There’s no sign outside Matchbox restaurant’s test kitchen. It’s tucked away in a stretch of personality-free warehouses in Silver Spring. The compact room features everything you’d find in the full-scale kitchens of the popular D.C.-based chain best known for its pizzas and mini burgers. There’s a brick pizza oven, glass door refrigerator, deep-fryer, flattop stove, grill, range, a pair of counters and a sink. A window on the far end looks into the Matchbox man cave — well, conference room — outfitted with a small artificial-turf putting green and an impressive flat-screen TV mounted on a wall of reclaimed barn wood.
Stephen Lyons, vice president of culinary operations for Matchbox Food Group, is moving around the tight kitchen space with a quick, studied efficiency. He’s preparing a selection of new dishes for a tasting, but he has more than Washington on his mind. Matchbox Food Group is about to launch a national expansion.
There’s a natural music in the kitchen—the rhythm of knives, the hum of the meat slicer, the sizzle of the grill. Some chefs keep rocking out after their shifts. These four are just as comfortable playing music as they are wielding a boning knife.
Vikram Sunderam: Chef at Rasika and Rasika West End
Instrument: Tabla, an Indian-style pair of drums.
His learning process: “If I hear something often enough, I can play it.”
Tip for tabla mastery: “You play with your hands, so you have to have skillful fingers.”
Influences: Indian tabla maestros Zakir Hussain and Alla Rakha.
Where he plays now: “I have a tabla set and a drum kit at home, so I definitely keep the neighbors up.”
What he listens to in the kitchen: Pop, rock, Bollywood tunes, Hindi music.
I haven’t eaten a sloppy Joe since I was 9 years old, when they were an easy way for my mother to make a kid-friendly meal that appealed to my carnivorous father. Everyone at the table could customize their sandwich as they pleased. A blanket of shredded sharp cheddar, a scattering of diced onions and a few bread and butter pickles was how I rolled back then. But somehow the sloppy Joe fell out of our dinnertime rotation, probably because mom was trying to cut back on red meat.
The sloppy Joe is not a dish I’ve ever ordered in a restaurant, either. Why pay for something so simple that’s usually marked up so much? Lately though, several chefs have started to put their spin on the sloppy Joe. Would their versions be tasty and heartwarming reminders of my childhood or just creative ways to gouge a guy looking for a heartwarming reminder of his childhood?
My first step down memory lane was at BLT Steak, where executive chef Victor Albisu is offering the VP ($24), also known as the Sloppy Joe Biden. This is definitely not like the one mom used to make, since Albisu uses ground Kobe beef. Everything else in his recipe is pretty much the same: tomatoes, brown sugar, vinegar and bell pepper. The sauce has a thicker consistency so it doesn’t drip off the bun, and the flavors are spot-on. I won’t make a habit of enjoying a $24 sloppy Joe, but this one is worth the splurge.
“People who work in restaurants are a little off-kilter,” says Matchbox Food Group’s executive chef Jacob Hunter. “They have to be, so they can cope with the hours, deal with customers and handle the intensity of it.” To celebrate that lunatic lifestyle, Hunter likes to treat himself to food-related tattoos every other paycheck. His left forearm already hosts a set of silverware, a ramen bowl with chopsticks, a pair of sunny side up eggs, a beet and the cuts of a pig with a knife jabbed through its head. “I’ve never killed a pig,” he admits. “And I don’t know if I could actually do it.”
Walk into a restaurant kitchen these days, and you might think that you accidentally stumbled into Q’s laboratory full of high-tech gear for James Bond. There are cutting-edge apparatuses that resemble futuristic ray guns, intricate torture devices and even high-end bongs. These culinary contraptions would have made Rube Goldberg proud, but they’ll also make you some of the most surprising dishes and drinks around.
Saturday mornings growing up had two requisite components: cartoons and Pop-Tarts. The ritual was comforting to the core; the rectangular treat’s sugary icing and jammy payload were the perfect accompaniment to Wile E. Coyote’s Acme-powered hijinks and the Road Runner’s speedy getaways. But as the years went by, this weekend tradition was lost as fancy brunches with The New York Times took over. Thankfully, Ted’s Bulletin is making its own version of Pop-Tarts, so you can relive your childhood any day of the week and at any time. Jack Revelle, a former White House pastry chef, turns out a rotating cast of flavors, such as apple butter, strawberry, brown sugar cinnamon, s’mores and Concord grape. His take on the Kellogg’s classic mimics its look, but tastes much better than the mass-produced breakfast staple. The buttery, flaky crust is the perfect edible envelope to deliver a sweet message to your stomach and heart that happy days are here again.
The D.C. area is Xanadu for milk shake lovers who want to take their sweet-toothed obsession to boozy new heights. A bevy of bars, burger joints and bistros have added spiked milk shakes to their menus. Some borrow their inspiration from classic cocktails; others stray far from tradition. No matter which path you choose, don’t forget your picture ID; these milk shakes aren’t for kids. The Express has the full story after the jump…