Panino Gourmet

It was another lazy Sunday evening and once again I was charged with the impossible task of choosing food for dinner. “I don’t care what it is as long as it magically shows up at my house!” shouted my husband. We were both a little grumpy.

Fortunately, Uber Eats has entirely too many options, and none of the things that I had actually planned on eating. So it actually took me longer to decide where to order from than it did for my food to arrive at my house. I might want to seek help for my chronic indecisiveness but I’m not sure how I’d ever choose a counselor. [Shrug].

To make a long story short, I chose Panino Gourmet. My husband went with the Cubano and I ordered the ever-so-slightly not-a-Cubano Uruguayan specialty called the Chivito. Here’s the Cubano:

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It was cheesy and had ample meats and pickles. The bread, on the other hand, was lacking. The chili cheese fries didn’t travel well and were completely congealed by the time they arrived, but this is no fault of Panino Gourmet. They were more cheese than chili.

The Chivito also had the flavorful pork tenderloin but added a very satisfying mix of olives, bacon, hard-boiled egg, mayo, and veggies. The bread was the same but not grilled, and didn’t hold up that well to the wet ingredients, but it was still incredibly delicious. I ordered the side salad, and as lame as this sounds, it was probably the best side salad I’ve received from a take-out restaurant. Quality.

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We also ordered two of their house sauces: the jalapeno diablo and the red pepper mayo. We didn’t have anything in mind to actually use these sauces on, but my husband insisted. They were both fantastic, and the jalapeno was actually Central American spicy instead of gringo-spicy. These two were just wasted potential since we didn’t know what to add them to. I put some jalapeno diablo on my sandwich, which improved it. I would love to see Panino Gourmet create some original flavor combos using their sauce.

Price: $15 per person.

Bottom line: Panino Gourmet is tasty enough to eat again, especially if you reealllllllly don’t want to leave your house.

Meats and Foods

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Yes, Meats and Foods might be the most unimaginative name ever for a restaurant. Ever. And yes, their menu is…sparse. But what they lack in cool names and menu options, they make up for in heart. And collectible Garfield mugs from McDonald’s. But mostly heart.

Meats and Foods features five unique sausages and four toppings, which, if my sixth grade math skills serve me correctly, means there are exactly twenty menu combinations (assuming a safe one topping per sausage) or 120* menu options if you could choose as many toppings as possible, which is inadvisable. Because their sausages are served a la carte, my husband and I not only ordered our two, but also ordered a chilito. It looked like this:

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It may not look like much, but oooooh my god, the chili inside was fantastic. Just a big roll of meaty, cheesy, toasty goodness right here. Good job, Meats and Foods. Set yourself up for success. That was some good meat. And food.

I had the chicken-jalapeno sausage with sauerkraut, while my husband ordered the chorizo with pickles. The chicken-jalapeno actually had the grainy texture of real sausage, not the nasty, too-smooth texture that chicken sausage often gets. It had pieces of vegetables inside, and a strong infusion of turmeric. It was absolutely and unexpectedly great. The chorizo was also an excellent blend of spicy and gentle sweetness. I’m not sure pickles were the best pairing, but that’s all on my husband. Their house-made hot sauce is an excellent, vegetal, and spicy companion to all sausages.

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My complaints are small:

  1. These are served on Martin’s potato rolls. I am normally all about that shit, but they just didn’t hold up to the fats in the sausage and the juices in the pickle-y things. They need pretzel buns or, at the very least, toasted rolls.
  2. I wish they had sides. I don’t require a lot of food to live but I needed more than one tiny sausage. Hit me up with some coleslaw.
  3. I would love to see more toppings with recommendations of combinations. Maybe some quirky names? You can name a sandwich** after me. Think about it. They might also want to visit Yang’s Market for some advice in this arena.

Price: $10 per person.

Bottom line: Great, unique sausages with untapped potential. Bonus: mozy on over to Truxton Inn next door for some post-sausage cocktails.

*5 x 4! = 120

**Yeah, I called a hot dog a sandwich. I also tagged this post as “sandwiches.” I am one of those people who believe that both burgers and hot dogs are sandwiches and I will absolutely fight you over this opinion.

Crimson

My interest in Crimson was twofold: first, their whiskey lounge had been recommended by the bartenders at a different whiskey lounge. Second, I had a coupon passport that entitled me to a free whiskey with the purchase of another whiskey. So, whiskey. The diner was just an added bonus, and a weird concept.

