There are cupcakes galore at Bakeshop. I just ate a surprisingly good “Nerds” cupcake (Nerds are those little tangy candies); and the red velvet with cream cheese frosting is my favorite. But what’s elusive is the Friday night Brookie cookie. A Brookie is a brownie that’s a cookie…the chocolatey inside is meltingly soft, the outside a paper thin crust.
On our way home from dinner at nearby Green Pig Bistro or Screwtop wine bar, J and I have made a habit of stopping by Bakeshop for a Brookie. And lately, the day’s stock hasn’t lasted until closing time on a Friday. So when I dropped by on a Saturday afternoon, I had to snag two – because they were there. Which explains why, after work, on February 14, I found myself in a cramped Valentine’s Day baked goods line, backed up against the front door, all for just one Brookie cookie to gift for J.
We went south to head north; to stop by a few wineries on a rainy Sunday, on our way back to the Washington, DC, area. J and I had been hiking in Shenandoah National Park and “camping” in a tiny house trailer at getaway. After a morning stop for cappuccino at the Mudhouse in Crozet, we turned left at the winery sign – hanging off a piece of construction equipment at the side of the road – and pulled in to Gabriele Rausse (just outside of Charlottesville, Virginia). Gabriele Rausse is the namesake winery of Gabriele Rausse who moved from Italy to Virginia in the late 1970s to help start Barboursville Vineyards.
The modern glass and wood framed tasting room was tucked into the trees at the end of a short gravel lane – windows facing out on at least two sides of the small open space. At mid-day, a couple was sitting in the back booth and several were standing at the tasting bar. The Beatles were playing; a wilted hardcover book about Italy’s big Barolo wines on the shelf. The winery’s lumberingly sweet yellow lab mix greeted everyone and then plopped down to rest against the window.
Gabriele Rausse’s son was pouring the wine, family was around, and fresh pasta was being rolled through a pasta maker. We tasted whites to reds accompanied by small bites of speck with arugula, soft and crunchy sourdough baguettes with pungent olive oil for dipping, fresh linguine with pesto, and a bite of warm baklava at the end.
I don’t do it often enough, but it’s not hard to get out of the city in the Washington, DC, area. Farmland, horse country, the Blue Ridge Mountains, are only an hour or so away. Take Stanardsville, Virginia, just outside Shenandoah National Park. It took me and J about the two hours advertised by getaway, to drive there late Friday afternoon for some Saturday hiking. Getaway is a revamped campground (once, Heavenly Acres Campground) dotted with carefully placed tiny house trailers – all wood-sided and painted black. Ours came with a New York license plate. Each trailer is named for a grandparent of staff or guests (says the web site) the name engraved onto a metal plate by the front door. Discreet black and white signs lead you into the wooded grounds. Our tiny house trailer, Carroll, was light and spare and punctuated by a glossy red under-counter refrigerator and a black-and-red checked blanket.
Two people and a small dog take up the entire floor space. And don’t plan on cooking meals with a lot of ingredients or steps – there’s a two-burner electric cook top and counter space is a scarcity. Which doesn’t mean we didn’t eat well.
J and I started our day waking up to a forest staring back at us through the picture window wall that was the back of our trailer. We ended it in Adirondack chairs in front of our own fire pit – eating sautéed shishito peppers and re-heated smoked sirloin tip with the other night’s potato salad on the side. Later we (truthfully, just I) gorged on s’mores complete with marshmallows toasted over the fire pit on twigs stripped clean and to sharp points by J. Sitting by our flickering fire, the night otherwise dark, you could hear people laughing a few camp sites away. When walking the dog, we passed cars tucked into alcoves next to their own tiny house trailers and saw the occasional dog and person. But our campsite, encircled by trees, was definitely our own.
Arlington’s own urban beach bar is just a couple of blocks from the Clarendon Metrorail station. Yes, I said Urban Beach Bar. The outdoor bar (and patio triangle) at Northside Social occupies a former trolley depot, smack in the middle of a tough intersection of now traffic-heavy boulevards. I had been frequenting Northside for their morning lattés and great baked goods (blueberry muffins come to mind) and dense, flavorful bread (especially on a spinach, egg, and cheese breakfast sandwich).
