Pop Stars – Restaurants will fill your cup with fizzy fruit juice and herbs

A new trend is bubbling up: Restaurants are making their own sodas in-house, without the high-fructose corn syrup, the preservatives or the weird additives you usually gulp. Cool off this summer by ordering up one of these refreshments — in sizes even New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg would approve of.

Founding Farmers

From-scratch sodas are so popular at this farm-to-table restaurant’s Potomac location that they outsell Coke and Diet Coke combined. Chief mixologist Jon Arroyo wants to drop commercial colas entirely, so he’s been working on his own version for more than a year. “It’s the hardest soda to make,” he says. “Just think of all the artisanal colas you like. There probably aren’t any.” The good news is he’s already nailed the pineapple pop ($5), which includes a squirt of lime juice and fresh mint. 12505 Park Potomac Ave., Potomac, Md.; 301-340-8783.

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The Dish: DC’s Top Dog

New York has Coney Island dogs, Hawaii is the home of puka dogs, and the Windy City is famous for Chicago dogs. The District has its own specialty sausage: the half-smoke. For more than half a century, these kielbasa-sized wieners have been D.C.’s favorite street food.

Like many regional favorites, there is a long-standing debate over what constitutes a classic half-smoke, but there are some generally agreed upon elements.

First of all, there should be a snap when you bite through the casing. The meat mixture inside is oftentimes half pork and half beef, possessing both slightly spicy and smoky notes. Either grilled whole or split down the middle, these quarter pounders are then popped into fresh steamed or griddled buns. Toppings vary, but almost always include chili with some spots adding a combination of shredded cheddar, a squirt of mustard, freshly diced onions and relish.

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Photo of Firefly’s half-smoke topped with bacon chili and pickled ramp mustard courtesy of Firefly.

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Restaurants With Benefits

You don’t need a red carpet or a gaggle of paparazzi to feel like a VIP. Many restaurants offer special services even to nonfamous patrons. “We’ll bend over backwards for guests,” says Kristopher Diemar, general manager at Carmine’s in Penn Quarter, who has run out to buy toys for crying children and arranged to have flowers waiting for couples. “We like to help make special occasions even more special.” Here are our favorite perks and how to access them — no secret handshakes required.

Lending a Hand
When you sit down at this backroom speakeasy for an evening of craft cocktails, you’re given a complimentary hand towel. Delivered steaming hot during the cold months or refreshingly chilly amid the heat, the towels are scented with seasonal essences. Right now, they come with a heady, herbal blend of lemon, lavender and fennel.
Columbia Room
, 1021 7th St. NW; 202-393-0220. (Mt. Vernon Square)

Office Space
Business never stops. So, if you’re amid a meal and get a call that requires you to act quickly, just ask to use the restaurant’s business center (available from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m.). Equipped with Wi-Fi, a printer and mailing supplies, you can consider it your second office — one where you can order bacon lollipops and tater tots.
Founding Farmers Potomac
, 12505 Park Potomac Ave., Potomac, Md.; 301-340-8783.

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Photo courtesy of Firefly.

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Eat By Numbers: Firefly

When you dine out, you might think about the ingredients that go into your food, but you probably don’t think about all the numbers that make your meal happen. Restaurants are filled with interesting figures that might not be apparent when you bite into an enticing entrée or take a sip of a signature cocktail, but they’re all around you.

This week we stop by Dupont Circle’s Firefly, where they take homemade ice cream, recycling, and jamming out to Phish so seriously that you’d think they were located in Vermont.

Firefly

Seats in the restaurant: 87

Mini pot roasts sold this year: 3,397

Hours spent perfecting the beef tongue pastrami recipe: 216

Kinds of charcuterie made in-house: Five (bresaola, dry-cured chorizo, rabbit pâté, chopped chicken liver, and Italian sausage)

Gallons of ice cream produced per year: 394

Pounds of French fries sold per week: 240

Orders of truffle fries sold last year: 4,524

Number of cookies kids decorated last year: 1,210

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Stick Shifts: Foods on a Stick Taking Over DC

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If you can combine tastiness, creativity and convenience, you have a winning dish. Gourmet foods on sticks — such as colorful cakepops, artful tapas and reimagined push pops — hit that trifecta perfectly. “There’s a whimsical aspect to them,” says Estadio executive chef Haidar Karoum, who makes a variety of skewered treats. “Each one has a different shape, color, texture and flavor.” From appetizers to desserts, these are some of the most fantastical and fetching options out there.

Bourbon Steak
State fairs aren’t four-star dining destinations, unless you like all of your meals made in a deep fryer. Now, Bourbon Steak is elevating classic carnival cuisine by offering lobster corn dogs ($15) to lounge patrons and lunchtime guests. The inch-long bites are filled with a homemade lobster sausage, battered in cornmeal and flash-fried before being served with a whole-grain mustard creme fraiche sauce. “How do you not like something that’s crunchy, golden on the outside and fluffy on the inside?” asks executive chef Adam Sobel. “That’s just plain good.”

» 2800 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; 202-944-2026, Bourbonsteakdc.com.

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