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Urban Winery: Taste, Learn, Create

7 Apr

Rachel and I have lived in Silver Spring for about three years now and arguably one of our favorite spots since we moved to the neighborhood is Urban Winery.  It’s the first-ever urban winery in the Washington metropolitan area and is also the closest from our nation’s capital.

Urban Winery

Founded by Georgia and Damon Callis, Urban Winery doesn’t actually have a vineyard but that allows them the freedom to produce wine with grapes sourced from all over the country. The opposite can be said about everything else found at Urban Winery – from to the meats to the local craft beers to even the wood Damon used to build the furniture is all sourced from Maryland. We highly recommend the Silver Spring White and the Winemaker’s Helpers, the latter named after the couple’s children.

Georgia and Damon Callis

Owners and founders Georgia and Damon Callis

The mantra of Urban Winery is “Taste, Learn, Create”.

Taste: The tasting room offers wine lovers an extensive list of wines that are produced in-house, in the state of Maryland, as well as national and international bottles.

Charcuterie Charcuterie Greek dolmades

Greek meatballsAtlantic smoked salmonSmall plates

Furthermore, they recently introduced a full mezze menu that also includes charcuterie and some delicious desserts (be sure to order the s’mores skillet!). And while one typically associates fondue with The Melting Pot, Urban Winery one-ups the chain with its own chocolate and cheese fondue offerings that will have you leaving Silver Spring very, very full.

Dessert fondue

Learn:  Urban Winery offers several classes in its barrel room as well as guided tours of their winery operations.  They host about two classes per month that include a trio of wine samples as well as small bite pairings.

Urban Winery

Create: Perhaps one of the most unique aspects of Urban Winery is that you can create your own private labeled case of wine! Divided into two sessions, aspiring winemakers will be able to bring home 24 to 30 bottles once the winemaking is complete. Whether it’s for a birthday party or a corporate function, Urban Winery gives guests the ability to bring home their own pinot or malbec, complete with customized labels!

Winemaking

The Urban Winery is the epitome of a locally owned business that not only produces some terrific wine but is also a warm and inviting space that is serving up some delicious food to boot. Considering how many times we’ve been based on past dates and happy hours, we can’t recommend it enough.

Urban Winery promo

Oh, and be sure to use the hashtag #TasteLearnCreate on your next visit – you’ll get 10% off your bill!

The Urban Winery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

A.G. Kitchen Opens in Silver Spring

23 Jul

While several New York chefs have imported their restaurants into our nation’s capital, chef Alex Garcia decided to open the second location of his popular A.G. Kitchen in downtown Silver Spring.

Chef Alex Garcia

The original, which is located the Upper West Side, offers an array of Latin American fare in a casual, colorful setting. The Maryland location continues that theme of vibrancy in the heart of Silver Spring with a menu full of “Nuevo Latino” cuisine.

AG 1940 Sparkling MojitoAG KitchenAG Kitchen

Rachel and I were invited to a preview event a few weeks ago and had the opportunity to sample some of Chef Garcia’s menu.

Seafood Ceviche

We started the evening off with a seafood ceviche that featured a medley of shrimp and lobster, blended with tomatoes mango and avocado.

Braised short ribs arepa

The braised short ribs arepa prominently showcased Garcia’s Cuban heritage with the traditional sweet yellow corn cake.

Seafood paella

The gorgeously arranged seafood paella was overflowing with crab laws, lobster, shrimp, clams, mussels, chicken, chorizo, rice, and last but not least, calamari salad.

Ultimate potato skin burger

Meanwhile, the “ultimate potato skin burger” fuses some American elements into the Cuban-inspired menu with a ribeye patty topped with crispy potato skin, cheddar, bacon, and crema.

Ultimate potato skin burger

The table even got to sample the full-size version of this behemoth as the smaller plate didn’t do it enough justice – there’s a reason why it’s listed under the menu as one of chef Garcia’s favorites amongst nearly a dozen burger offerings.

Chocolate empanadas and salted caramel milkshake

We concluded the evening with a trio of chocolate empanadas, complete with chocolate dipping sauce, as well as a miniature salted caramel milkshake. In fact, all of the milkshakes can be made boozy for an additional $5, because who doesn’t love boozy milkshakes?

ViewMaster

One of the most memorable if not creative moments of the night was reading the dessert menu off of a 3D View-Master. Certainly brought back memories of our childhood (P.S. we’re officially old now).

