22nd St. in NW, DC; www.beefsteakveggies.com
Antonio Matarazzo, co-owner of Stellina Pizzeria, agrees that “the growing interest in fast-casual dining has led to more well-known chefs opening concepts in this space and service style.”
“That translates into greater quality and care of the food served in fast-casual restaurants,” he says.
At Stellina, the counter service model has been received positively as diners become familiar with the idea that a space could be causal in terms of service but with a menu, quality and prices closer to traditional restaurants.
According to Matarazzo, “Cutting out some steps in the service allows us to deliver amazing dishes at great value.”
We agree – the food speaks for itself.
399 Morse St. NE, DC; www.stellinapizzeria.com
Aung Myint, owner of the Burmese salad shop, says that “guests are trying to get in and get out, and don’t have time to make myriad decisions.”
By having a selection of composed bowls with ingredients and flavors that work together, the guesswork is eliminated for the diner. This also leads to consistency – a big advantage.
“If you find something you love, you know what you’re going to get upon each visit,” Myint says.
And you will find something you love.
1069 Wisconsin Ave. NW, DC; www.bandoolabowl.com
At Poke Papa, value and convenience are the focus. When it comes to fresh raw fish, there is no compromise. Food is consistently prepared throughout the day so they can serve guests meals in relatively quick time frames while still maintaining a high quality.
From “the start of our ordering process to finishing payment, it’s right around two minutes on average,” owner Kerry Chao says.
Health-conscious diners are seeking fresh options that aren’t heavily processed, and that’s exactly what Poke Papa offers.
806 H St. NW, DC; www.pokepapa.com
Just a few weeks after national media outlets broke the news that Kwame Onwuachi’s memoir Notes from a Young Black Chef would become the basis for an A24-produced film adaptation starring Lakeith Stanfield, I sat down with the chef at Kith/Kin.
We chatted in a private dining room tucked away in a back corner of his award-winning restaurant, located inside The Wharf’s InterContinental Hotel, on an afternoon in late July. He looked completely at ease as one of DC’s most notable photographers, Scott Suchman, snapped pictures of him sitting in an Eames-esque green leather chair. It was one of the few times I’d seen the chef without his prominent Malcom X hat. But the iconic X was still present, freshly tattooed in black on his left wrist, the same color as his painted nails.
If you haven’t heard of Onwuachi yet, perhaps the most accurate one-line description is: the hottest chef in DC. The 29-year-old is a phoenix, rising from the proverbial ashes after his first restaurant Shaw Bijou quickly shuttered in 2016, to become a New York Times best-selling author, Forbes 30-under-30 honoree, and a RAMMY and James Beard Award winner all in the span of about six months.
“It’s kind of like exploring a new facet of what this restaurant industry has to offer,” Onwuachi elaborated, leaning slightly forward. “When you talk about your story, you never think of yourself as interesting. I mean, there are certain people who view themselves as extremely interesting, but for the average person, you don’t know how someone is going to react to your story. To see how [mine] has been embraced by the world, I couldn’t have imagined it.”
Onwuachi’s story has always held the intrigue of diners and viewers alike, from Shaw Bijou menu items reminiscent of dishes from his childhood like fish pies and Butterfingers to his well-received appearances on Top Chef. It made sense to turn his background into a book: the tale of a young man who was in a gang and sold drugs before graduating from the Culinary Institute of America and opening a restaurant in the nation’s capital – all before the age of 30.
The published memoir ends before the story of his successes at Kith/Kin and fast-casual spot Philly Wing Fry reach the pages, but the ongoing narrative has played out in the various 2019 press coverage singing his praises. These accolades have led him to travel the globe – from Mexico to Chicago to Africa – to cook and appear at events and conferences, take calls with Issa Rae, and DM Ava DuVernay. And yet, he’s still perpetually in the kitchen.
“I definitely have days where I feel as if nothing is going right,” Onwuachi said. “Despite all these things happening, I’m still doing something I love. I’m still doing something I believe in. I’m still just cooking. I have this other side of my life now, which is very open, raw [and] vivid, that other people feel very connected to and are inspired by, which is a really cool feeling.”
An Open Book
Onwuachi’s memoir, released this spring, is described as “an intersection of race, fame and food.” The book begins and ends with the chef’s thoughts on his-then most recent project Shaw Bijou: the excitement, jubilation and exhaustion he felt before its opening and the utter disappointment that followed its closing – and the accompanying negative murmurs from the public. However, the chapters in between reveal more than his thoughts on culinary life.
“I don’t think it’s ever easy doing a new thing you’re not familiar with – a new medium. I have been exploring this for awhile, telling my story. But there are certain parts that aren’t glorious, ones you don’t share with people. You tuck it somewhere where you don’t have to talk about it ever again. This book is not for just young chefs. This book is not just for young black chefs. It’s not just for black people. It’s not just for people in the culinary industry. It’s for everyone.”
