Andrene’s Cafe

It’s a Thursday when I find myself returning to “up and coming” Kennedy Street for a place that’s been on my list since…well, since the last time I was sorely let down by a Jamaican carry-out (looking at you, Spice). During the summer, my husband frequently badgers me to come visit and bring him a tasty lunch, like his own personal Red Riding Hood, and it’s our last day before another vacation, so I needed a break.

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Kennedy Street may be deserted during the day (and night–let’s be real), but inside Andrene’s it is hopping! The cashier manages to stay warm and friendly even while simultaneously taking my order, taking a phone order, calling out the food that’s ready, and gossiping with another West Indian man from the neighborhood. It’s pretty impressive. And, even though the combo menu specifies that there are no substitutions to the side orders of rice, plantains, and cabbage, she still gives me the option to change all of those. I leave with a bag, not knowing what magic is in store for me, and venture off through the woods…I mean…I-95…

I have to sit in traffic for close to an hour, so by the time arrive, I’m sure someone is about to comment about what big teeth I have because I am ready to eat anything that crosses my path. We pop the big platter in the microwave. Here’s how we made out for $27:

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Huge piece of coco bread, two beef patties, stewed green cabbage, rice and beans, plantains, oxtail, and jerk chicken. I will be upfront and let everyone know that we didn’t even come close to finishing this. The coco bread was mildly sweet, fluffy, and warm. The beef patties, although tepid by the time I arrived, were very savory with a sweet, flaky crust and a moist interior. The cabbage was a new thing for me. It was cooked so far that even Red Riding Hood’s toothless grandmother could have chewed it, but still had shape and a rich flavor. Plantains are always a winner in my book and these were no exception. The chicken was mostly moist with a few dry spots and a lot of bones, but had a good level of spice and a delicious sauce. The oxtail sauce was beyond delicious, and good for dipping bread in, although the meat itself was gristle-y in more than a few spots. Rice, as always, is rice, and there was a lot of it, although we barely ate any and still walked away from this meal overstuffed and with meat and bread left over.

Price: $10-15 per person.

Bottom Line: Andrene’s is good, and you can definitely get your money’s worth here, but I won’t rest until I find a truly awesome Jamaican restaurant. I know it’s out there.

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.

Spark (at Engine Company 12)

Despite living, oh, five blocks from Spark’s predecessor, Fire House, we went there a total of twice in roughly three years of their being in business. I wouldn’t have even known that they had changed hands were it not for my in-laws, who, unbeknownst to us, were beloved regulars there. You’d think they were embarrassed to be seen with us or something, judging by how often they apparently ate here without even telling us about it.

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Spark hasn’t changed anything on the outside, or really even on the inside. But as we soon found out, looks can be deceiving. We all ordered drinks–I had the Burn Mark cocktail, which was a good combination of citrus and smoke. They had some fancy cocktails, and not too too pricey either. But come on, Spark, this is DC. You need some more craft beers and a more extensive liquor selection.

From the get-go, literally everyone in this place recognized my in-laws. The hostess recognized them. Our waitress recognized them. Two other waiters said hi. My father-in-law is on actual hugging terms with one waiter. The OWNER recognized them. Let me repeat–my husband and I live a seven-minute walk from this place and my in-laws took us here ONCE.

I asked for recommendations from our waitress and she recommended, with a lengthy description, basically everything on the menu. So…not actually that helpful. But I took some of her ideas into consideration. A little. In the end, I ordered the fry bread appetizer for the table as well as the lacquered chicken, oxtail, mac and cheese, and lollipop kale. Let’s start with the fry bread:

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This picture does little justice to it. But it was served in such ridiculous trappings that I felt like that photo was also not representative and I wanted to show off the sides. The bread itself: hot, fluffy, fried goodness. The cucumber slaw: tart, refreshing, oniony. The coconut collards: what is this delicious sorcery? How can collard greens actually be this good? Creamy, coconutty, stewed, sweet. The chickpeas: the worst of the three things, but only by unfair comparison. They were curry-spiced and tasty, if slightly too al-dente for me. They also served us some homemade Scotch Bonnet sauce (you can see a smear of it on the far right of my plate). It was tart and packed some heat, although for hot sauce aficionados such as us, it was not life-changing.

