RASA dishes // Photo: Rey Lopez

DC’s Fine Fast Casual Scene

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.

RASA

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

CHAIA

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

SHOUK

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

Beefsteak

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

Stellina Pizzeria

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

Bandoola Bowl

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

Poke Papa

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

Photos: Scott Suchman

Kwame Onwuachi Continues to Cook Life Story

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

The Hangover Special // Photo: courtesy of Succotash

5 Go-To Dishes to Cure the Ultimate Hangover

Waking up after a late night of drinking can feel like a game of roulette. Maybe you’ll hop out of bed feeling none the worse for wear, or maybe, your head will be heavy as an anvil with a churning stomach and strong desire to do nothing but take it easy until your body can get itself in order. Hangovers often lead to cravings for foods loaded with carbs, grease and fat that can soak up the alcohol from the night before and fuel the next day. A bit of sweat-inducing spice never hurt, either. These five dishes were chef-built to help ease the pain and replenish the soul with a heavy dose of all things comforting.

Taco Bamba’s Hangover Torta

Tacos are understandably the main draw at this local taqueria chain from chef Victor Albisu. But if a thumping headache has you craving something a bit greasier, grab the Hangover Torta at Taco Bamba’s Fairfax location.

“I don’t get many hangovers these days, but when I do, I’m on the lookout for eggs and potatoes, salt and spice, and a little bit of fat,” Albisu says.

His sandwich was designed to hit all the right notes, from bacon carnitas and avocado to fried eggs and beans.

10629 Braddock Rd. Fairfax, VA; www.tacobamba.com

The Smith’s Breakfast Pot Pie

This New York City export has comfort food for all times of day. If you can’t decide what your hangover requires, go for The Smith’s Breakfast Pot Pie available at both DC locations – Penn Quarter and U Street. The skillet is loaded with bacon, sweet Italian-style sausage, a homemade cheddar biscuit crust and two runny eggs.

“For me, it’s all the best parts of biscuits and gravy packed into a pot pie vessel,” says Michael Kollarik, The Smith’s culinary development chef. “It helps jumpstart your afternoon.”

901 F St. and 1314 U St. in NW, DC; http://thesmithrestaurant.com

Succotash’s Hangover Special

Chef Edward Lee’s Penn Quarter restaurant blurs the line between Korean and Southern American cuisines – a recipe for spicy, fatty, wholesome cooking to turn around the groggiest of mornings. Lee says that his aptly named Hangover Special has all of those elements in one cast iron skillet: spicy pulled pork, potato salad, fried eggs and gravy with a biscuit.

“The Hangover Special is combination of everything you need to get your day started,” Lee says. “Together, they are fuel for your body and joy for your soul.”

915 F St. NW, DC; www.succotashrestaurant.com

Bar Deco’s Hangover Sandwich

A breakfast sandwich can be a hangover savior, especially when it’s packed with eggs and salty, fatty bacon and sausage. Look no further than Chinatown spot Bar Deco’s Hangover Sandwich and its spin on the classic. The one here is loaded with scrambled eggs, short ribs, white cheddar cheese and more between two buttery brioche buns. A spicy jalapeño bacon mayonnaise gives it an extra spicy kick.

“The Hangover Sandwich is the perfect amount of sodium and fat between a buttery bun,” says Bar Deco Bar Manager Luke Lamb. “It’s exactly what your body is craving when your body is hungover: salt to help you retain water and that fat to keep you going.”

717 6th St. NW, DC; www.bardecodc.com

Matchbox’s Brunch Pizza

Matchbox restaurants are much more than pizza these days, but the thin-crust brunch pie is still one of the best ways to soak up the pain of a long night on the town. Spicy Italian sausage brings the heat, tempered by fresh pico de gallo, smoky gouda cheese and scrambled eggs. It’s part of the many carb-heavy options on the restaurant’s bottomless brunch menu.

“The Brunch Pizza has been a popular favorite on the Matchbox menu for years now,” says chef Jim Drost, who’s also director of culinary operations. “Even when we’ve tried different versions [and] began a brunch program without the Brunch Pizza, we’ve had to bring it back by popular demand.”

