Askale Cafe

I’ve clearly been jonesing for Ethiopian food lately. When my friend Kevin arrived in town after a red-eye flight, I insisted we stop here to refuel with spicy vegetarian goodness and coffee. I’ll keep this brief because it took both of us approximately 68 seconds to wolf down this meal. I surprised myself by ordering ful, the ultimate savory breakfast, as well as a latte.

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It took a long time to arrive, especially considering we were the only ones in the restaurant, but my meal arrived in this adorable little skillet with all the stuck-on crusties that I know will be impossible to wash off, so I know it came straight off the stove. It was pleasantly spicy but not overwhelming, and chock-full of beans, like a comforting chili. I’m not sure why it has never occurred to me to eat chili for breakfast–or to put an egg on top of my chili–but I think it’s high time I start. The bread was not housemade, but it was crusty and absorbent!

My latte was also flavorful and rich, which I expect from LITERALLY THE INVENTORS OF COFFEE. This makes me even more baffled by my unfortunate sludge-drinking experience at Abem Family Deli last weekend. I’m glad that Askale could make me whole again.

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Price: $15 per person.

Bottom line: Askale Cafe is a real treat and a neighborhood gem. Don’t miss the breakfast.

New York Pizza [and Grilled Kabob!]

Situated on what once was a not-great corner of Florida Ave. and North Capitol, New York Pizza looks like a relic from the 80’s. I confess that I didn’t go inside since I figured I could get my food faster if they brought it to me at my house (or I’m just lazy). It was only recently that I noticed a sign advertising Indian and Pakistani food. This is DC–where the Chinese restaurants sell burgers and the pizza places sell kabobs. They even rebranded themselves!

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Their pizza has, to put it lightly, middling reviews, plus Bacio is three blocks away, so I never even thought to come here. You can’t tempt me with greaseball pizza, nor with their questionably named NY Fish. No, only the siren song of lamb tikka could pull me in.

 

Because their website’s menu is different from their Grubhub menu, I called. I’m glad I did. Besides the two curry dishes, the veggie samosas grabbed my attention. “Sorry ma’am, we’re all out.” Falafel? “We’re out of that too.” That’s okay. I stuck with the two entrees, and my bathroom scale would ultimately thank me.

The car pulled up not 30 minutes later carrying our own little slice of heaven.

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Lamb tikka. Great lamb flavor, pleasant spice, complimentary side salad, enough rice to make a dent in world hunger? Check, check, check, and check. The meat was slightly tough, but not overly chewy or fatty.

mvimg_20180805_182224.jpgThe chicken curry was less meat than it looked like due to the abundance of bones. On the other hand, the meat dropped off said bones with no effort and the sauce was rich while still packing a nice heat.

The sides that came with our meals were spinach and potatoes, and curry chickpeas. I enjoyed the spinach but it was more bitter and liquefied than your typical Indian palak, and the chickpeas were pleasantly earthy. They included an extra little container of rice, because I guess we didn’t have quite enough or something. And the bread…sweet baby Jesus. I have never had naan like this from anywhere. It was crustier and thickener than the typical naan, but also more flavorful, like a cross between naan and pizza dough. Come to think of it, it may have actually been the exact same thing as their pizza crust. Yeah…I’m pretty sure it was. Don’t care, it all sops up the sauce the same way. [Note: There were actually TWO huge pieces of pizza naan included] [Confession: I had to throw it in the trash can to stop myself from continuing to steal bites of it after dinner].

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Overall, this meal completely upended all my prejudices about New York Pizza. I feel like this place is that flamboyant kid in high school who joins the football team just to prove how not-gay he is when what he really wants to do is dance. Come out of the pizza-closet, guys! We see you in there and we love you for who you are! It’s way better than who you’re pretending to be!

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Price: $15 per person.

Bottom line: Prepare to be fairly impressed, and prepare for leftovers. PS I was not even a little sad about not having samosas or falafel because this was still way too much food.

