Jackie Lee’s

Tipped off by a friend about the burgeoning Kennedy Street/Manor Park/Super-Sketchville food scene, we ventured out tonight to Jackie Lee’s. A quick note: when anyone talks about the burgeoning Kennedy Street food scene, what they mean is “we have one restaurant that isn’t a front for a money laundering scheme!” That one restaurant is Jackie Lee’s.

Walking up, I felt like we were about to check out Freddy’s place in House of Cards. If anyone dares challenge me on my assessment of Kennedy Street, tell me one other restaurant that is even open. Exactly. But walking in, the vibe definitely changed. Was it divey? Yes, but in a manufactured way. It was dark and vaguely smokey-smelling. A vending machine at the back was selling candy bars but giving away condoms for free. We were the only people in there without nose rings. White hipster parents bounced babies on their laps.

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We sat at the bar and ordered a couple of drinks. I got the Sweet and Spicy rickey because it was a very reasonable price. They have no beer taps but a huge bottle list that includes some actually good beers. My cocktail was everything I hoped: nothing super fancy, but solid, strong, and spicy.

We ordered some barbecue from the food menu. I had the smoked turkey with collard greens and some hush puppies to share. My husband got the brisket (no big surprise) and coleslaw.

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Hush puppies: crispy and sweet, and not overly greasy. They served them with spicy mayo that was not really spicy. The turkey was incredibly moist and very, very smokey. I don’t know how they got it this smokey. It was maybe slightly over-salted but I am willing to overlook that. The collards were tender and juicy.

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Pulled brisket is not the best way to eat brisket, but this was still solid. Very moist, but somehow blander than the turkey. The coleslaw was really crispy and peppery. When we finished these, we were still hungry. So we had to hang our heads in shame as we ordered yet another meat/side combination (this time the pork with a single corn muffin). Yet again, the pork was second to the turkey, but still moist and flavorful. The corn muffin was incredibly sweet. Jackie Lee’s gives only one barbecue sauce with their meals–a very molasses-y tomato-based sauce that paired well with everything but was not unique (nor, I’m guessing, house-made).

Price: $25 per person.

Bottom line: Not life-changing barbecue by any means, but still pretty good! I would come here again for a cheap, easy, solid meal and drinks of a similar nature. Just make sure you order more than one meat and one side; they’re smaller than you think!

Takoma Bev Co.

Full disclosure: I’m morally obligated to love this place because it’s owned by a former teacher from my school. Also, I’m jealous that they have cornered the market on combination coffee shops/bars because this is the perfect restaurant concept that doesn’t exist enough. But I’ll try to separate my feelings about the ownership and concept from my actual review. Let’s get down to it!

Once again this weekend, we came upon a nearly empty restaurant with a fantastic-looking menu. Is this the Walking Dead? Are we going to have to barricade ourselves in the restaurant and hunker down with whatever living souls happen to be working there? Takoma is such a neighborhoody place, why was nobody out and about at this cutesy shop?

At Takoma Bev Co., you have to order at the counter and place a number on your table. I’m normally opposed to this structure. If you’re paying someone to bring my food out, why can’t you pay someone to come over and take my order? On the other hand, this enabled us to grab a comfy couch to sit on. We eat dinner exclusively on the couch at home, why not do it in a restaurant too?

I ordered the special happy hour house cocktail and my husband got a sour beer from Oliver. The cocktail was a perfect blend of sweet rum, tartness from the pineapple, and herbal chamomile. It was one of the better craft cocktails I’ve had in recent memory.

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For dinner, we ordered three dishes: the brussels sprouts, the octopus, and the braised short rib. All three were brought out together. The sprouts were well-cooked, but had gone slightly slack from the lentils and yogurt that accompanied them. The sweet-sour cranberries went well with the bitterness from the sprouts but they could have been crispier. Still very tasty.

