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Photo: Laura Metzler

6 Spots To Get Holiday Sweets

With the recent openings of bakeries and the growing profiles of local pastry chefs, DC’s bakery game is on the rise – literally. Spinning sugar into showpieces, whipping meringue into mini mountain peaks and constructing cakes into literal works of art, DC dessert masterminds are showing how their craft is a vital part of the food scene in the nation’s capital.

So what’s the buzz behind DC’s sugar rush? It’s no secret that in recent years, the food scene in the District has exploded. In 2016, Bon Appetit named it the Restaurant City of the Year, and in the same year, Michelin awarded DC with its first-ever guidebook. What does that mean for pastry chefs and the bakery niche?

“It’s definitely an exciting time for food in general in DC, and it’s nice to see that pastries have kind of caught on to the wave of openings and young chefs becoming owners of businesses,” notes Buttercream Bakeshop’s owner and pastry chef, Tiffany MacIsaac. “There’s a lot of great places to get pastries now.”

For pastry chefs who double as business owners, part of the draw to open their own storefronts is the opportunity to create on a whim. MacIsaac’s menu of treats includes addictive cinnascones, savory breakfast bombs and custom cake orders dreamed up in her Shaw bakery.

“That was one of the reasons why I wanted to open a bakery,” she continues. “I wanted to be able to cook whatever I wanted – when I wanted – and put it out on the shelf.”

For Foreign National Pastry Director Pichet Ong – the culinary talent behind LINE Hotel eateries Brothers and Sisters and Spoken English, as well as H Street’s Maketto and a handful of other local spots – the environment in DC has encouraged a new wave of chefs and restaurant openings.

“I think it’s just part of the growth of the restaurant industry here,” says Ong, who is known for signature desserts highlighting fruit, Asian flavors and herbs, and savory ingredients. “DC is unique in that way, in that it has always boasted a huge pool of local talent – and from that, they each have their own unique experience.”

Beyond the burgeoning culinary environment in the DC area, Schlow Restaurant Group’s Alex Levin says it’s about chefs evolving and elevating their game. From managing the pastry program at Osteria Morini to his current position as executive pastry chef for all Schlow Restaurant Group’s eateries, he’s created new businesses within those concepts such as his popular pop-up bakeries.

“[I] have this amazing platform to be creative and make desserts, but also be a business mind about it and think about how we can create new experiences within our concepts so that we’re constantly challenging ourselves,” Levin says. “I can have the best of both worlds, where suddenly being a pastry chef is a real benefit for a company to have. I believe that’s what a lot of other people are doing too. They’re showing their value in ways that go far beyond what they do on the menu.”

With so much talent on the rise, it would be easy to assume competition is stiff. But amongst DC chefs, it seems to be all about community over competition. MacIsaac notes that just in Shaw alone, there’s a number of bakeries and restaurants with pastry offerings beyond Buttercream Bakeshop.

“Right around the corner is Seylou [Bakery], and then across the street is Unconventional Diner,” she says. “It just really goes to show there’s lots of people that want good pastries in this city and there’s plenty of business to go around. I think we all rise together, so I think it’s good that there’s more things opening.”

With the holidays right around the corner, bakeries and pastry kitchens have shifted gears toward seasonal treats. Expect fun DIY cake kits from MacIsaac’s shop outfitted with all the decorating accoutrements including piping bag, piping tip, buttercream, sprinkles and paper toppers.

“They’re little four-inch cakes, so it’s enough for one or two people to eat. We’re kind of reinventing the whole ‘leave a cookie for Santa.’ We’re thinking people might want to leave a cake for Santa.”

The kits also double as a gift for holiday soirées.

“It’s a fun thing for people to get for parties because it can be an activity, the dessert and the gift – all rolled up into one,” MacIsaac says of her kits.

Buttercream Bakeshop patrons can enjoy holiday cookie lattes with “cookie butter spread, molasses and all of the spice.” Essentially, they’re gingerbread cookies in latte form.