Abem Family Supermarket and Deli

I’ve lived around the corner for five years, so I’ve seen this piece of property change hands more than a marble in a shyster’s shell game, and I’ve seen it go from closed down, to an open but nearly-empty storefront that probably [read: definitely] housed a cockfighting ring in the back, to closed again, to a slightly less empty front that looks like it could be a money-laundering business but seems to be collectively owned by a very nice Ethiopian family. My husband and I generally refer to this place as “the Soviet market” because although they do stock a fair number of Ethiopian spice blends and some lesser-known candy bars, they never seem to have more than half the shelves full, and it’s always stuff we don’t want. I should also mention that I was once conned into buying a huge jar of Ethiopian spiced butter here that didn’t have a price tag but rang up as $28.99 (to my credit, though, I use that stuff all the time for cooking).

Now, the aforementioned nice Ethiopian family have been swearing up and down to me for at least a year that they are going to turn half the space into an Ethiopian cafe but aside from some empty fridges and day-old coffee, that plan never seemed to materialize. So imagine our surprise when, this morning, we received an email on the neighborhood listserv alerting us to their new brunch menu! We knew it was legit when we walked up and saw these Ethiopian-themed balloons.

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We appeared to be the first customers. They’d decorated the restaurant space in a, let’s say, minimalist vein. The women working behind the food counter showed us big trays of their vegetarian offerings–the standard Ethiopian fare–and told us they also had tibs. We ordered both, along with a coffee. They were all set up for a traditional coffee ceremony to be held later this afternoon, so I would think that they would take more pride in their regular brew. Sidamo on H Street has totally mastered the art of good coffee for the masses. Fortunately, this cold, sludgy French vanilla nightmare was the low point of the meal.

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As you can see, the vegetarian platter had all the usual yums with some fun additions–carrots and green beans, and stewed kale replacing the traditional collards. And all of it was served cold (I asked one of the workers if this was an intentional choice and she responded that they had made everything last night, so…maybe?) If you are a fan of cold Chinese food or, as I have recently discovered, cold Thai curry, then cold Ethiopian food is for you! Even my husband the kale-hater liked their kale. The red lentils and yellow peas were both great, but the brown lentils were kind of bland.

MVIMG_20180804_123740.jpgHere’s the tibs. It was so much that we took home enough for one person’s lunch tomorrow. The meat was hot and mostly cooked well, with a few very chewy sections. It was served in a bowl of oil reminiscent of Sichuan hotpot. They gave us the dixie cup full of berbere, which we fully utilized, but would have worked better had it been added during cooking. I think maybe they were trying hard to cater to uninitiated tastes but as they always say: If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the Ethiopian restaurant.

Abem Family Deli also sells a variety of salads, boring sandwiches, and, bizarrely, tacos. Everyone knows that tacos are the official food of gentrification, so there’s some weird neighborhood stereotyping going on here. I may have to try some just to report back.

Price: $10 per person.

Bottom line: Abem Family Deli is not the best Ethiopian food in town, but it’s definitely the closest to me! I will continue to support them periodically in hopes of more offerings, more hours, more tables, and better coffee.

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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.

Pluma

I don’t usually do breakfast at all, let alone breakfast out, but it was Wednesday, and I was desperately needing to take myself on a coffee date. And sometimes on dates, things just happen that we might later regret. In this case, food.

First of all, even since the last time I reviewed a place in Union Market, this place has changed significantly. I live basically around the corner and I didn’t even realize until last weekend all the hipster eateries and shops that have sprung up in between the Chinese butcheries. This whole area now smells like a weird mixture of pig blood and avocado toast (a menu option that appears–laughably–on the menus at both Pluma and Blue Bottle across the street).

I perused the pastries. I fretted over the menu. And then I settled on maybe the most unhealthy thing on the entire menu: the breakfast sammy. And a latte.

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The latte:

Mellow, smooth, bitter, and creamy. Small, but at $4, still a better deal than the $7 paper-cup, too-cold POS latte I got last weekend across the street at Blue Bottle (it didn’t even have latte art!) This was a great drink to chill out with by the window with a good book.

 

 

The breakfast sammy includes green salsa, pork belly, and a runny egg served on Pluma’s fresh sourdough. In short, it puts other breakfast sandwiches to shame. The toasty sour bread held up okay to the wet salsa, but the real pleasure of this was in the thick, maple-y sweet slab of pork belly that, while not exactly being fork-tender, had a great crust around the edge that reminded me of a solid BBQ bark. And if you like your eggs as runny as possible, you’ve come to the right place.

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So, like many dates, this one ended with a decision that wasn’t exactly the best, but that I don’t really regret either.

Price: $15 per person.

Bottom line: Mmmmm.

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.