A.G. Kitchen not only offers another exciting option in the ever-expanding dining scene of downtown Silver Spring with its first NYC import, but also brings a lively atmosphere complemented by a colorful backdrop of Latin American fusion.

A.G. Kitchen is located on 931 Ellsworth Drive in downtown Silver Spring.

The Room at McGinty's: Fine Dining within an Irish Pub

1 Jul

One of the newer concepts we have observed in the Washington dining scene are restaurants within a restaurant. We’ve seen Bryan Voltaggio do it with Aggio inside Range, his behemoth Chevy Chase restaurant (he even opened a standalone Aggio up in Baltimore). And to a lesser degree, there are also tasting menu experiences like Nonna’s Kitchen within Alphonse and Fishnook at Fishnet, separating diners from the bustling activity in the main dining room to a secluded part of the restaurant for a more intimate experience.

Now Silver Spring gets in on the action with The Room at McGinty’s. Wait, McGinty’s Public House? You mean that Irish bar across the street from the Regal Cinemas? Yep.

Unbeknownst to this writer, executive chef Nico Amroune, who has been helming the kitchen at McGinty’s Public House since 2011, has previously worked with famed D.C. chef Roberto Donna at the original Galileo, as well as at Tosca, Teatro Goldoni, and M Café. And while he’s been cooking classic Irish dishes the past few years, the newly-opened Room at McGinty’s has given Chef Amroune an opportunity to let his talents really shine.

Ahi tuna tartar

Take for example the ahi tuna tartar. Prepared with avocado, spicy radish, poppy seeds, and a ginger marinade, this isn’t exactly pub fare. What it is, however, is a deliciously fresh, gorgeous preparation of raw fish in the upstairs of an Irish bar. (Don’t worry – the large, separate dining room isolates a lot of the noise from the Public House patrons).

Burrata of buffalo mozzarella salad,

The burrata of buffalo mozzarella salad, adorned with roasted beets, quinoa fritters, arugula, and a blueberry vincotto immediately wowed Rachel, who remarked on the freshness of the locally-sourced ingredients.

Spring lamb Provençal

As for our entrees, the spring lamb Provençal was simply outstanding. Perfectly cooked at medium-rare, the herb-crusted lamb was complemented with an olive-oil potato puree, a wonderful ratatouille, and then capped off with a savory mint lamb jus. I had to do a double-take while eating this in the upstairs of an Irish pub – I can see why this dish deserves its very own dining room!

Roast Icelandic cod

Not to be outdone was Rachel’s roast Icelandic cod. Prepared with English pea creama, heirloom cauliflower, zaatar, and pea tendrils, this dish was superbly executed.

Salted caramel panna cotta

For dessert, we decided to be adventurous and try both the salted caramel panna cotta and the strawberry rhubarb crisp.

Strawberry rhubarb crisp

Both proved to be excellent endings to what was an incredible meal. While The Room at McGinty’s has been only open a month, Chef Amroune is doing some amazing things in the kitchen. This is downtown cooking that just happens to take place in the upstairs of a pub in the ‘burbs.

Ethio Express Grill Introduces Fast-Casual Ethiopian to Silver Spring

21 May

When one thinks of fast-casual, the first thought that crosses your mind is Chipotle. But the Washington area has taken that successful model one step further and applied it to salads (Sweetgreen), pizza (&Pizza), and even Greek fare (Cava Grill), all with rousing success. So what happens when you take one of the area’s most beloved ethnic foods and transform it into an affordable, quick meal? You get Ethio Express Grill.

As much as the District has developed over the past decade, one downside of all this gentrification are the rising rents resulting in the smaller mom and pop eateries either closing up shop or moving out to the suburbs. Just several weeks ago, Ethiopian staple Meskerem shuttered its doors in Adams Morgan; representing the sea change of clientele that now frequents the Northwest neighborhood amidst newer, more upscale restaurants (this blogger still mourns the loss of Pharmacy Bar). Washington Post writer Tim Carman even wrote a eulogy for Meskerem as it was the oldest operating Ethiopian restaurant in the U.S.

Ethio Express GrillEthio Express GrillEthio Express Grill

So it goes without saying that D.C.’s loss is Silver Spring’s gain, especially now that Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema has dubbed the Montgomery County suburb “the new Little Ethiopia” in his Spring Dining Guide. And he’s absolutely right – with at least half a dozen Ethiopian restaurants in downtown Silver Spring alone, you don’t have to go far to get some tibs and kitfo.

