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If you’ve ever left one of the Eat Good Food Group’s Alexandria restaurants wishing you could replicate what you just ate at home, consider yourself one step closer.  Tomorrow at 6 PM, Society Fair opens its doors to the public, offering many of the ingredients used at Restaurant Eve, the Majestic, Eamonn’s, PX and Virtue Feed & Grain.  Get ready to raid Chef Cathal Armstrong’s pantries.

We had an opportunity to take a look around as Rob Shinn and his team were getting ready for this week’s opening, and we were like kids in a candy store as we moved from butcher’s counter to coffee station to bakery racks.  Goods we’d only read about before (being unable to find them at local grocers) were all around us.  Where’s Julie Andrews to sing about “favorite things” when you need her?

Lots of pictures and your plan of attack after the jump. (more…)

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I passed the storefront countless times: heading to CVS, picking up my dry cleaning, depositing a check.  Each time, I found myself staring in the window and wondering what was going on behind the brown paper.  I found out last week, and as of Monday Pound Coffee’s new location is officially open.  And not a moment too soon, it turns out.

Pound the Hill, as they’re calling their new digs, was meant to be the second space for one of NOMA’s earliest arrivals.  The plan was to keep the original open, get the new space up and running, and maybe even look ahead to another location when the time was right.  On Monday, Eater DC reported that the NOMA shop was closing for good, the victim of a landlord dispute and fortunate timing.

We stopped by to take a First Look around the Capitol Hill space just over a week ago, and the reports of early crowds come as no surprise.  The coffee has always been a hit – Pound is the only coffee shop on the East Coast carrying Kickap00 Coffee, Roast Magazine’s 2010 Roaster of the Year and purveyor of “organic, fair trade, artisan-roasted,” and their Nutella latte has a rabid following.  Couple that with the welcoming space we found when we visited and you’ve got the makings of a new neighborhood destination.

We’ve got more pictures, an overview of what visitors can expect, and some big news for Hill staffers after the jump.

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For two years now, SeamlessWeb has been providing welcome jolts of caffeine to weary New Yorkers from time to time.  Starting today, they’re doing it here in Washington too.  And to celebrate, they want us to give you free cash.  Go figure, we said yes.

Let’s start with the free coffee.

If you were in the vicinity of Foggy Bottom this morning, you may have noticed a bright red truck trumpeting SeamlessWeb’s online food delivery service.  Hopefully you bothered to wander over to find out what it was all about.  If you did, you were part of FreeCoffeeDay!  If not, you missed out.

But don’t worry – the truck is going to be making the rounds for the next three days, stopping at Union Station tomorrow, Dupont Circle on Wednesday and in Chinatown on Thursday.  Each day, you’ll be able to stop by the truck and pick up a free cup of coffee to help get your day going.

And to sweeten the deal just a little bit further, SeamlessWeb is running a Twitter promotion in conjunction with FreeCoffeeDay.  Tweet a photo of yourself enjoying your free coffee to @seamlessweb and the hashtag #freecoffee and you’ll earn a chance at a free $100 SeamlessWeb gift card.

The free coffee doesn’t stop flowing on Thursday.  Starting next Monday, the 14th, and running through to the 27th, you’ll be able to swing by some of the local restaurants you can find on SeamlessWeb’s normal delivery service and score a free cup of coffee from them, as well.  Play your cards right and you’ll be jittering your way through the entire month of February on someone else’s dime.

So what about that free stuff they want us to give you?

How do two $25 SeamlessWeb gift cards sound?  They’re yours for the winning – all you have to do is tell us how you take your coffee, just like that sweet little girl did in the movie Airplane!  The two answers that make us laugh the loudest will win.

Not familiar with SeamlessWeb?  Neither were we, but they’ve been offering online ordering and free delivery from all kinds of restaurants here in DC since 2003.  I did a quick search, and they’ve got 30 restaurants that will deliver right to my office.  I can choose from Indian, Japanese, pizza or Turkish, as well as a wide range of offerings via Takeout Taxi, all accessible through SeamlessWeb’s site.  Use code FREECOFFEE on the site, and you can save an additional $5 on your first order of $10 or more.