The diner on the ground floor was, in fact, nearly empty when we came in, even though it was 7:45 on a Friday. Maybe Crimson diner gets busier with the brunch crowd, or maybe this is just a really strange combination of restaurants. Personally, I don’t think of drinking fancy cocktails while I’m ordering eggs benedict, but you do you, people.

Our server talked us into the fried green tomatoes, and we also ordered a plate of their deviled eggs to share. The fried green tomatoes were excellent, and prepared me for a great meal, though admittedly, most of their awesomeness was derived from the spicy mayo and crumbly cheese on top. The deviled eggs were made with pickled eggs, which I like as a general concept, but it didn’t really add anything. No issues with them, though.

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Crimson’s menu is, in a word, overwhelming. I was actually stressed out looking at this. Breakfast? Dinner? Small plates? Entrees? Burgers? There are just too many options here.

Among other dishes at our table were my rainbow trout, which I settled on after about twenty minutes of agonizing over the decision, my husband’s monte cristo, and my mother-in-law’s fried chicken sandwich.

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The trout was a big, full-sized platter; so big that I barely ate half. The fish was cooked well, the potatoes were nicely crisp and the carrots were soft. The whole thing was drowning in caper butter, which sounds delicious but honestly felt a little lazy. Everything tastes good when it’s covered in butter and this was at least half a stick of it.

The fried chicken sandwich was excellent. The chicken was moist on the inside, super crunchy on the outside, the bun had a subtle sweetness, and the whole thing was great with the tartness from their house pickles. Although it normally comes with chips or fries, Crimson was happy to oblige a side salad, which would have been great if it weren’t the most stupid and uselessly composed salad of all time (my husband, who also ordered a side salad, ate his lettuce rolled up with his hands like you might imagine Ariel would do in The Little Mermaid, if Eric had served her salad).

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Here’s a monte cristo. It was delicious, was made better by the addition of currant jelly, and came with another stupid salad. No major complaints, but also no great praise. If you can put ham on bread and operate a griddle, you could make this at home. You’d probably also make a more eater-friendly salad.

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My mother-in-law is a sucker for milkshakes, and totally deserved an alcoholic one after a really long work week. Similar to Ari’s Diner, Crimson’s selection of flavors is nothing extraordinary. They were willing to make a small concession in trading vanilla for chocolate ice cream in their coffee-themed shake. The result was okay. This is no Ted’s Bulletin shake, let’s just say that.

After dinner, we went downstairs to check out this famed whiskey lounge. The music-thumping, dimly-lit, leather-clad downstairs bears no resemblance to the old-school diner vibe of upstairs. They had a not extremely large selection of whiskeys, but it was nothing to sneeze at either, and they had some interesting stuff from places, like California and Colorado. Remember that passport coupon I had? It entitled the bearer to a buy-one-get-one on “any whiskey $15 or under,” which is basically like Maserati advertising a sale on economy compacts. I understand that whiskey ain’t cheap, but come on, Crimson. Try to write a coupon that’s a little less dripping with douchiness.

Price: $35 per person.

Bottom line: Crimson tries hard to be Ted’s Bulletin but comes up short. The food was alright diner food with a hefty price tag (update: and more expensive than Ted’s!) The whiskey lounge downstairs is worth checking out if you have a group too big to fit inside Copycat, or just happen to be hanging out in Chinatown.

BBQ Bus

I’ll get right down to it because I don’t want BBQ Bus to steal any more of my time than they already have. I ordered the 3-meat sampler platter to split with my husband: halfsmoke, turkey, and brisket. Of these three meats, two of them had an up-charge. Why do you even offer a three-meat sampler if you’re going to up-charge me? Also, extra cost for turkey? Do they charge more for making things un-delicious now?

Before I get to the real horrors of this lunch, I’ll speak briefly about the sauces. I sampled four because I was in a time-crunch and that was all I could find. The “Spicy” sauce was…not. Why you gotta lie, BBQ Bus? The Memphis-style was decidedly the most interesting, the smoky-sweet was fairly standard, and Teriyaki…what is this even doing here?

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Does this look like $22 worth of food to you? No? Maybe that’s because it wasn’t $22; all the extra charges made this $25! I actually checked the bag multiple times because I was sure they had forgotten something. How could this be lunch for two people?