Although Ong didn’t grow up with traditional American holiday flavors and ingredients, he’ll be putting his spin on winter favorites over at the LINE including a salted caramel apple pie with a smoky flavor and a persimmon dessert featuring jasmine tea for Spoken English.

Schlow Restaurant Group’s eateries will also highlight seasonal desserts. Indulge in the triple chocolate s’mores budino or the apple tart with almond frangipane at Alta Strada. Levin is also running a December pop-up, located at Casolare Ristorante + Bar in Glover Park and Alta Strada’s DC and Mosaic locations, where guests can order winter treats like a classic linzer cookie filled with raspberry jam. Levin will be hosting his second annual People’s Hanukkah Party at Casolare on December 6 where he’ll be slinging sufganiyot – the traditional donuts typically only found during Hanukkah – as well as latkes and other savory bites.

After the holiday season is over and DC denizens transition into the new year, what can be expected from the bakery scene? Ong predicts an even greater rise for pastry chefs.

“I think for sure there’s going to be more openings of restaurants in DC,” he says. “We’re going to hopefully see more pastry chefs coming to the scene. There’s a lot of really great pastry chefs already in DC, but you’re going to see more of them coming into prominence.”

Learn more about the delectable items offered at the spots below. 

Alta Strada: 2911 District Ave. #150, Fairfax, VA; www.altastradarestaurant.com
Brothers and Sisters: 1770 Euclid St. NW, DC; www.brothersandsistersdc.com
Buttercream Bakeshop: 1250 9th St. NW, DC; www.buttercreamdc.com
Casolare Ristorante + Bar: 2505 Wisconsin Ave. NW, DC; www.casolare.com
Osteria Morini: 301 Water St. SE, DC; www.osteriamorini.com
Spoken English: 1770 Euclid St. NW, DC; www.thelinehotel.com/dc

Madeline Rothman // Photo: In His Eye Photography

District Clay Center Provides Holiday Shoppers With Pottery Bonanza

During the holiday shopping season, do you ever stop and think about who created the items you’re purchasing? Over the weekend, District Clay Center held its holiday pottery sale, where local ceramic artists displayed their handmade wares. Beautiful vases, delicate ornaments, earrings and necklaces, just to name a few, were for sale. With each artist showcasing their own unique style, there was definitely something for everyone on your shopping list. 

I had the chance to meet and chat with one of the artists at the event, Madeline Rothman. She is one (of three) of the Artists In Residence at District Clay Center. The Artist in Residence Program is year long, and gives the artists a stipend, studio space, clay to create and a solo exhibition at the end of her year.

Rothman, a graduate of the Tyler School of Art at Temple University, says of her experience at District Clay, “The studio is sort of run by the people who use it, which is unique. There is a lot of trust and respect within all of the artists to make sure everything is getting done and running smoothly. This is the kind of environment that clay requires and is also why I love it so much.” 

“The community is so accepting and supportive.”

The space definitely has a warm familial feel to it. The holiday sale was my first time visiting District Clay, but I truly felt right at home. You could definitely sense the feeling of community, as fellow artists mingled and shared laughs as they set up their tables. As I walked around and explored the plentiful goods for sale, I was really happy to see such a diversity in style and goods at an excellent price point.

When I stopped by Rothman’s table, among her gorgeous, larger pieces of colorful pottery for sale, there was a section of equally beautiful espresso cups (or shot glasses… pick your poison) for sale, with proceeds from those directly benefiting District Clay’s nonprofit program Community Clay. 

“I have been teaching as well as trying to raise money to grow our program and hopefully be able to give even more students an opportunity to learn and make art,” she says. “It is extremely rewarding after a class ends [and] how excited the students are to return.”

The District Clay Center partnered with ArtReach GW (George Washington University) to create a free clay class for children in the Southeast part of DC. The classes are held at THEARC: Town Hall Education Arts Recreation Campus.

“A lot of these students in Ward 7 and Ward 8 neighborhoods don’t have access to many art opportunities, especially with clay.”