Enter Ethio Express Grill. Located off of Sligo Avenue and sandwiched between several auto repair shops and Jackie’s, Ethio Express Grill offers diners a “build your own meal” menu that is comprised of four steps: a base (injera, pita, spaghetti, mixed greens, or brown rice), protein (grilled beef [tibs], chicken, lamb, or tofu), a choice of one of five housemade sauces, and then a choice of nearly a dozen hot and cold sides that range from ayib cheese to yellow split peas. All of the ordering is done at the cashier as opposed to watching it being constructed in line as the meat is cooked to order, but the wait time between placing your order and having it served to your table is minimal.

Injera Plate

The result is fresh, vibrant flavors in an efficient, cost-effective setting. The menu even offers half a dozen preconfigured plates which make it helpful for first-time visitors that get overwhelmed with the a la carte construction method. I ordered the Injera Plate, which was comprised of grilled beef, Ethio hot sauce, gomen (collard greens), spicy lentils (miser), yellow split peas (kik), and two pieces of injera. For $9.29, this was a considerable amount of food that is not only filling but also just as authentic as a meal from a full-service Ethiopian restaurant.

Grilled chicken plate

Rachel went the creative route and ordered grilled chicken, yogurt honey sauce, kik, green lentil salad (azifa), quinoa salad, and cucumber salad.

We were both impressed by our meals, and we’re so glad a place like this exists just down the road from us. If we could offer any critique, it would be to offer a paper menu with descriptions that someone can review before ordering. The list of sides to choose from could be somewhat daunting for a newcomer to Ethiopian food, and since you can’t look at an open counter to point at them, it would be helpful to have that option before going to the counter to order. While the location is a little off the beaten path, Ethio Express Grill has a lot of potential and makes for a terrific quick lunch or dinner should you be in the downtown Silver Spring area, or should I say the new Little Ethiopia.

Ethio Express Grill on Urbanspoon

Denizens Brewing Company

4 Sep

Rachel and I have only lived in Silver Spring just shy of three months, but Denizens Brewing Company has quickly become one of our favorite neighborhood spots after just two visits.

The brewery, which opened in July, currently features two of its own beers as well as a variety of local brews on tap such as Port City, Flying Dog, and Devil’s Backbone, with all pints priced at $6.50 (you can also get sample pours for $3.50 or a flight of four for $9). A full lineup from Denizen’s is expected soon as their in-house brewing started last week.

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The two beers currently available are their Southside Rye IPA and Lowest Lord ESB. The former was my favorite of the two – it had a nice balance of grapefruit and spice, so much so that it’s a quality contender for a locally brewed IPA.

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The food, meanwhile, is provided by the guys behind BBQ Bus. Their preview menu (an updated menu is expected later this fall) features pulled pork, brisket, and chicken which can you order either as a sandwich or platter. They also feature baby back ribs and four sauces made in-house which pay homage to North Carolina, Kansas City, and Memphis. My suggestion? Try the brisket paired up with Sauce #5 as there’s nothing better than smoky brisket smothered with a sweet, tomato-based sauce. The pickled onions are a nice touch, too.

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And while the beer and food is great, it’s the atmosphere of the beer garden that really stands out. It’s just incredibly refreshing to not only find a biergarten with a wide open layout, but one that is accommodating to both families and pet owners. Each time we have visited, the outdoor patio was packed with families and dogs, all enjoying the summer sunshine while partaking in a pint and some ‘cue.

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In fact, it’s quite possibly the most baby-friendly brewery we have ever been to. Not only do they have changing stations in the restrooms, but there’s even Diaper Genies! As a family with a two year old, we greatly appreciate the thoughtfulness that went into this when Denizens opened up shop. They know who their clientele is and know how to cater to it.

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With cornhole playing areas as well as being walking distance from the Silver Spring Metro, this is a great spot to have a brewery. And even if you have to drive, the Kennett Street Garage is right nearby and free after 7pm and all day during weekends.

Between the great beer selection, terrific barbecue, and super-friendly service, Denizens Brewing Company has already become one of our go-to places in downtown Silver Spring. It’s a great addition to the neighborhood and we can’t wait to see what’s in store once they launch their entire beer lineup and full-service restaurant.