You will see on the left side, from top to bottom: turkey (remarkably un-smoky, this totally came out of your grandma’s Thanksgiving leftovers), brisket (passed the pull-test but unflavorful and again, not smoky), and the halfsmoke (okay, do I really need to tell them that this sausage has the word “smoke” in its actual goddamn name? It was a bratwurst covered in BBQ sauce). The collards were cooked down but meh in flavor–not even bitter, just overcooked, and the mac and cheese was like…mac and flour or something. No cheese. Just mac, bechamel, and yellow number 5. Super blah. Then I got two pieces of “Texas toast” aka soggy bread. So I guess BBQ Bus really is charging more money for making terrible food now.

Listen, guys. Nobody’s holding a gun to your head and forcing you to make BBQ. If you can’t make it right, don’t do it.

Price: $25 per person. Yeah. This was still only one person’s amount of food.

Bottom line: I haven’t had great BBQ anywhere in DC except, notably, DCity, but everywhere else is better than the Bus.

Colada Shop

If I were a smarter person, I might have tried not walking to 14th Street in 95 degree weather. Nor sitting outside. But I guess now I got the full Havana experience at Colada Shop, yet another cutesy place that combines my two favorite things: coffee and cocktails. 11:45 a.m. on a Tuesday is not too early for me to drink when I’m on summer vacation. Actually, maybe Colada Shop has my three most favorite things: coffee, cocktails, and pork.

My friend agreed to go splitsies with me, and I’m glad she did because the Cubano is enormous. I ate half and am not sure how I’m going to eat dinner in five hours. The bread was perfect, with a nice crunch, and the mustard was prevalent. The shredded pork was cooked well but kind of bland. What did they even do to pork to make it not-flavorful?! In general, I’d say this sandwich was good but could have used 25% more of everything. I’m not even sure I tasted pickles.

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I finished up with a mojito (yes, at 11:45. Don’t judge me) and two pastelitos: the savory piccadillo and the guava-cheese. The mojito was small, standard, but half-off thanks to the Teacher Passport program. I’ll just choose to not complain. There are lots of other people who had to go to work today and couldn’t spend late morning sipping rum cocktails in short shorts. Suckas!

The piccadillo pastry had the classic salty-sweet combination from the meat and raisins, and the guava-cheese was sweet without being cloying, but they both left something to be desired.

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I picked up an iced cafe con leche on my way out in an attempt to beat the heat on my walk home (spoiler: it didn’t work). The coffee was probably the best part of lunch, though! It was rich and nutty but not super strong.

Price: $15 per person.

Bottom line: You could do worse than Colada Shop in terms of coffee, sandwiches, or general vibe. I wish I had gotten to try one of their more creative cocktails, but beggars can’t be choosers.

Old City Market and Oven

When I made my “to-eat” list for the summer, I called Old City Market and Oven “The Place Near Whole Foods” because I can’t possibly be expected to remember this long of a restaurant name despite the fact that I drive past it once a week and every time I do drive past it, I think “Huh. I should really remember the name of that place so I can go eat there.” I had to do a thorough scouring of google maps to find the right place. After a long day to cap off a long weekend, I was thrilled to see that Old City Market would deliver food to me for the low low delivery charge of $5.99. Fortunately for them, my laziness won out over my cheapskatiness on this one occasion only.

Their menu is long and varied and I thought all was lost when I couldn’t narrow down my selection past the final two dinner contenders. But then my husband said, “You choose for me. You know what I like.” Have more beautiful words ever been spoken? A more selfish wife might have ordered herself two sandwiches with little thought for her spouse. A more selfish wife could have ordered the roast salmon sandwich she kind of wanted.

I ordered the summer corn salad as a side. It sounded pretty standard but I was starving and they’re a little lacking in side dishes. For my first sandwich–I mean, my husband’s sandwich, of course–I got the skewer chicken sandwich, and for myself I ordered the pear and chorizo panini.

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The corn salad was refreshing, I can’t lie. Red bell peppers and cilantro made it stand out. It was a good-size portion too, but it was nothing super innovative.

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The skewered chicken flatbread was solid. The chicken pieces were moist and lightly spiced, tzatziki and feta are always winners, and the addition of artichoke hearts was mildly interesting. The flatbread itself felt fresh and homemade, with a texture somewhere between a flour tortilla and naan. 10/10 would eat again.