But when I’m sitting mid-day at the outdoor bar with my BLT and sparkling water, a light breeze – always – whether sunny or cloudy, watching the bartenders pour glass after glass (after glass) of pastel pink rosé from bottles in galvanized tubs and wheat-yellow beers from the outdoor tap, Steven Tyler rasping overhead, “Don’t want to close my eyes, I don’t want to fall asleep, ‘cause I’d miss you babe and I don’t want to miss a thing,” I feel like I’m happily hanging out at a beachside bar, the ocean just a few steps away.
When I’m looking for hope, it’s really no further than my local farmers market. My ritual Saturday morning excursion to a vibrant Arlington Farmers Market replenishes my creativity and optimism. My mind starts churning delicious possibilities not only for ripe heirloom tomatoes and dark green poblano peppers but added enthusiasm for the start of the weekend and what it holds.
The walk up starts with a detour to Java Shack for the requisite morning latte, and ends with a #3 veggie, egg, and cheese burrito from El Piquin’s tent at the Market. Made right in front of you, it’s not only hot, but tastes exceptionally of fresh spinach, mushrooms, and peppers, flavors only enhanced by the spicy red and mild green salsas (on the side). If you’re tempted by grilled cheese in the morning (and, I am), a greens and tomato “breakfast sammy” when on the grill at Cowbell Kitchen (tent next door) is a favorite especially if there’s homemade catsup.
The Market explodes color in all directions. And I’m made fully aware of seasons, what’s grown from Pennsylvania to Virginia, and when it ripens. Red strawberries arrive in June, for a short month, before the really good blueberries show up in July. I grab white ‘n green or purple ‘n green spring onions every week in, well, Spring before they get too small or too large for grilling in Summer. Don’t expect shiny green shishito peppers until August, but all types of red, yellow, purple, orange, and striped tomatoes start crowding the tables in late July. Along with pale yellow sweet corn and tomatillos for salsa. And even when Summer fades, I know Fall blows in with brussels sprouts and their purple-tinged leafy cousin, the kalette.
There’s always a veggie to look forward to transforming into a great meal. The Market’s always alive with fellow Arlingtonians and a few of their dogs (yep). And hope and optimism are renewed.
We’d had five straight days of unrelenting drenching rain. I’d just spent a late, sad Thursday night at the Capital One Arena witnessing the Washington Capitals hockey team lose Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals (but which they went on to win in Game 7 to play for the Stanley Cup!). It was Friday evening and I was looking for happy. Could that be found at a restaurant in a non-descript suburban office building in Arlington, Virginia? Why, yes it can. SER was that place. And mostly because of the owner’s graciousness and attention and our server’s congeniality, a comfort I appreciated even more on that sorry wind-whipped soggy night.
A Spanish restaurant (not a tapas bar as SER’s amiable owner Javier Candon impressed upon us), SER transformed a ground floor of open concrete space into Spain’s warmth with splashes of blues and yellows – in the covered bar stools and banquettes and centerpieces of small cans of olive oil – and lively tables of local diners, like ours, enjoying the catch of the day, a rich ventresca del atun (tuna belly) that dissolves in your mouth. Not as if we needed more than the ventresca, but we couldn’t pass up velvety Revuelto (mushrooms, egg, and shaved duck foie), and the appropriately garlicky shrimp that is Gambas al ajillo (with soft, crusty bread to ensure the cayenne tinged olive oil didn’t go to waste).
Then there was the Priorat (more about that under Get this wine.) SER felt like a neighborhood restaurant with an owner dedicated to creating as much as possible in Arlington a true taste and feel of Spain. “Ser” translates as “be” in Spanish, and “to be” in Catalan and Portuguese. “Being” in the moment, enjoying a meal with J and a friend and surrounded by people doing the same, no matter the long week or the off-putting weather – that’s what I happily got at SER.