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When David Guas struck out on his own from the Passion Hospitality Group, he called his venture DamGoodSweet.  After a visit to the Courthouse Farmers’ Market in Arlington this past weekend, we stopped into Bayou Bakery and found out exactly what the phrase means firsthand.  Guas’ new take on the community coffeehouse is an impressive rendition of the flavors and spirit of New Orleans cuisine.  Damn good sweet, indeed.

Bayou Bakery opened in late November last year after a ton of anticipation.  The location is ideal: at the corner of 15th Street and North Courthouse Road, Bayou can cater to the courthouse crowd on weekdays and the market crowd on Saturdays, with a healthy neighborhood following in the evening.  Demand has been high enough to warrant Sunday hours, as well – they just started this past weekend.  When we arrived seating was at a premium, though a brisk carry-out business made it possible for us to order and grab a table right away.

But what to get that would give us a good feel for the place in short order?  We settled on a few NOLA favorites and a couple of unexpected treats.  Check them out with us after the jump.

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It’s easy to imagine a certain arrogance on the part of New York- and Los Angeles-based chains when they open an outpost here in Washington.  “We’ll show them how to REALLY do <insert trendy food here>,” we can hear the smug CEO chuckle as he maps out his next conquest.  Maybe it’s an inferiority complex on our part, or a recognition of the fact that we’ve still got a way to go to be recognized as a real food city.

Whatever the reason, the reality rarely fits our expectations.  DC establishments usually take on their own character, diverging in ways both simple and significant from their origins.  And they can actually bring new takes to even the most saturated concepts.

Like cupcakes.

When Crumbs Bake Shop opened across from H&M on 11th Street, it caught its share of flack for coming into a market that we all know is more than covered when it comes to cupcakes.  We’ve even got a reality TV show based on a DC cupcake shop, for crying out loud!  What could these New Yorkers bring to the field that we hadn’t already seen?

As it turns out, they fill an interesting and unexpected niche.  Check it out after the jump.

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Things you see when you step into Big Bear Cafe in Bloomingdale:

- tall windows and ceiling fans, giving the space a bright airy vibe
- a woman behind the counter with a giant Obama tattoo on her left breast
- wooden chairs filled with locals enjoying their coffee and the paper
- a friendly barista in Buddy Holly glasses taking everyone’s order and finding a minute to chat with customers
- glass bottle milk used in lattes from Trickling Springs Creamery (the only dairy options are whole milk or soy, for you calorie counters)

You will have time to notice these things because Big Bear Cafe is crowded. And while the baristas were busting through orders as quickly as they could, the wait for my iced latte was long. Long enough for me to notice the $.60 price difference between an (already pricey at $4.20) iced latte and regular latte and get annoyed by it. Long enough to see a seemingly endless stream of customers pop in and and run into a friend or acquaintance, including Mr Buddy Holly Barista who seemed to know everyone.

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Jennifer Weiner, an insanely talented and successful novelist, once described her daily writing routine: A nanny comes to her home in Philadelphia every day to watch her daughter while Weiner walks around the corner to her favorite coffeeshop to write for about 4 straight hours. End workday. As soon as I heard her describe this my head snapped up and I said to myself “that’s what I want.” There is a lot implied with this type of workday. First of all, she’s successful enough to write full time, not squeeze it around a 40+ hour desk jockey work week like most writers I know. Secondly, she can afford regular help based on her writing income. And, perhaps most notable to food and coffee devotees, she lives within walking distance of a coffeeshop that is awesome enough to draw her in every single day.

Regardless of one’s career aspirations, that third piece really hits home for a lot of us.  An area isn’t a neighborhood unless there is a destination-worthy coffeehouse nestled around some corner.  I challenge you to name a great neighborhood in DC that doesn’t have a coffee shop of pride. Eastern Market? Peregrine. Clarendon? Northside Social. DuPont? Teaism. H St NE? Take your pick of Sidamo, Sova, or Ebenezers.