Now we come to my panini: it doesn’t look like much, and it wasn’t exactly what I expected, but damn it was tasty. Crispy multigrain bread held up only okay to the addition of fig jam and chorizo grease, but it had a nice texture. The pears inside were ripe and plentiful–maybe too plentiful as they kind of overwhelmed the meat. The jam was pretty sweet too. The chorizo, while not being the whole sausage I was expecting but rather thinly-sliced cured meat, was still delicious and mildly spicy. My only other commentary was that provolone was way too mild of a cheese to stand up to the other bold flavors in this. Stinky brie or bust. But for real, I wolfed this down and not just because I was hungry; it was actually really good.

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Price: $12 per person.

Bottom line: You want some fresh, semi-creative, and reasonably-priced noms near H Street? You could probably make all this food yourself but why? They deliver.

The Eleanor

The Eleanor takes up the first floor of one of the many ugly high-rise apartment buildings in NoMa and used to be a restaurant called Union Social. Union Social died and I said “good riddance” without even trying it. I didn’t even need to go there to know it was overpriced, generic TGI Fridays nonsense.

The Eleanor is owned by the same people as Bar Elena on H Street. This should have been my first clue. They’ve turned it into a two-lane mini bowling alley/adult arcade/tiny facsimile of Dave and Buster’s. A sign on the outside admonishes children that their presence will not be tolerated without their parents. I like bowling! I like pinball! I’m fun! Most importantly, I don’t want to be reminded that teenagers exist when I’m on summer vacation! This is my kind of place.

Their tap list is pretty nice and included solid beers from near and far, including three sours. Cocktails looked good too, and I ordered a Rosa de Jamaica. We also nabbed an order of their hushpuppies, which are served elote loco-style. They were pretty okay. Hushpuppies are more my mother-in-law’s jam. They were barely moist with lots of your stereotypical powdery parmesan cheese and some (but not enough) spicy mayo. Hushpuppies are so dippable, I don’t know why they didn’t include a dipping sauce.

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Everyone at the table received their drinks and hushpuppies and then we waited basically forever while our waitresses (PLURAL!) helped the other, like, four tables that were occupied. We had menus down. We were just talking. I was making decidedly un-casual glarey eye contact with them. I understand slow service if you’re busy, but they weren’t. Finally, we managed to summon them via Jedi mind tricks and were able to order. Here’s the only preliminary you need to know about our overall order: my husband made a big deal about ordering the chicken sandwich with fried chicken (an option that appears on the menu) and with cheddar instead of American cheese. Why is American cheese even an option at a fine dining establishment? This is not McDonald’s. A better question yet would be Why is American cheese even a thing? Four year-old me could tell that that shit is disgusting and only vaguely cheese-esque. Is this the new status quo in Trump’s America? I don’t know about you, but processed cheese product is not how I want my country represented. Alright, you got it? Fried with cheddar.

Here’s the M. Night Shyamalan plot twist: the chicken sandwich arrived and it was not fried and it had American “cheese.” Bet you didn’t see that coming! Besides the mix-up, it  was lame. The Eleanor uses chicken thigh for all their chicken needs, a bold move in our low-fat boneless breast-loving culture. I love dark meat chicken. But not when it’s full of gristle, as this was. Come on, guys. Lettuce, red onion. This sandwich was basic.

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Also pictured here is my father-in-law’s spaghetti sandwich. What fresh hell is this? I think a carb-happy kindergartner may have conceptualized this meal. Worse yet: every part of this was store-bought, down to the spaghetti. My father-in-law said it best with “everything on here just tastes old.”

I ordered the tomato and kimchi salad with an addition of smoked salmon. The salmon was good, but, once again, definitely store-bought. The tomatoes were fresh too, I guess. But this was not a dinner-sized salad, nor was it even cohesive. Tomato and [a tiny amount of] kimchi is not a stretch, but then there were a bunch of pita chips topping it, like flat croutons. Except you can’t even use a fork to eat pita chips. It’s literally impossible. I just ended up pushing them to to the side because they weren’t even good.

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My mother-in-law had the lobster roll and loved it. Her appreciation for her sandwich was partly a function of her forgiving and enthusiastic nature, but I have to admit that it was the best meal in our group. The lobster was tender, it had a good ratio of mayo to meat, and the bread was an appropriate medium for the food (in contrast to spaghetti, which does not require additional bread). Then we waited about twenty more minutes for the check.

“This was so good!” chirped my mother-in-law in her usual, very kind and generous way.

“NO,” said the rest of us.

Price: $30 per person.

Bottom line: I hope one day the curse will be lifted and this location can finally have a decent restaurant. Until that time, don’t let the bowling gimmick cloud your perception of an otherwise blah eatery.