It wasn’t long after that that our main courses arrived, on yet more silly non-plates. Behold:

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For small plates, these were an extremely decent size, particularly the mac and cheese. We were not lacking for meat either. Every person at the table had a different favorite dish, which speaks to the quality of everything. I can only resort to descriptions. The chicken (far left) was not only plentiful, but also fall-off-the-bone with a sweet, crispy skin. I appreciated the serving of the legs like this since they were substantially meatier than wings, and much easier to eat. The oxtail (next to the chicken) was incredible. The exterior was caramelized and crunchy, but underneath that lay a layer of scrumptiously melty fat and flavorful beef. The lollipop kale was so crunchy and delicious, with a salty sweet seasoning that even my kale-hating spouse adored. The mac and cheese at the bottom of the photo looks huge. You might think that this is due to perspective, but in fact it was actually that big. It’s made with long spaghetti, which I gave the side-eye to until I actually tried it. It’s perfect for sopping up the cheese sauce. The top and edges were crispy. The sauce was cheesy in a way I’ve never been able to make my own mac. Spark calls this “smoked” cheese and I guess it very well could be, but it didn’t taste particularly smoky. It doesn’t even matter, though, because it was just so delicious.

I don’t normally get dessert but I wasn’t ready for this meal to end. Spark has a whole list of desserts that, if I’m being honest, are pretty gimmicky. Perhaps the most gimmicky of all is something they call “Play With Fire” which is served “Russian Roulette style.” “What is this and will I die?” we asked our waitress. She explained to us that the chef makes chocolate chip cookie dough with a few pieces of jalapeno in it. You order a cookie under the assumption that you may get a piece of jalapeno, but by her estimation, our odds were 9-to-1 in favor of receiving a non-spicy cookie. The four of us, feeling lucky, ordered one apiece.

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These were solid cookies, served once again on a slice of log for no apparent reason, and topped with spicy candied bacon. We ate slowly, hoping to catch a glimpse of the elusive pepper. Alas, we were all let down (except my mother-in-law, who I think was banking on not receiving the pepper and kept claiming that she tasted something spicy). For two bucks each, you couldn’t get a better, bigger, more satisfying dessert than this, although I think I would probably pay a dollar extra to be guaranteed the privilege of the jalapeno.

Price: $30 per person.

Bottom line: It’s hard to say whether the food or the staff was better, but either way, Spark could not possibly let you down. After all of that raving, though, I have to say that my favorite part of the entire experience was the fairly relaxed speed. It was like Island time meets DC time. I could enjoy my drink, enjoy the company, and take my time instead of being rushed through everything, but I also never felt neglected. It was a privilege to eat here and I can’t wait to come back. Maybe my in-laws will actually invite us sometime.

Kith and Kin

This place is sometimes stylized as Kith/Kin, so I’m not sure how to properly write their name. This was my first time going to the Wharf and I was pretty excited. I’ve been looking forward to this. It was nice being on the waterfront and probably would have been even nicer had it not been negative one thousand degrees and already dark when we got there (side note: why do we insist on compounding the misery of winter by switching to standard time and making the evenings even darker? I will rail against this until the day I die). After dinner, I realized, though, that the Wharf is really just Tyson’s Corner East; full of fancy fountains and overpriced makeup stores.

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Anyhow, regardless of depressing darkness, Kith and/or Kin and the hotel that houses it are both beautiful and modern looking. We were seated and given one drink menu for the entire table of six. The first page had some delicious-sounding cocktails with some outrageous prices. The next pages listed a sad selection of beers, both bottled and draft, with also outrageous prices. If you’re going to charge nineteen goddamn dollars for a drink, it better be a Long Island iced tea served in a glass as tall as I am. Already Kith/Kin was on notice.