The DMV Dining Guide to Wheaton and Silver Spring

28 Aug

We have to admit, the amount of content on DMV Dining has diminished quite a bit since we moved to Silver Spring. Between chasing after a toddler and moving to a new house, our dining adventures these past few months have mostly been relegated to delivery and takeout. But rest assured, that’s not a bad thing.

You see, the move has also given us a chance to explore the abundance of excellent ethnic eateries up the road in Wheaton and Silver Spring. And let me tell you, there’s a plethora of options to choose from. The best part is that all of them are affordable if not downright inexpensive.  We’ve mostly stuck to Wheaton, but have checked out a few places in Silver Spring and know we’ve only barely scratched the surface in terms of cheap eats.

Having said that, Rachel and I have composed a breakdown of all the places we have visited thus far.

El Pollo Rico

It’s no secret than I’m a huge fan of Polla a la Brasa, so when I found out we would be moving less than a couple of miles away from one of the most highly-acclaimed Peruvian chicken restaurants in the area, this place was at the top of my list. And let me tell you, the chicken at El Pollo Rico is as good as it gets. Wonderfully crisp and delightfully moist, it is right up there with Sardi’s as one of my favorites. While most of the sides are an afterthought, the sweet corn tamales are highly recommended (they’re cooked to order so I would call ahead if you plan on doing takeout). The Wheaton location also offers delivery, too. – Brett

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2517 University Blvd W
Wheaton, MD 20902
(301) 942-4419

Goldberg’s New York Bagels

Being walking distance to Goldberg’s, who in my opinion make some of the best New York style bagels in the area, is quite the perk come Sunday morning. Our new Sunday tradition involves running a few miles around the neighborhood and finishing at Goldberg’s with a bagel and a schmear. – Brett

bagel

9328 Georgia Ave.
Silver Spring, MD 20910
(240)-450-4177

Hollywood East Café

While we have written about Hollywood East Café in the past, now we have even more reason to frequent their terrific dim sum given that we’re that much closer to them. – Brett

Dim Sum Cart

11160 Veirs Mill Rd
Wheaton, MD 20902
(240) 290-9988

Ghar-E-Kabab

This past rainy Saturday, we were staying in after failed babysitter attempts and had a hankering for Indian food. We looked for places that would deliver and came upon Ghar-E-Kabab. After a long but expected wait for our food, the payoff was worth it. We choose traditional (boring) items of Chicken Tikka Masala, Palak Paneer, and of course Naan. It certainly hit the spot and we’ll plan to order different dishes for variety the next time we crave Indian cuisine. – Rachel

944 Wayne Ave
Silver Spring, MD 20910
(301) 588-6656

La Casita Pupuseria & Market

We knew the Silver Spring/Wheaton area was full of fantastic pupuserias and Salvadorian restaurants, it was just a matter of which one we wanted to try first. We opted for La Casita based on its popular Yelp reviews, and judging by the crowded dining room at 5:30pm on a Sunday, we clearly chose the right place. We tried one of nearly each type of pupusa offered, and they were some of the best we’ve ever had. Our son ate them up too, in addition to the delicious mango smoothie. Next time we’ll have to try some of the other dishes on the menu, but you definitely can’t go wrong with any of the pupusas here. – Rachel

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8214 Piney Branch Rd
Silver Spring, MD 20910
(301) 588-6656

Marchone’s Italian Delicatessen

A void needed to be filled once we left Bethesda and could no longer walk to Vace, which used to be our local Italian grocery. Thankfully Marchone’s has filled that emptiness with their delicious Italian cold cut subs. A family-owned business since 1954 and housed next door to Moby Dick Sushi, do yourself a favor and order a Panino and top it off with one of the many Italian pastries on display at the front of the house. They even sell cannoli from Vacarro’s! We have also heard great things about Santucci’s Italian Deli too, so that’s up on our list to try and then compare the two. – Brett

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11224 Triangle Lane
Wheaton, MD 20902
 (301) 949-4150

Max’s Kosher Deli

After living in this area for well over a decade, I’m embarrassed to admit that I had never frequented Max’s until a few months ago. Rachel, on the other hand, last visited when she was an undergrad at the University of Maryland. Needless to say we’ll be making plenty more trips after devouring their schawarma and falafel when we stopped by last month. The matzo ball soup is as authentic as it gets, too. – Brett

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2319 University Blvd W
Wheaton, MD 20902
(301) 949-6297