Four Virginia locations, two in Maryland (and a third opening in Bethesda), and three in DC; www.matchboxrestaurants.com

Photos: Chelsea Bailey

City Brew Tours Brings Unique Brewery Experiences to DC and NoVA

Like the leaves, craft beer changes with the season. From Oktoberfests to pumpkin ales, there is a perfect fall beer for every drinker just like there is a perfect brewery tour for every experience. Whether you want to explore breweries in DC or escape the city, City Brew Tours (CBT) is a local company that offers a variety of experiences for every kind of beer lover. They provide all-inclusive brewery tours in and out of the city with carefully selected beers at each of their stops, behind-the-scenes brewery access and food. Each tour is led by one of their expert guides, who provides their guests with a unique local brewery experience. Founded five years ago, CBT operates in close to 10 cities including DC and recently launched a weekly NoVA Brew Tour. We caught up with CBT’s Washington DC area city coordinator Steven Quartel to learn more.

On Tap: What’s your role at CBT?
Steven Quartel: When I’m not coordinating logistics for our business in the DC area, I can be found at breweries giving tours, “researching” 16-oz. at a time when something new is in on tap or training our beer guides.

OT: What qualifications does one need to be a
CBT guide?
SQ: If you’re great with people and have a passion for beer and want to share that with folks but need to learn more, we can make you a beer expert.

OT: When someone comes out for their first CBT, what are you hoping that they take away from the experience?
SQ: We specialize in creating unforgettable experiences. If we can create moments that stick with people long after their tour is done, we’ve succeeded.

OT: What is included with a CBT ticket?
SQ: We offer a few different packages including private tours, safe transportation, an expert beer guide, beer and food. This also includes our curated pairing plate and a beer flight.

OT: Are the routes the same for every tour?
SQ: They are not. We strive to develop close relationships with several breweries. This allows us to vary the routes and offer an exclusive look behind the scenes at many places.

OT: How are the breweries on the CBT routes selected?
SQ: We look for breweries of all kinds so that we can highlight all manner of production techniques, beer programs, and the human stories that make each brewery unique.

OT: What was the inspiration for the new NoVA tour that launched in September?
SQ: It’s no secret that Virginia has definitely been having a moment in terms of craft breweries. We’ve been looking at branching out into NoVA for two years now.

OT: What went into building out the NoVA tour?
SQ: We wanted to take the city tour model and expanded it to a deluxe version in a more suburban environment. I worked hand-in-hand with the GMs and chefs at Crafthouse and Fire Works Pizza to put together an extraordinary beer and food pairing experience.

OT: What is your favorite thing about giving tours?
SQ: Seeing someone find their new favorite beer, especially if it’s one I picked out for them.

OT: How did you get started in beer?
SQ: My wife. I was more of a dark liquor drinker coming out of college. She worked at a brewery and introduced me to Belgians, IPAs, nut browns and stouts.

OT: What is your favorite fall beer style?
SQ: Brown ales. The Boxcar Brown from Caboose, the [Northern] Nut Brown at The Public Option [and] Wallops Island from Rocket Frog are perfect once the temps start cooling.

OT: Where do you go for a pint when you’re off the clock?
SQ: Fire Works Pizza Cascades [in Sterling, Virginia] or Crafthouse. I love poring over the tap list at Hops N Shine in Del Ray. When I’m in DC: Free State, Brookland Pint or District ChopHouse.

OT: Are there any upcoming beer releases that you are looking forward to?
SQ: Grampus, a nut-brown ale from Hellbender, and Maniacal IPA from Port City. I love seeing creativity from brewpub collaborations and smaller-batch brews from 3 Stars, Right Proper and Lake Anne Brew House.

CBT’s NoVA Brew Tours are available on Sundays, DC tours are offered daily. Tour availability and tickets are available at www.citybrewtours.com/dc. Use the code ONTAP15 by October 31 to save 15 percent on your NoVA tour booking.

Writer bio: Follow Chelsea Bailey and her beer adventures on Instagram @21stamendmentgirl.

Paul Gonzalez, Lauren Paylor, Deke Dunne // Photos: M.K. Koszycki

Behind the Bar: Honoring the Past and Future of Black Bartenders at Allegory

How do you honor a legacy that has all but been forgotten by a collective consciousness? It’s an almost impossible question, but the team at Allegory – Eaton Workshop’s literary-themed cocktail bar – is answering it in a way that’s interactive, educational and engaging.

Presented in conjunction with multidisciplinary artist Khalil Joseph’s “BLKNWS” exhibit, which opened at Eaton last month and runs through December, Allegory’s head bartender Paul Gonzalez and his team set out to commemorate the legacy of black bartenders who paved the way for the beverage industry.