Lately we’ve been exploring what other neighborhoods have to offer so no matter where you go, you’ll be able to caffeinate yourself at a moment’s notice.

photo courtesy of The V Word

Tryst – Adam’s Morgan
Let me hook my thumbs into my suspenders and remind you that back in myyyy day, Tryst was just about the only coffee/lounge game in town unless you considered Starbucks or its cousins an option. Tryst is the grandaddy of the DC coffeehouse scene. Like a hipster church, you can mark your weekly calendar by the Sunday morning gathering of young urbanites sipping coffee and enjoying a pastry along with their free wi-fi. Some of them may have even been there the previous evening, when Tryst turns from Friends-style coffehouse to casual lounge with cocktails and light food on the menu. Service can struggle at times – not surprising considering the ebb and flow of the crowd – but Tryst continues to serve as a happy starting point for many an epic night out in Adam’s Morgan.
Tryst on Urbanspoon

Three more coffeehouses after the jump. (more…)

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When traveling for work, food can often be an afterthought.  You can’t control where and when you’re going, and chances are your meals will be dictated by the schedule of the conference or activity that brought you there in the first place.  So you make your peace with a couple of grab-and-go meals and you hope for a decent dinner or two along the way.

Unless, of course, you’re headed to a foodlovers’ Mecca like New Orleans.  Whether you crave high-end cuisine or down-and-dirty dining, New Orleans has you covered (and then some).  As the great philosopher Axl Rose once said, “If you’ve got the money, honey, we’ve got your disease.”  With this much great food all around, you find a way to eat well while you’re in town.

I wanted to make the most of my meals, so I decided to focus on three New Orleans specialties: the po’ boy, the muffuletta and the Sazerac cocktail.  The first two are ubiquitous sandwiches that can be found in varying forms throughout the Crescent City.  The latter is the cocktail by which I judge most bartenders – and it was first concocted in New Orleans.

But I couldn’t settle for just one version of these delicacies…the debate over who does them best is fiercely partisan and it just wouldn’t do to sample a po’ boy from Mother’s without also trying the one at Domilise.  Sure, the Central Grocery muffuletta is the original, but what’s with all the fuss over Verdi Marte’s hot version?  And whose Sazerac would be my new gold standard?

I would have to try a few of each, in the name of science, of course.  The things I do for this blog…

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Close your eyes and picture the ideal coffee house. What do you see? 

A sunny spot with plenty of seating for those with laptops, books, or friends to catch up with? Would you like a side of Wi-Fi with that?

A dedicated coffee staff including a Director of Coffee on-hand to ensure your Counter Culture beverage is top notch? 

How about decent food options in place of the ubiquitous plastic case housing muffins of questionable age? Oh, and while you’re going crazy with expectations, why not toss in locally sourced milk and cream?

The owners of Liberty Tavern have added a new bright spot to their northern Clarendon neighborhood. Northside Social is a coffee house to the nth degree. The airy, two-story building has been revamped with a country chic vibe – don’t miss that metal pail chandelier – and friendly atmosphere.  The space has already caught on like pink eye with the locals – on both visits it was a struggle to find an open seat among the sippers, studiers, and socializers. 
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Firehook ExteriorAsk any DC transplant from New York, New Jersey or Philadelphia and they’ll tell you – in no uncertain terms – that you just can’t get good bread in Washington.  It’s the water, they say.  Whether it’s the crust, the crumb or the taste, something is always just a little off.

The folks at Firehook would politely disagree.  That’s just how they are.  Since 1992, Firehook Bakeries have been turning out bread from natural steam ovens that makes the argument for Washington.

Along the way, they’ve built up quite the following.  Whether you visit them in Old Town, Dupont Circle or Cleveland Park, you’ll find a selection of breads, but you’ll also find cookies, pastries and even sandwiches and salads.  On Capitol Hill, there are more than a few offices that rely on Firehook for their regular meeting sustenance.

Beyond the baguettes after the jump. (more…)

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