I really really enjoyed my octopus. It was cut into small pieces so that it would mix well with the crispy fried potatoes in the bowl. As such, it was a little hard to find pieces of octopus but on the other hand, it had a great texture, definitely not too chewy, and I loved the paprika aioli with the whole thing. The short rib was very soft and flavorful, with creamy potatoes to boot. All three of our dishes were on the smaller side, but reasonably priced for what they were.

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We sprung for three kinds of dessert: a homemade chocolate cookie, a porter, and a mocha latte (bonus: taking home a bomber of special edition beer from the Bruery!) The cookie was chocolatey, chewy heaven. It is pictured below in half-eaten form because it was already mostly gone by the time we got back to the table. The Founder’s Porter is obviously good, but this is not news to anyone. The mocha was rich and sweet, but not artificial tasting the way some chocolate syrups are. It was a luxury for me to drink a sweet coffee drink and totally worthy of the splurge.

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Price: $25 per person.

Bottom line: Takoma Bev Co. is great fodder for any time of day and just a nice, cozy hangout spot. You can have all your caffeine, alcohol, and sustenance needs met while you’re fighting off zombies, if it comes to that.

The Partisan

This was my husband’s Birthday Dinner 2: Family Edition and I chose the Partisan because we remembered it being great when we last came here a couple of years ago, plus he didn’t want to make a big deal out of his b-day (#introvertproblems). I was worried that The Partisan wouldn’t live up to my previously-founded high expectations.

First, I had forgotten about the beer list. It’s pretty incredible and included a lot of sours, so already they were on their way to high marks from me. We all had a drink at the bar while they got our table ready and everyone was in a good place.

Next, while the small-plates menu is not huge, I had somehow completely forgotten about the charcuterie list, which is kind of embarrassing considering that it’s Partisan/Red Apron’s claim to fame. I was trying not to over-overdo it, so I chose three interesting-sounding meats and let my mother-in-law pick the cheeses. Here’s what we got:

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Left to right: Partisan’s special McGriddle-esque biscuits, smoked bleu cheese, Kunik goat cheese, bourbon-fig rillette, pig face biraldo, and the red menace ‘nduja. As soon as I ordered these, the sour beer set in and I immediately forgot what I had written down on their handy-dandy ordering sheet. So I’m not sure I tasted bourbon or figs in the pate-like rillette, but I also wasn’t looking for them because they’d completely slipped my mind. The biraldo was earthy, spicy, and salami-like, and the red menace was spicy, as advertised. I went with these weird-ass meats because I figured When in Rome. I kind of wish that these charcuterie plates came with some more interesting accompaniments, but in retrospect I think The Partisan does this intentionally because the meat and cheese need to stand alone. I respect that.

The main small plates came out rather fast after ordering them, but we hardly felt rushed. Here was the first round, from left to right: gose-braised rabbit, brussels sprouts, and shishito peppers.

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I feel like this rabbit could have done better in the looks department, and also in the taste department. It had the texture of tuna casserole and the flavor of mustard, if mustard took a bunch of steroids and went to the gym everyday. Fortunately, it was only uphill from here. The sprouts were the perfect crispy crunch and went well with the pesto and grana padano. I mostly binged on the shishito peppers all night because they felt healthy and there was a mountain of them. They were cooked to a blistered softness.

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Then came the fried chicken and the diver scallops. First, let me just say that I hate scallops. They usually taste like string cheese that has been living under the ocean. But these were great. Mostly they just tasted like butter. I loved the bitter chard with them as well. The friend chicken was so crispy on the outside, and the sweet and sour sauce on the side was wonderful too.

Now, here’s where our night got interesting. A server showed up to re-set the table for us as if we were anticipating another dish we hadn’t ordered. My husband immediately pointed the finger at his mother, who has a history of very conspicuously orchestrating surprises. When she swore it wasn’t her, it was decided that I must have said something, and while I swore up and down that I hadn’t mentioned anything to the hosts, I was stricken by fear that I’d put a note in the reservation that we were celebrating a birthday. I was also now working on my next cocktail, so I tried hard not to let on that I thought something might be amiss.