To do this, the Allegory team called upon prominent black bartenders in the community to craft and submit drinks of their choosing to this special menu. They’ve also included drinks made by bartenders of yesteryear who previously have not received the acclaim owed to them – pioneers like Cato Alexander and John Dabney, to name a few, make appearances.

One such modern bartender making a contribution to the menu is Lauren Paylor, bar director at cocktail bar Dos Mamis and beverage director at restaurant Pom Pom, both newly opened in Petworth. Though the Bronx native came to DC to study nursing at the Catholic University of America, she was quickly embraced by the city’s tightknit and talented hospitality world where she found a community to grow and create with.

When Allegory manager and bartender Deke Dunne and Gonzalez approached her to be part of this experience that she describes as a transition and continuation of the “BLKNWS” exhibit, she was all in. Paylor contributed a drink called the Loco Bananas: a sweet, smoky, banana-infused whiskey and rum-based cocktail.

Loco Bananas

“Seeing this turn in the DC community specifically with celebrating all aspects of history as far as cocktails are concerned is really nice,” Paylor says. “There are so many pieces that are often left out. They’re pertinent, they’re important and they have great significance. I was head over heels to be able to be part of this.”

Gonzalez explains that while his time at other bars in historic stretches of DC piqued his curiosity and appreciation for untold sides of the city’s hospitality history, “BLKNWS” provided Allegory with a platform to dive even deeper and make these bartenders’ stories heard and appreciated in tandem with the impactful message of the art.

“Deke and I used to work at The Gibson, and we thought it was fascinating how 14th and U is such a historic corner,” Gonzalez says. “Most of the people who live in the city now or that just go up and down that block know nothing about Black Broadway or all these amazing clubs. There’s a rich history that’s on that one strip from 7th to 14th Streets [in the U Street Corridor]. We took that as the starting point and started doing a little more research.”

To capture the history of black bartenders in the city, Gonzalez and Dunne dove in and found fascinating and necessary stories of entrepreneurs who did much more than just make a great cocktail in an era where the world was outwardly aiming to oppress them.

“The further we researched, the more we dug into finding all of these historic bartenders, and the greater the story [became],” Gonzalez continues. “These people literally started off as slaves and then by the time it was done, they weren’t just free. They owned businesses. One of them put his son through medical school. These are just stories that people need to know. You don’t call yourself a professional if you only care about the pretty side of history.”

The team found that some of the most important voices in this era were often excluded. Dunne notes that they are lucky to know the limited information that was available to them through their research.

“Cato Alexander was one of the forefathers of the cocktail scene back in the 1830s, and there’s little to nothing [available] about him,” Dunne says. “There are all these famous characters that were some of the best bartenders in the world that were black and had vertical growth in society, and nobody was talking about them.”

Alexander is just one of the talents the Allegory team sheds light on. As a modern black bartender, Paylor is happy to have the opportunity to make history known to those who come through to enjoy the menu.

“There is so much I’m learning now about the significance of black people and people of color in history – specifically in DC – and the broader spectrum of America,” she says. “There’s still so much we don’t know and there’s a little frustration that comes with that, but we’re doing our part to ensure that moving forward, we can continue the conversation and hope that this history doesn’t repeat itself. All people deserve to be celebrated for the impact that they’ve made on this industry, whether it was past or present.”

Experience “BLKNWS” and Allegory’s accompanying cocktail menu through the end of December.

For more on Lauren Paylor and Dos Mamis, visit www.dosmamisdc.com and follow her on Instagram @lpdrinksdc. Learn more about Allegory at www.allegory-dc.com.

Allegory at Eaton Workshop: 1201 K St. NW, DC; www.allegory-dc.com

Photo: Nick Donner

Confessions of Traveling Snack Slingers

What happens at the food truck rodeo doesn’t always stay at the food truck rodeo. We caught up with food truckers around the region to hear about the highs and lows of cooking on the road.

Captain Cookie & the Milkman

On Tap: What is the craziest event you’ve ever taken your truck to?
Founder // co-owner Kirk Francis: That would be The Festicle, which was a testicle-cooking festival held at the Bullpen. There were numerous testicle-cooking competitions, a team who did WWE-style wrestling and pole dancers. A close second was the Flugtag by Red Bull, where we saw various teams compete to push their homemade flying objects on hilariously unsuccessful launches. There was a lot of smashing and a tiny bit of flying.