You’ll thank the monks who first tilled the soil in Catalonia, creating Priorat (only one of two wine regions classified as a Denominaciao d’Origen Qualificada (DOQ) in Spain for consistent quality). I’ll raise a toast to Javier Candon of SER in Arlington, Virginia, for introducing me to the 2011 Cal Batlett D’Iatra Gratallops Priorat. Three Christmases ago J and I had capped a full day of family visits with a quiet dinner at the bar at SER. Even if I can’t remember the name of the wine, I remember how much I enjoyed that glass of Priorat with J on that Christmas night in the colorful surroundings of SER. Just as Javier described it, the D’Iatra Priorat on a subsequent rainy night was bold in flavor but nicely rounded at the finish at seven years old. Go get this wine and enjoy it this year.
Looking out the window I can see that the snow is tapering off, draping softly over the layers of branches that make up the evergreens. The scene has me thinking about favorite snow day – and just really cold day – haunts over the past years in Arlington. When we can’t stand being inside any longer, J and I bundle up in parkas and boots (strapping on yak traks when icy streets and sidewalks challenge our balance!), trudge up to some of our favorite local restaurants and park it at the bar we get to first that’ll take us.
I’m a fan of Screwtop Wine Bar. It’s small, which I like. (But many times, for me and J, that means waiting around, albeit with a glass of wine, for a seat at the bar or a table.) It’s a wine bar that doesn’t take itself seriously – starting with the name. Then with the menu. Pick a glass from “Everything happens for a Reisling,” or “My Pinot is bigger than yours,” or start off with a selection from “My mind is a blanc” and fill up from there. Apart from smiling just reading the wine list, the fun of Screwtop is picking out one (or more, no one’s judging here) of the close to 50 rotating wines by the glass or sip (and more by the bottle) and monthly changing wine flights.
The kitchen produces more than cheese and charcuterie plates to go along with your glass of wine. The meat and cheese-centric menu extends to main course sandwiches. The appropriately caveated “gut busting” Buffaloaf and the Hot Cuban stand out (with The Whole Enchilada! not falling far behind). I’m only slightly embarrassed to say that J and I have tunneled through a piled-up plate of Fiesta Nachos with pulled pork, claiming it as our main course. We went there, yes, even after ordering one of our favorites from the “Sharing & Pairing” selections, the cheese-less but pork-full zingy Pot Belly Pig Lettuce Wraps. There’s a list of salads on the menu, and to make ourselves feel better, we’ll order the leafy green side salad to go along with our tangy Buffalo Sliders topped with chipotle aioli.
The Green Pig Bistro has a larger space than Screwtop, its neighbor of a few doors down. J and I almost always find seats at the bar or communal bar table within minutes (with minimal stalking). This makes “The Pig” extremely attractive on a Friday night when we don’t have the energy to cook and we’re starving before leaving the house. The Pig, for me, is that quintessential neighborhood hang-out. It’s comforting, its lively, it serves good food and wine. Everyone knows your name – or at least your face if you eat there as often as we do. Around Christmas they decorate by pulling out a leg lamp from that classic Christmas movie, A Christmas Story. If you get there before 7 pm, there are happy hour glasses of red and white wines (and beers on tap). They can humor me with a good ‘80s-ish playlist on occasion and show the Nationals (baseball) and Capitals (hockey) on relatively unobtrusive screens.
“The usual” for me in food is the hanger steak. It was the burger until The Pig nixed the arugula salad from the burger/ fries/salad plate. The hanger steak comes with both, so I can feel better about eating all of the fries. The hanger also comes with a chimichurri sauce, which has varied in chunkiness and flavor over many years of Friday night hangar steak. The fish changes regularly and rarely disappoints in preparation. They’ve had a pork chop that does not remind me of my mother’s (sorry Mom!) because it’s thick and juicy and not thin and dry. From chop, to shank, to schnitzel, the pork on the menu has always been good. Pig tostada, albacore tuna, and the beet salad round out my go-tos for appetizers. The brussels sprouts side satisfies us brussels lovers. “The usual” in wine changes, occasionally, when the wines by the glass change. The 7 Moons Blend is bold and flavorful at a good price point. But the stand out for me is the Virginia Claret from just down the interstate in Williamsburg, Virginia, also bold, but hinting at a spiciness that is my taste of choice. May it be on the wine list a little while longer.