If you’re looking to discover the food scene in your neighborhood on multiple levels, socialize while you’re at it, and spend just enough to gorge your gills, you’ve gotta try DishCrawlDC.
I recently braved Old Man Winter and headed up to Columbia Heights. When I stepped out of the metro, I ducked right into the relatively new Acre 121 restaurant, where Chef Michael Soper replaced Jamie Leed’s former Commonwealth GastroPub with down-home, low country Carolina cuisine and saucy, smoky barbecue. The scene was a bit bare; but the restaurant we were told (and so I know from friends) pumps on the weekends with live music Thursday-Saturday nights.
DishcrawlDC Ambassador, Kerri Pinchuk, ushered eager foodies into the bar area from the frigid cold and announced commencement promptly at 7:05 pm. An air Eatof anticipation and mystery cloaked our growling stomachs as we all recognized no one there had ever participated in a DishCrawl before. Although the food trickled out slowly, the ambiance was nice and the air quickly filled with chatter. We still didn’t know how the night was to unfold, which added to the excitement.
I started tweeting as an amicable GM spilled the scoop of Soper’s prerogative to deliver a cross-breed of Memphis and tomato-based Carolina style BBQ to the Columbia Heights locale. My eyes popped when a hand reached ‘round me to set a sampler’s plate before my Instagram scope: an over-sized slider of pulled pork BBQ topped with coleslaw adjacent to two sides of creamy mac-n-cheese and savory, salty sautéed kale. I thought, wow, we’ve got three more restaurants to go, and guests at the bar not on the Crawl, said, “Where’s that Ambassador? Sign us up for the next one!” Overall, the meal was decent, nothing overwhelming with the sauce, mild and easily approachable for people who don’t like that vinegar burn. The beer list raised an eyebrow, but the wine list was doused with big-brands only.
Once the food disappeared and our hunger abated, we shrugged on our over-coats and headed up the street to Alero. In we stepped to scarlet painted walls adorned with authentic art—hand-selected and imported from Mexico. Nothing was slow about Alero. The vibe was electric with corrido-shy music, hinting towards more of a nightclub scene than the classic Mexican joint you encounter with the Alero in Dupont Circle. Set against a rhythmic dance beat, a hot buffet of veggie, chicken, steak quesadillas and fried calamari awaited the eager group of 25, who fell into line to pick over fiesta fare. The Quesadillas weren’t your ordinary soggy slop stuffed with cheese and sour cream; rather, they exhibited a flavor spike that came from char brought on by an open-flame grill. The wait staff was plentiful and encouraging guests to place drink orders. I couldn't resist a Cadillac Margarita strong for sure, yet balanced with salt, sweet and sour. But no time was wasted on reveling in cocktails. After taking a quick peek at some Diego Rivera pieces on the wall, I had to run to chase up with the already departing crowd. And the DishCrawl roared on…
Despite the cold, spirits were up, conversation flowed, and within a blink of an eye we stood outside of Pho 14. In we streamed to a room all our own, and out poured a precision line of black-clad Asian servers. As I reflect, Pho14 proved to be the highlight of my night. Pho 14 does not disappoint in plate presentation, food inspiration, and passionate servers. This local joint is owned by two brothers who feature recipes from their mother, predominately vegetarian inspired. They pulled out all the stops, as far as I’m concerned with what we paid, by serving two full entrées, while catering to every guest's needs.
The first being Bánh Xèo, Vietnamese crepes stuffed with shrimp, green onions, sprouts and pork, of which I had not a clue of how to wrap in my gorgeously green lettuce. But the enthusiastic head waitress spied my hesitant eye, and casually singled me out to say, “Get dirty. Use your hands. We have plenty napkins!” So, I dove in. Much to my amazement, the crispy lettuce wrap melted in my mouth and melded with my sweet and sour fish sauce, perfect for dunking. Second up, Bún Chay, vermicelli noodles with sprouts, cucumber, carrots, peanuts and colored tofu. Delish. Spot On. What else can I say?
So, the evening was quickly winding down after engorging ourselves with three meals for only $45. But, DishCrawl Ambassador had one more surprise to pull, her confection finale contributed by Sticky Fingers Sweets and Eats, known for their 100% vegan, dairy and egg-free products. Forget my full belly, I indulged in bite-size portions of Jenny’s brownies, chocolate chip cookies and the Cowvin oatmeal cookie sandwich filled with vanilla cream. Wowser!
For the next culinary adventure, check out http://dishcrawl.com/dc/ and follow them on Twitter @dishcrawldc.