OT: Most surprising order?
KF: We make cookie cakes, and over the years we’ve been asked to make some highly inappropriate cookie cakes for bachelorette parties. We also made and delivered a cookie cake once that simply said, “F—k you.” I hope it was a joke.

OT: What’s your favorite snack to enjoy after Captain Cookie calls it a day?
KF: Kimchi with rice and a fried egg. I ferment my own so there’s always a jar handy. It’s salty, sour and spicy, but still pretty healthy.

www.captaincookiedc.com

Photo: courtesy of CapMac

CapMac

On Tap: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever made for a customer?
Owner Josh Warner: The craziest order would probably be catering. They wanted to get fancy, and they wanted six courses and a plated dinner for four hours. Zero mac and cheese at all.

OT: What’s one thing most people don’t realize about owning a food truck?
JW: You think we’re only open for two hours, but we make everything from scratch so it’s a full day. It’s so much more if you do it right, and we do it right. We love people more than we love food.

www.capmacdc.com

Photo: courtesy of Rebel Taco

Rebel Taco

On Tap: What’s one aspect of owning a food truck most folks don’t realize?
Owner Mike Bramson: It gets hot inside the truck! If you’re feeling hot, imagine 10 degrees warmer – at least. Whoever is serving you on a warm day, just give them a “thank you.”

OT: What Rebel Taco dish do you crave post-shift?
MB: I’m normally craving the taco that I saw go out the most that day. It’s usually either the Super Chick (chipotle-marinated chicken, avocado crema and pico de gallo on a flour tortilla), steak quesadilla or the Shrimp Gone Wild (cornflake-battered shrimp, slaw and Rebel sauce).

OT: Name the food order that made you raise an eyebrow.
MB: One time, we had an order of 16 tacos from one person. I figured he was taking it to a group, but it was just him and his friend. I guess they must really like our tacos.

www.rebeltacova.com

Photo: courtesy of Swizzler

Swizzler

On Tap: What’s the oddest food order you’ve received?
Founder Jesse Konig: The weirdest thing that I’ve seen get ordered is asking for two hot dogs in one bun. I think people see the spiral-cut hot dogs and think they should be able to fuse together and make a super-sized hot dog. I respect the creative thinking, but it just doesn’t quite work out the way you think it would. Please, don’t order it.

OT: What’s your go-to Swizzler snack after a long day?
JK: I’ve been on a big burger kick recently so I’d have to say my number one choice would be a Swizz Stack fresh off the grill, maybe even with some caramelized onions and candied jalapeños added on top if I’m feeling crazy! After a long day working on the truck, that thing will disappear in 30 seconds flat. If we’re talking hot dogs, it would have to be a Feast Mode. Just thinking about it is making me hungry!

www.swizzlerfoods.com

Photo: courtesy of Pepe

Pepe by José Andrés

On Tap: After a long day with Pepe, what do you eat standing over the kitchen sink?
Chef Aaron Helfand: Spanish pulled pork with shredded cabbage slaw, hold the bread.

OT: What’s the weirdest thing someone’s asked you to make?
AH: Being a small workspace, we only have so many options to alter something. But guests come up with all sorts of interesting tweaks, whether it’s adding jamón to everything or adding croquetas to the inside of a bocata.

OT: What’s the one thing you can’t do without on your truck?
AH: This depends on where we are in the DMV area. It is interesting how guests at each location crave different items from our menu. We try to bring as much as possible so everyone can enjoy, but we can never be without jamón.

www.joseandrescatering.com

Photo: courtesy of Puddin’

A Day in the Life with Puddin’ Food Truck Owner Toyin Alli

Toyin Alli, founder of DC’s beloved soul food staple Puddin’, knows what people like: great ingredients, comforting flavors and a second to experience bliss in the middle of a busy day. Cooking is a thread that runs through her entire life, first as a way to bond with family, then as a hobby and ultimately as a calling. DMV residents gravitate toward Alli’s warmth and the sense of fun she brings to food. With two food trucks, a Union Market stall and a spot at Eastern Market’s Saturday farmers market, Puddin’s growth has tracked right alongside the District’s food truck scene. We caught up with her to learn more about where she’s been and where she’s headed next.

On Tap: What drew you to cooking?
Toyin Alli: I come from a family of people who love cooking. My dad is Nigerian and my mom is African American, so they’re always trying to merge those two things in the kitchen. I gravitated toward Cajun and Creole food because they have the influence of West African cuisines, French, Native Americans – it feels like the most American food there is. I ended up using a lot of West African ingredients and when I went to Louisiana [to research], I saw so much stuff that my dad was using, like okra. It felt like food that was very familiar to me.

