Archive for the ‘Restaurants’ Category

No restaurant food is worth waiting hours for, in my opinion. Especially hours  spent outdoors, in line, without a cocktail in hand!  But  to experience what Zagat’s calls the “best pizza in New York City,” I had to make a special exception to my rule and travel to Brooklyn, just beneath the Bridge, to the no-frills pizza joint called Grimaldi’s.

The nearly two hour wait for a table  — at 2:30 in the afternoon! — pumped up my expectations and fueled my appetite, and in the end the pizza did not disappoint.

The coal-fired brick oven produces a crisp, New York-style crust and smokey flavor. The crushed tomatoes are fresh and bright, dotted with slices of white mozzarella cheese and fresh basil leaves. Italian sausage and roasted red peppers the perfect toppings.

No fancy toppings or elaborate menu here.  Just the basic pizza pie done exceptionally well. And all for cash only.  Worth a trip back?  Probably not for me, given the lengthy wait; but I highly recommend it for the overall experience.


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Ask pretty much anyone who’s lived in the greater Washington, DC, area where to find the best blue crab and at the top of their list will likely be Jimmy Cantler’s Riverside Inn on the Chesapeake Bay in Annapolis.  I recently ventured out to this local institution as a blue crab “novice” and returned after a fantastic experience an expert in shelling and feasting on the insides of Maryland’s favorite seafood treat.  At Cantler’s, the beer is cold, the crabs are fresh and sweet — coated in savory Old Bay seasoning — and the crispy fries and fresh slaw are perfect nibbles on the side for an afternoon outdoor dinner with friends on the shores of the Bay.

The no-frills restaurant, where picnic tables are topped with paper and the food is served on paper and plastic, is tucked away at the end of a windy, dead-end road in a remote neighborhood outside Annapolis. (As one colleague told me, you almost need a GPS to find it!)  But if you don’t have a GPS just look for the parade of cars that cram the small parking lot starting mid-afternoon and pile up along the road for hours after. Don’t worry about the wait though (and you will have to wait) — grab a cold drink and head down to the docks to see where they bring the crabs ashore and take in the scenic views.

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If you’re a breakfast fan, the Market Lunch at Eastern Market on Capitol Hill is the place to be on a Saturday or Sunday morning. The food counter, on the north end of the South Hall, is a huge draw; but don’t be intimidated by the long line that snakes around the kitchen’s single long table.  It moves quickly and the pay off is well worth it: the food is fresh, cooked to order, and a real bargain.  And don’t panic that you won’t have a place to sit and enjoy your meal — there’s always space to sit at the counter since workers help facilitate the turnover.  At the top of the menu is one of the most unbelievable breakfast sandwiches I’ve ever had (!!):  “The Brick” — egg, cheese, potato and meat on a toasted portuguese roll.

Brick2The thick-cut smoked bacon is crispy and meaty, earning two thumbs up. But the ham, sausage, turkey sausage and scrapple all appeared to be equally compelling choices.  The grilled new potatoes have slightly crunchy skin and warm, pillowy insides – all topped with melted cheddar cheese. Add a fried egg in between – with a little hot sauce – and you’ve got a killer sandwich. I was very impressed with the raw ingredients here and the freshness: despite it’s name, it was not dripping in grease and didn’t deliver a punch to the gut.  If you have appetite to spare, definitely get a side order of yellow North Carolina grits and/or the “Blue Bucks” — blueberry buckwheat pancakes.

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A recent Sunday morning excursion through New York’s Meatpacking District reminded me why it’s one of the neighborhoods I love most: edgy architecture, trendy nightlife, bold people, and a fantastic brunch scene. After a walk down the city’s popular, new High Line Park — a converted old elevated railway — I stopped at Cookshop (10th Ave and 20th St.) for brunch al fresco.


The menu features seasonal and local ingredients in fare like the fresh ricotta-spinach frittata, homemade beef brisket and the semolina-raisin french toast. They have some killer pastries as well. We loved the pecan sticky bun and the coffee cream filled donut. The latter was particularly unique and delicious!