The writing process forced Onwuachi to divulge details he’d previously hidden. He talked to his family and friends to recreate scenes. He penned detailed accounts of his times as a 10-year-old in Nigeria fetching water and raising livestock, and the days he sold candy to passengers on the subways. Readers connected to these stories. He tells me he gets about five letters per day, often thanking him for being vulnerable. His mother, who ran a catering company while raising him in the Bronx, cried upon first read – and so did he.
“It brought back moments she was trying to forget. My grandmother was finding out things she never knew about me and crying for other reasons. Close family friends that didn’t really know my life story, how I got to where I am – it was eye-opening for them. It was different based on the person. I was crying when I first held the book in my hands. It felt really powerful. There was a weight to it. I didn’t know what the rest of the world would think [of] my story. I’m living it.”
Afro-Caribbean + Cheesesteaks
When Shaw Bijou closed after two short months, Onwuachi took the brunt of the blows. Criticism ranged from the price of the food to his lack of experience. Despite the headlines and hot takes, he said the restaurant worked. If it had more capital to survive the opening stages, he said it would have survived and thrived in DC’s market.
“It was money. That’s why restaurants close. We had plenty of people come to the restaurant. It was just that the investors didn’t have the capital they said they had. They didn’t have enough to get through the tough times, which is the beginning. I didn’t ask the right questions. I was young and excited. I was coming from a line cook position. I was excited to have a new life.”
Ten months later in October 2018, Onwuachi opened Kith/Kin as its executive chef. At first, he attempted to once more use his story as a foundation for his menu. Shortly after, however, he shifted the spotlight. He began to focus on emphasizing a vision built on Afro-Caribbean roots, inspired by his family’s history and an extensive amount of research.
Another impetus for change was his need to grow. When the restaurant was in its infancy, he labored long hours – from 6 a.m. to 1 a.m. – overextending himself and his creativity. He suffered a car accident because of exhaustion. Frankly, it wasn’t working.
“I looked in the mirror. There was too much money being spent on labor costs or things the guests didn’t realize. I had to make it less about me and more about the environment and my team. I was so hands-on, and it wasn’t working for anyone. I wasn’t the best version of myself and my food wasn’t the best version of itself. I needed to change so we could grow and become the restaurant I knew we were capable of becoming. I think trying to take from other models just didn’t work. It was tough, because I had to peel back the layers of my own cooking so that it would make sense.”
The restaurant’s high quality has helped land the chef both James Beard and RAMMY Awards this year, as well as other culinary accolades. And Kith/Kin isn’t the only thriving restaurant under his purview either, as Union Market’s Philly Wing Fry quickly became a favorite for locals. The little eatery specializes in the three words forming its title – cheesesteaks, chicken wings and waffle fries – plus other treats like fried Brussels sprouts. As of this summer, it’s even serving up egg-and-cheese sandwiches for breakfast on the weekends.
“I just thought, ‘Why isn’t there a place where I can get a cheesesteak, chicken and waffle fries in one spot?’ so I was like, ‘I’m going to make it.’ We had aged beef from Shaw Bijou, and we needed to [use it]. I think [these are staples] every American knows, and I thought it was a really good idea.”
Taking A Lap
From creative menus to a movie in the making, most of Onwuachi’s recent ideas have proven to be excellent. But if his book and the Shaw Bijou experiment are any indication, life ebbs and flows. When you’re flying highest is when you’re suddenly grounded. Onwuachi acknowledged some pressure in juggling his numerous projects, but he handles it all with a calmness.
“It keeps me going. I think I have a responsibility because I’m out there now. I have to. I felt it when I did Shaw Bijou. That’s why I didn’t want to close so bad. Being some of the first to do things, it’s tough. It’s a double-edged sword. But at the end of the day, I have to make sure I’m setting a great example for the rest of the people that want to do it so when they see me and they look like me, they know they can attain it.”
That’s how he felt when he saw President Obama walk across the stage during his election win in 2008. Though he’s not planning to walk across that stage anytime soon, you can often see Onwuachi taking a walk of his own at Kith/Kin – clad in his chef coat, bouncing from table to table, checking on his guests.
“People are finally able to celebrate their culture while celebrating a special experience. It’s why I do it. When it gets tough, I can take a lap around the dining room and see a rainbow of faces with food in their hands.”
Catch Onwuachi’s interview with Questlove at the Food & Grooves Festival at Union Market’s Dock5 on October 26 or at Miracle Theatre on November 1 with “The Sporkful Podcast.” Follow him on Twitter @chefkwame and on Instagram @chefkwameonwuachi.
Kith/Kin: 801 Wharf St. SW, DC; www.kithandkindc.com
Philly Wing Fry: 1309 5th St. NE, DC; www.phillywingfry.com