OT: How did Puddin’ come to be? How did you pick the name?
TA: I started in 2005 just doing all different kinds of puddings – bread pudding, mousse, panna cotta – literally any kind of pudding I could think of. But it didn’t really take. People just started calling me Puddin’ and it stuck. It’s also a common Southern nickname. People come up to the truck all the time and say, “That’s MY nickname!” I started again after I graduated from grad school [in 2010]: gumbo, shrimp and grits, banana pudding. This wasn’t an overly thought-out business idea. It came from a love of cooking and it was a thing I did on the weekend. I was working a full-time job and I was rushing around getting ingredients. I quit my job about six months after I started the business. It was scary, but it ended up paying off. I was able to incrementally build my business by starting in the Eastern Market farmers market.

OT: Now you’re at Eastern Market and in Union Market, and you’ve got the food truck. How does your clientele differ at each location?
TA: We have die-hard Eastern Market people who come every weekend for our po’boys because I put a twist on it. It’s still traditional with big fried shrimp, but we put our remoulade and a vinegar-based slaw on them. We use local Rappahannock oysters and wild blue catfish, which is different too. They’re an invasive species and they’re not bottom feeders so they don’t have that muddy taste, plus getting them out of the water helps the ecosystem. Union Market is changing. We have people who come because they support me as a black-owned, female-owned business. The new market people are trendy millennials, tourists – and they’re having a different experience. It’s all cool. It’s all great.

OT: What’s your bestseller? Why do you think that is?
TA: The bread pudding is always a hit. It’s an old-timey dessert you either love or hate. What’s fun for me is taking one of those old-school desserts and turning it into something people really enjoy. Getting people to try it is a challenge. “That’s wet bread! Who wants wet bread? I don’t!” But ours is no nuts, no raisins, no cinnamon, and who doesn’t love butter and bread with sugar and bourbon? Rather than try to overcomplicate it, I made something simple – and people love it.

OT: What does comfort food mean to you?
TA: When I think of comfort food, I think of anything that makes my body tingle [while I’m eating it]. It’s so good, I’d rather be doing that than any number of things that also make me feel good. Comfort food to me is, you need this not only for nourishment, but to feed your soul. I know you can’t indulge every day, but sometimes you just need some fried shrimp, you need some gumbo. Ultimately, if it feels like home.

OT: What’s next for Puddin’?
TA: I’m working on Puddin’s Community Kitchen. We’re hoping to open in November. I purchased warehouse space in Capitol Heights, Maryland, right outside DC. It’ll be an incubator space and a commercial kitchen, but also a community space for cooking classes and whatever else the community needs. I’m trying to create a space that can be used to fill that gap. Additionally, there’s going to be a carry-out space so people in that community can buy Puddin’ food without coming into the city.

 Learn more about Puddin’ and where to find Alli’s food trucks at www.dcpuddin.com or on Instagram @dcpuddin.

Monday through Sunday at Union Market: 1309 5th St. NE, DC; www.unionmarketdc.com

Saturdays from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. at Eastern Market: 635 North Caroline Ave. SE, DC; www.easternmarket-dc.org

Turtle Recall at Nationals Park

The Budweiser music series at Nationals Park concluded on Friday, September 27 with live music from Turtle Recall in the Budweiser Terrace as the Nationals warmed up to play the Indians. Photos: Mark Raker Photography

Sixth in the Sixth Culture House DC Anniversary Party

On Tap Magazine and DC Fray joined forces to celebrate Culture House DC’s sixth anniversary in Ward 6, kicking off the first week of Map Glover’s “Save The Seed” exhibit. Guests caught a glimpse of vibrant local arts and culture through the lens of visual and multimedia artists, music curators, musicians and other creatives with access to food trucks and a cash bar. Featured artists included Maps Glover, Domo, Mane Squeeze, The Mixxtress and GIRLAAA. Photos: Nick Moreland Photography

D.C. United Cornhole Tournament at Audi Field

D.C. United fans celebrated the start of fall with a cornhole tournament at Audi Field before the game against the Seattle Sounders. Fans pregames with a little friendly competition in a double elimination tournament, then enjoyed Sunday’s game with DC Fray drink specials. Photos: Mark Raker Photography