They served us each a tasty coco bread roll, which made me hopeful for things to come, and our server explained the menu, describing their share-plates as being either appetizer-sized or entree-sized. We hedged our bets by ordering five things, two of which were the larger size. If you think that paying $17 for an entree sounds entirely reasonable, get ready to see what kind of hamster-sized food Kith and Kin considers an entree.

The food arrived quickly and for the sake of simplicity I’ll dump all my pictures here:

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Top picture: Before I describe anything, I want you to look at the picture and notice the spoon. That was not a large spoon of the serving-utensil variety. That was a normal-sized spoon. Okay, now I can begin. In the top left you will see the tamarind-glazed chicken wings. These had a nice smoky-sweet flavor but I’m not sure what kind of premature infant chicken produced wings this small. In the middle is the brussels sprouts suya. I don’t know exactly what this means, but the sprouts were fried well and tossed with baby onions and a nice, slightly-spicy, tangy sauce. I would go as far as calling it delicious. On the right is the king crab curry that the staff wouldn’t shut up about. It was slightly sweet and coconutty, but it contained approximately 1.5 pieces of crab.

Bottom picture: these are the two “entree” dishes. I don’t get it. Are they for children? They said entree, but these bowls were the size of a bowl you might use to, say, eat ice cream, if you were actually following the guidelines on recommended portion size. The left is lentils. They were bland and I have nothing else to say about them. The right was the oxtail stew. For me, this was probably the best part of dinner and reminded me a lot of braised short rib due to its slow-cooked fattiness. It was a little smoky, a little spicy, and generally good. I should note that I seemed to like this more than everyone else I ate with, who agreed with each other that it was just okay.

Not wanting to waste any more money than we possibly had to, we asked for the check  and they instead brought us dessert menus. They must have confused my being a glutton with being a glutton for punishment, which I am not. We again asked for the check and received it. It was not unreasonable ONLY BECAUSE we were all starving. It was decided that a) this was my worst restaurant selection of all time, and b) we would pick up a pizza on the way home. We had some debate about pizza toppings. It’s hard with six people. Here’s the finished product:

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We demolished this pizza like the hyenas demolished Scar at the end of The Lion King. Fun fact: This large three-topping pizza cost less than one cocktail at Kith and Kin!

Price: $40 per person if you want to eat pizza afterward; $??? if you actually want to feel satisfied.

Bottom line: This place was so overpriced and so under-sized that I fear my review didn’t dis it quite enough. If you have a million dollars to blow and just can’t figure out how to spend it most prodigally, I can write you a list of at least ten better places.

Spice

Spice is a little Jamaican carry-out place I found while perusing google maps for a place to pick up lunch on the way to our Saturday afternoon outing to Sandy Spring Adventure Park. After seeing a number of Caribbean carry-outs in the area, and thus getting my heart set on jerk chicken, I settled on this one, mainly due to a) proximity to my driving route, and b) it opened at 11 rather than 11:30.

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We ordered a half-chicken, a beef patty, and the coco bread. I wanted to get my share of yummy Jamaican specialties, but also not go overboard at lunch. Friendly people, tables to sit at inside, good-size menu; all signs pointed to yum.

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The chicken was mostly moist, although it included a lot of gristle and was kind of (read: extremely) cold. The jerk sauce was definitely flavorful, but once again left me wanting more heat (both literal and figurative). The patty was good, but ultimately was just a normal beef patty. It was flaky and chock-full of ground beef, but it was not particularly well-seasoned, and I’m not convinced that it was made in-house. The coco bread was moist and flavorful, and would have paired well with the jerk sauce if I’d had more of it. I wanted to like it, I really did. But it just wasn’t anything better than okay. I also realize that at this point, I sound like some masochist whose only pleasure comes from eating overly spicy food. I swear I’m not.

…Well, maybe.

…But if you, reader, are averse to spicy food, you should probably just stop reading now.

Price: <$10 per person

Bottom line: Due to low cost, this place had a high return on investment, so it wasn’t a total loss. I got a solid chicken meal with standard jerk sauce, so I guess I can’t complain. Will look for other Jamaican restaurants in the future.