Naturally, I took a couple home with me, as well as some other incredible goods from the local artists at District Clay. As I headed home, I was filled with joy at the knowledge of how my holiday purchases would directly benefit my local community. That to me is the pinnacle of the holiday spirit.

For more information about District Clay Center and its future events, visit here. To see a gallery of the event, click here.

District Clay Center: 2414 Douglas St. NE, DC; www.districtclaycenter.com

Community yoga class at Bread for the City // Photo: Gracy Obuchowicz

Pay It Forward, DC: 15 Ways To Give Back Locally

‘Tis the season for paying it forward, so we decided to put together a list of 15 ways to give back to the DC community year-round. Our handpicked list is chock-full of unique organizations eager to put new volunteers’ hands and minds to novel uses. Read on for a list of creative ways you can give more of yourself to those in need around the District.

Restore the Anacostia Watershed

Eco-minded folks can help restore wetlands, plant native plants, collect seeds and much more, all while learning about the watershed and its ecosystem.
www.anacostiaws.org/how-to-help/volunteer.html

Put Down Roots with Casey Trees

Channel your inner tree-hugger through a variety of opportunities, from tree planting and tree care to advocacy.
www.caseytrees.org

Get Your Hands Dirty with Columbia Heights Green

Put your green thumb to good use at Columbia Heights Green, one of many participating parks and gardens in the Community Harvest Program at Washington Parks & People.
www.columbiaheightsgreen.org

Show Compassion & Offer Advocacy through HIPS

Donate to and/or volunteer with HIPS (Harm Reduction Experts Improving Lives Since 1993), offering compassionate harm reduction services and advocacy to people who engage in sex work or drug use in the DC area.
www.hips.org

Expand Your Practice with Yoga Activist

Are you a yoga teacher who wants to take the practice outside of the confines of traditional studio spaces? Yoga Activist is the place to do it.
www.yogaactivist.org

Knit It Forward in the District

Do you stay calm and knit on? Join one of many knitting meetups held at DC Public Library locations and/or donate your handknitted items to a variety of charities.
www.dclibrary.org // www.lionbrand.com/blog/10-charities-for-knitters-and-crocheters

Feed the Hungry with So Others Might Eat

Help provide nourishing breakfasts for those in need. They use real eggs, too – none of that powder stuff.
www.some.org

Provide a Fitness Framework for Girls on the Run

Volunteer with the DC chapter of this national nonprofit dedicated to making a world where every girl is free to boldly pursue her dreams through running. Support students during a 10-week program to help them establish an appreciation for health and fitness.
www.gotrdc.org

Dress to Impress with Suited for Change

Help local women entering the job market dress to impress through a variety of volunteering and donating options, including leading a styling workshop.
www.suitedforchange.org

Support Senior Citizens at We Are Family

Help isolated senior citizens with groceries, cleaning, transportation or just a friendly visit. Make a new friend this season by joining We Are Family.
www.wearefamilydc.org

Save the Felines with Alley Cat Rescue

The trap-neuter-return program at Alley Cat can make life on the streets a little more bearable for our furry friends. Donate to the rescue or adopt one of their many cuddle bugs.
www.saveacat.org

Be a Classroom Volunteer at Carlos Rosario International

Volunteer in adult ESL, culinary, IT and health classes and programs at Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School, and/or join as a mentor through the Impact Mentorship Program.
www.carlosrosario.org/get-involved/volunteers-2

Mentor Families with Northstar Tutoring

Tutor, mentor and help support members of low-income families in DC through Northstar Tutoring.
www.northstartutoring.org

Help the Homeless at Friendship Place

Help people in need transition out of homelessness at Friendship Place through a variety of volunteer roles, from mentoring to cleaning.
www.friendshipplace.org

Go Pro Bono with the D.C. Bar

If you’re a DC lawyer, you can give back by providing a variety of pro bono legal services.
www.dcbar.org/pro-bono/volunteer

Coach Soccer with DC Scores

Score a winning goal by helping coach and referee soccer games.
www.dcscores.org/volunteer