Moby Dick Sushi

This quaint sushi shop seems unassuming at first but in reality serves up some high quality fish at a very affordable price point. Their spicy crunchy tuna roll is arguably the best I have come across in this area, not only because of the quality but also how they prepare it – instead of being dusted with tempura flakes it is instead embedded in it, basically tempura style. The result is a satisfyingly crisp roll that is always included in each and every one of our takeout orders. – Brett

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11220 Triangle Lane
Wheaton, MD 20902
(301) 949-3910

Nava Thai

First of all, not only are we a short drive to one of the best Thai restaurants in the area, we’re a short drive to three of the best Thai restaurants in the area (Ruan Thai and Thai Taste by Kob being the other two, all within a few blocks from one another). Nava Thai just happens to deliver, so we tried that one first. In fact, this was officially our first meal at our new house after an utterly exhausting day of moving. The Floating Market Soup is extraordinary, both in spice and overall flavor, and in my opinion is a quintessential must-try Thai dish. Even traditional items such as Pad Thai and Pad See Ew are refreshingly composed in a manner that makes you want to toss out all those old Thai takeout menus. The steamed dumplings stuffed with ground pork, shrimp, crabmeat, and water chestnuts are a real treat, too. On on a recent delivery order they convinced us to order the mango sticky rice dessert, which was a delicious summer treat that our son loved as well. – Brett
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11301 Fern Street
Wheaton, MD 20902
(240) 430-0495

Ren’s Ramen

While Rachel and I have still never been to Toki Underground, we’re both perfectly content getting a piping hot bowl of ramen up the street instead of waiting outside for an inordinate amount of time on H Street for the same exact thing. And trust me, I’m not dogging Toki here, it just so happens that Ren’s is conveniently located a couple miles from us and serves up some tremendous ramen without the long queue and hip interior. Yes, parking can be difficult and they only accept cash, but these are small quibbles for a place that makes some outrageously good ramen. With a bowl large enough for leftovers (though I always finish mine) starting at $10, it’s a guarantee our visits will exponentially increase once the weather starts getting cooler. – Brett

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11403 Amherst Ave
Wheaton, MD 20902
(301) 693-0806

Thai Taste by Kob

Tucked literally in between Nava Thai and Ruan Thai, Thai Taste by Kob stands out in that it offers an array of Thai street food in addition to more traditional fare. We stuck with items like Pad See Ew and Chicken with Chinese Broccoli, nothing too adventurous but delicious nonetheless. We discovered Thai Taste also delivers, and with its extensive menu we now have our pick of amazing Thai food to choose from. Thai Taste was recently given a favorable review by Todd Kliman in the May issue of Washingtonian, and we can definitely see why. – Rachel

11315 Fern St
Wheaton, MD 20902
(301) 942-0288

Urban Butcher a Meaty Addition to Silver Spring

21 Mar

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of all things meat, so when I heard that Raynold Mendizabal was going to open a butcher-themed restaurant in Silver Spring, my ears (and my taste buds) piqued with interest. Urban Butcher is the newest entrant in downtown Silver Spring’s restaurant scene, and it’s certainly one of the most interesting when you scroll down their long if not diverse menu.

Both a butcher shop and a full service restaurant, Urban Butcher features everything from steaks to crispy pig tails to… ratatouille? Why yes, surprisingly enough, the restaurant accommodates vegetarians quite nicely as they offer a handful of non-meat items, something which our vegetarian friend Katie was really surprised by.

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We started the evening off with some capocollo from their meat cellar. The house-cured meat was delicious, and with one bite you can easily tell that this is what they excel at.

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But what was more surprising was how good the ahi tuna and ginger ceviche turned out to be. For a place that specializes in meats, this was one of our favorite items of the evening. Light and refreshing, the sushi-grade tuna was beautifully presented in a shot glass situated in a mason jar of ice.

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Meanwhile, the winter chicory salad was overly salty and probably the weakest dish of the meal.

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The beef empanadas, however, are worth getting. Stuffed with tender meat in a delightfully crisp shell and accompanied with chimichurri, I could have had a trio of these for myself.

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Just as good was the thick-cut house pastrami. Smoky and tender, my only qualm was the small-sized portion.

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The grilled Brussels sprouts were another unanticipated hit. Prepared with soy butter and garlic, it’s one of the best preparations you will find in the area – right up there with Red Hen’s. A vegetarian’s, or even vegans, delight.

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Our party couldn’t resist ordering the crispy fries, which were accompanied with a side of mayo for dipping, as it was a good dish for sharing amongst the table.