Dessert arrived, and it turned out to be my salvation. At some point during dinner, one of the servers had overheard us talking about cask beer. At the time, he had very casually mentioned that Bluejacket and Churchkey are part of the same restaurant group as them. So we had a brief conversation about beer. Drunk me went on a brief rant about how Churchkey is overcrowded and overpriced. That same waiter came back to give us the run-down: their fried apple pies with a cask Belgian quad, a full pour for all of us, all on the house and 100% independent of any birthday we happened to be celebrating (which the waiter didn’t know about until we all started scapegoating each other).

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So hat’s off to you, Partisan! I don’t know that I’ve seen another restaurant go to this extreme level of service completely unprompted. It felt like everyone’s birthday (and, fortunately, no singing or clapping).

PS the apple pies were flaky and buttery like clouds from heaven.

Price: $50 per person.

Bottom line: After a long hiatus, I think we found a new go-to birthday place. This was one of the best dinners out in recent memory. Pricey, but worth it.

The Sovereign

The hubs and I were hoping to avoid a big Valentine’s Day to-do by circumventing the actual holiday itself and going for something a little cheaper. Turns out that “little” would be the operative word here.

We just returned from a trip to Belgium about a week ago and you’d think we’d be sick of sour beers and mussels. You’d be wrong. Especially since, sadly, The Sovereign’s food is far superior to anything we ate when we were legitimately in Belgium. Then again, that wasn’t exactly the point of the trip.

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If you haven’t been there yet, please just ignore their craft cocktails, wines, and giant pitcher o’ absinthe. You’d be doing yourself a great disservice to not get anything from their carefully selected draft list or, if you’re so inclined, to get a bottle of authentic Belgian gueuze (at an enormous markup, I might add, but still so worth it). They even serve the gueuze the Belgian way–in a basket! See? They know their shit here. (Side note: I highly recommend Drie Fonteinen as a general rule).

We couldn’t agree on an appetizer. My vote is always for bitterballen, a Dutch specialty that is basically chipped beef that’s been fried. But the husband isn’t crazy about it. We argued about salads but eventually settled on the Saucisse Ardennes. I was thinking it would be more like regular sausage, but it was a dried salami-like product. It was well-seasoned and very tasty after we requested some mustard to go along with it.

For the entrees, I had the rabbit in kriek (had to), and my husband got the carbonnade flamande.

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Rabbit: yum! Crispy skin, tender meat, baby potatoes, and braised swiss chard, all set in a delicious, not-too-sweet kriek beer sauce (kriek is cherry-infused sour beer, for the uninitiated). The potatoes were soft, and the chard was cooked past bitterness.

The carbonnade flamande is a fall-apart chunk of short rib, wrapped in thin pastry, and accompanied by mashed potatoes. The meat was incredibly flavorful and herbal. This was the ultimate meal for meat-and-potatoes people.

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Finally, we ordered one of Sovereign’s several dressed liegeois waffles for dessert, because we unfortunately and inexplicably didn’t eat a single bite of waffle in real-life Belgium. I wish Sovereign had a wider variety of fun waffles since a few of them were fairly basic, but we ended up with one topped with cherry compote, pistachios, and chocolate chantilly cream.

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I mean, it’s a waffle. It was an appropriately-sized dessert, which was good because we  were two bombers of heavy beer in at this point. Liegeois waffles are made of a heavier yeast-based batter than Brussels waffles (the Belgian waffles we all know and love) and it has more of a cakey texture. The chantilly had a good hint of chocolate. It was a good combination of flavors, but a fancy place like this could do better in the creativity department.

Price: Varies widely with what and how much you choose to drink, but I will divulge that we spent around $100 per person. However, we also spent more money on alcohol than we did on food (aka winning. For explanation, see: El Rinconcito), so our experience wasn’t necessarily typical.

Bottom line: The Sovereign will never fail to make me happy with their fresh take on sometimes-weird Benelux cuisine (ahem bitterballen). They are a perennial favorite.