Pick up the High Line at Gansevoort and Washington Streets and walk north to 20th St and Tenth Ave, the end of the park.  There’s a coffee stand and a bunch of benches and chairs along the way. If it’s a nice day, definitely worth stopping to admire the wildflowers and urban architecture.  Once you reach the end, Cookshop is across the street on the corner. A great way to spend a Sunday morning.

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Summertime in the nation’s capitol and an excursion down Georgetown’s M street to Clyde’s (3236 M St.).  This local landmark turned regional chain is always packed for dinner which reflects the quality and value of the food. They’ve got a great concept — flavorful, simply-prepared American cuisine featuring fresh local ingredients like the jumbo lump Maryland crab cakes, Massachusetts rockfish and chili-lime hangar steak with roasted Virginia corn tomato salad.


As the chain has grown from its humble roots in the 1960s, my sense is that it’s lost a bit of it’s touch. Certainly, it has developed a bit of a “restaurant group” feel, from the decor to the menu offerings and service by the wait staff. You’ll also find a lot of tourists and families crowding in, too.  But from the handful of times I’ve dined here over the past six years, I’ve found the food to be reliable and reasonably priced for what it is. I give Clyde’s — and it’s sister restaurant and DC power-players haunt Old Ebbitt’s Grill — a thumbs up.


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I’d always walked past it — in the bowels of New York’s Grand Central Terminal — but until recently, I never actually sat down to dine at Oyster Bar, one of the city’s landmark restaurants. Beneath vintage tile vaulted-arch ceilings, you can devour an impressive selection of regional oysters, Long Island clams, fresh Atlantic fish fillets, Maine lobsters or Maryland crab. The menu is updated daily.

The fried, whole-body Ipswich clams were incredible. Lightly dusted and crispy, with homemade tartar sauce on the side. The King Salmon fillet (below) was simply prepared, pan-seared to medium rare, and served with a side of fresh veggies and potatoes. I also enjoyed the fresh, flown-in Mahi Mahi with a soy ginger glaze. No frills here and no “saucy” concoctions to mask the freshness. Just downright delicious seafood.


If you can’t make it for dinner (and for the record, entrees here aren’t cheap), stop by for lunch on your way through Grand Central. The fried shrimp, clam and/or cod baskets with fries look like they’d be perfect for a midday seafood fix. Plus, you’ll get a taste of the city’s history when you’re at the table: the restaurant opened in 1913 with the station itself and has been serving ever since.


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One of my all-time favorite restaurants is Watershed in Atlanta — owned by Emily Saliers of the Indigo Girls and run by chef Scott Peacock, a James Beard Award winner. This place has the best Southern food I’ve ever had; hands down. And one of the best dishes on the menu is the shrimp grits with toasted pullman plank. The flavorful coarse-ground grits — prepared with butter, cream, sherry, lemon juice and a dash of cayenne — are blended with with chunks of fresh shrimp for a rich treat atop a crunchy piece of toast.

I decided to take a crack at recreating the dish at home, and I have to say it turned out pretty well for not having a blender or quality stone-ground grits to work with. The dish is concocted in two parts: the grits and the shrimp paste. Then you blend the two together.

Scott Peacock & Edna Lewis’ Shrimp Paste

2 sticks of butter

1 pound of shrimp

1/2 teaspoon of salt and pepper

1/4 cup sherry

2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper

(1) Heat 6 tablespoons of butter in a skillet until it’s hot and foaming. Then add the shrimp, salt and pepper and cook over high heat for 4-7 minues.

(2) Remove shrimp with a slotted spoon to a blender (or chop on a cutting board if not blending).

(3) Add sherry, lemon juice, and cayenne pepper to the skillet and reduce over medium-high heat until syrupy.  Then add the liquid to the shrimp in the blender or food processor.

(4) As you blend the shrimp and juices, add the remaining butter in small pieces.

*Blend one cup of hot grits per 1/4 cup of shrimp paste to make the shrimp grits.  You can prepare the grits any number of ways, using cream, butter, chicken broth and/or other herbs and spices. After combining the paste with the grits, sprinkle with chives before serving.

*The shrimp paste recipe above makes 2 1/2 cups of paste — enough to feed 8-10 people when combined with grits.

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