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The four of us decided to split two desserts. The first was a chocolate soufflé with goat cheese gelato. While the soufflé itself was grand, the goat cheese flavor was too overpowering and didn’t really complement the chocolate as well as anticipated.

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On the other hand, the churros were simply fantastic. Served with an orange-cocoa dipping sauce, the fried dough was exceptionally crispy and was easily the better of the two desserts we ordered.

And while Urban Butcher is relatively new, the kitchen really needs to work on the pacing of their dishes. As soon as we were halfway done with the charcuterie, the rest of our dishes came out at nearly the same time. It was a mad dash to try most of them while they were still hot. Meanwhile, the desserts took an extraordinarily long time to come to the table after we had ordered them.

Hopefully management is trying to remedy that as they are producing some quality food in the kitchen, let alone in downtown Silver Spring. I’d certainly make a return visit, just for that ceviche of all things.

Urban Butcher on Urbanspoon

Burgers and Beers at Quarry House Tavern

5 Oct

Tucked away from the bustling activity of downtown Silver Spring, Quarry House Tavern offers an escape from suburbia. It’s hard to imagine that a bar filled with such charm and character is mere blocks from the commercialization of nearby City Place, yet Quarry House Tavern is the dive you’ve always been looking for.

It’s not the easiest place to find, but once you walk down the flight of stairs, it’s hard not to leave. Not only does the bar host over a hundred beers and whiskeys, but they also feature three varieties of tater tots. Need I say more?

Quarry House Tavern Burger

Restaurateur Jackie Greenbaum, who also operates nearby Sidebar and Jackie’s, has given her establishments an identity that is hard to replicate. Combine that with the fact that she is able to stock the bar with a variety of craft beer while dealing with Montgomery County’s arcane liquor laws is a success in its own right.

The bar features a selection of draft beers that change throughout the day in addition to an enormous bottle selection that consumes the majority of the menu. Rachel and I ordered a couple of beers before splitting an order of fried pickles, because let’s face it, how could you not order fried pickles?

The spears were surrounded by so much thick, crunchy batter that it was hard to decipher if there were pickles under there or not. Nonetheless, we wasted no time finishing them off, even though we had to scrape away some of the breading.

Tater Tots

The main event, however, was the burger. Quarry House Tavern is known for serving up some of the best patties in Silver Spring, and after we polished ours off, we can wholeheartedly agree. We ordered our burger medium, topped with American cheese, grilled mushrooms, lettuce, tomato, and raw onion.

Served with a side of tots, it’s arguably one of the best meals to pair a beer with while listening to The Smiths blaring on the jukebox. The beef was juicy, well-seasoned, and cooked exactly the way we asked. The tots are great as well, though I would have needed a side of Coumadin if we got them topped with bacon and cheese.

Overall, Quarry House Tavern is a diamond in the rough in Montgomery County. Between the fantastic beer selection, great bar food, and divey atmosphere, it’s one of our favorite watering holes in the area.

Quarry House on Urbanspoon

The Silver Spring Side of Olazzo

26 Apr

With Passover concluding tonight, what better way to celebrate than discussing a return to carbs, and more importantly, pasta!

While we adore Olazzo in downtown Bethesda, we have never been to its nearby location in Silver Spring. As it turns out, Rachel inadvertently bought a BuyWithMe certificate for the Italian restaurant without realizing it was for the latter as opposed with the intention of buying it for the former.

Thanks to Rachel’s slight oversight, it gave us an opportunity to try their sister location, and especially in my case, their great meatballs.

Chicken Cardinale

One huge pro about their Silver Spring location is that they accept reservations, something that isn’t a practice at their Bethesda restaurant. Our table was ready as soon as we arrived, but given that it was a Thursday night instead of a weekend, this was anticipated.

Another noticeable difference between the two venues is that Silver Spring has a much larger dining area. The front of the house features an extensive bar area while Bethesda’s is essentially non-existent save for a few barstools. There were also several booths lined up opposite the bar that made for a cozy pub atmosphere.

Meanwhile, we were seated in the backroom which was just slightly smaller than their entire Bethesda dining room, but with higher ceilings and, even better, less noise. Then again, our reservation was around 9pm, so that probably helped in regards to the decibel levels.

Pasta Primavera

Our waitress soon came by and asked for our drink orders while one of the busboys brought out their trademark warm, fresh bread with freshly-poured olive oil. Needless to say, I went through the whole loaf.

I ordered the Chicken Cardinale while Rachel got the Pasta Primavera. And of course, we shared a meatball.

Rachel got one of her go-to dishes here, the Pasta Primavera. The description lists the dish with olive oil and garlic, but like Brett, she loves her marinara sauce. However, she didn’t think that took away from her dish, and while it wasn’t amazing or completely unique, it was a very satisfying and heaping portion of penne pasta with an array of vegetables and a zesty sauce.

Being a huge fan of marinara, I foolishly opted for that over the tomato cream sauce that came with the Cardinale. I should have stuck with the original recipe as the red sauce’s texture wasn’t optimal for the dish, but despite the substitution, I was rather disappointed with the quality of the chicken.  It was dry, stringy, and downright unflavorful.

Meatball

The meatball, on the other hand, was terrific as always. Almost the size of a softball, this (along with their excellent cannolis) is one of their signature items and is a must-order if you’re dining at Olazzo. I’m honestly annoyed at myself for not ordering a plate of spaghetti and meatballs for dinner instead, but I digress.

Our bill came out to a little less than $50, and given that our BuyWithMe offer cost $20 for $40 worth of food, an inexpensive dinner turned out to be even more economical. It’s not often you receive a check for two entrees, two glasses of wine, and a side dish that comes out to $10 (excluding tip)!

Outside of the Chicken Cardinale, some of which was my fault as well as the kitchen’s, it was another great tonight at was is typically a very reliable establishment. Given that we’re walking distance to their Bethesda location, I sense I’ll have plenty more opportunities to get my cherished spaghetti and meatballs.

Olazzo on Urbanspoon

Nando's Peri-Peri: Portuguese Flame-Grilled Chicken

10 Feb

While I certainly love all the lunch options I have by working in Bethesda, there are times when it’s good to mix it up. One of my former co-workers now works in Silver Spring, so a few of us decided to meet at Nando’s Peri-Peri in the downtown area.

The neighborhood is like their own version of Bethesda Row, with Lebanese Taverna, Potbelly’s, Panera Bread, and Macaroni Grill as options, just to name a few. I have always heard good things about Nando’s and have wanted to try their food, but since I don’t work in downtown DC, it’s obviously not that convenient for me. I didn’t even realize that there was a Silver Spring location until today, so I was excited to try it out.

At first glance, Nando’s looks like a typical Peruvian chicken joint, however, that is not the case. The food chain’s origins are in South Africa, where the original restaurant opened based on cooking flame-grilled chicken with a Peri-Peri spice taught to Portuguese settlers long ago by Africans in Mozambique.

Butternut Squash and Couscous Salad

Their grilled chicken is marinated for 24 hours in the Peri-Peri sauce, and then basted before serving with a sauce of your choosing based on the level of spiciness. You can get anything from a whole, half, or quarter chicken with sides, or choose between various sandwiches and salads.

For those of you who don’t love chicken, they also offer veggie burgers, a steak sandwich, and a portabella sandwich. You can also order any salad without the chicken.

I decided to get the butternut squash and couscous salad, with red onion, olives, grilled corn, and the famous chicken on a bed of greens. I choose the mild lemon and herb sauce, and then topped the salad with additional sauces at the table.

One unique feature to Nando’s is the sauces, which come in tall bottles with metal spouts that can be brought to your table. You can add as much spice and flavor to your dishes as you like. I mixed in some medium spicy sauce, garlic, and wild mushroom, and they all added a nice flavor to the salad.

Chicken Breast Wrap

While Nando’s is a fast casual chain, the staff was very friendly and greeted us at the door with menus and led us to a table. We ordered at the counter and the process seemed very smooth, until two of us got our order while our friend had to wait an additional 10 minutes for hers.

It was odd, since she ordered the same exact thing as my other friend – a grilled chicken wrap with yogurt sauce and two sides. When it finally arrived, the waiter explained that the macho peas side takes longer to prepare. In the end it was fine, but it is never fun to wait for someone’s dish while we all awkwardly look towards the kitchen.

I’m glad we discovered the Silver Spring location of Nando’s, and we will definitely be back soon. It’s a nice option for an easy meal that is also healthy and very satisfying.

Nando’s Peri-Peri is located at 924 Ellsworth Drive in downtown Silver Spring.

The store plans on opening two more locations in Bethesda and Gaithersburg, according to their website.

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