Cold Weather Comfort
I woke this morning to an icy nose poking at my back. “It’s cold!” my husband Jason whined, which he never, ever does (well maybe only once in a rare while). These cold mornings and dark nights that follow the clock’s fall back have sent us seeking hearty breakfasts, hot lunches and dinners warmed by good friends and better bourbon.
Monday Morning Breakfast at Ted’s on 14th
If eating weekend breakfasts at home, swaddled in bathrobes, feels like luxury, then eating breakfast out on a Monday morning is fully decadent. It’s even better seated quietly at the front counter in Ted’s Bulletin (www.tedsbulletin14thstreet.com, 1818 14th St NW) on 14th Street NW, with sun shining in the window.
Breakfast ingredients may seem pedestrian, but I can tell you from personal experience, that their preparation is anything but easy. Trying to taste a little (or a lot) of everything, I ordered the full Big Mark Breakfast. My eggs were perfectly over easy, nothing runny except for the yolks which I soaked up using hash browns, crisp and golden on one side, soft and creamy on the other.
The sausage patties are boldly spicy with red pepper flakes, sweetly balanced with fennel and rich pork. The bacon is thin and crisp but not dry.
Though conceived as a diner, Ted’s is certainly making a name with baked goods. My biscuit seemed impossibly fluffy in the middle, considering the thin, crisp crust on the outside. Slathered in butter, it was unnecessary but not uneaten next to my Pumpkin cheesecake pop tart, which joins apple pie pop tarts in the pastry case for the fall season.
Soup Up’s Good and Good-For-You Soup at Union Market
(R) Donna Henry, serves up her healthy, hearty and delicious soup at Soup Up at Union Market.
Despite my mid-western husband’s predilection for mashed potatoes, I remain convinced that a steaming bowl of hearty soup is the ultimate comfort food. A crystal clear, crisp Sunday afternoon found me and my friend Nancy standing in front of Soup Up (www.soupup.us) at Union Market (www.unionmarketdc.com, 1309 5th St NE). After tasting our way through most of the menu, I introduced myself and discovered we were speaking with owner and “Soupinista,” Donna Henry.
Prepare yourself for two challenges if you engage Donna in conversation. First, she will generously offer samples of her entire menu of 6-7 soups, made fresh each week. The more soups you sample, the larger your order and harder your decision. Second, no matter how good you think you are in the kitchen, she will challenge everything you think you know about making full-flavored, hearty soups.
Nancy and I started with a taste of Breakfast in Bed – yes, it’s a soup. Inspired by Saturday morning’s early market visitors, Donna brought together turkey bacon and sausage with sweet corn in a bright gingery broth. “Grab a cup of coffee and spread a thick slice of toast with marmalade, and you’ve got breakfast,” she said” We were convinced.
We tasted fiery, spicy Jamaican pumpkin soup and sweeter, milder, roasted butternut squash before being presented with Southern Belle, a hearty mix of tender stewed beef, black eyed peas and potatoes, complex and layered with fresh herbs. Donna’s vegetable soup may have achieved the Platonic ideal, with fresh vegetables blending flavors sweet, earthy and rich in another bright, gingery broth.
Samples tasted and orders placed, Donna told us how she creates her soups. “We have about 150 recipes. I decide what to make each week, inspired by the best looking ingredients I find from local farmers, farm markets and merchants.” Donna said. Her flavor combinations are influenced from her Jamaican upbringing and her Cuban-Jamaican parents, as well as the past 18 years living here in Washington, DC.
Oh, and that part about challenging your cooking skills? Donna doesn’t use any pork or dairy. Her soups gain their full flavor from rich spices and starchy beans without using any salt, oil or butter. None. She may have created the healthiest comfort food ever.
The menu does change every week, so no guarantee you can match our order, but there is always a soup with meat, one with poultry and at least two that are vegan. One of those will always be gluten free too.
Sweet, salty pork at The Pig
(L) The cozy dining room and warm bar are as comforting as the sweet, rich pork at The Pig. Photo by Seth Rubin Photography
There is a special comfort in knowing you can text friends at 6:00 p.m. on Sunday night and fill a table for dinner at 7:00. That’s exactly what gathered six of us together at The Pig (www.thepigdc.com, 1320 14th St. NW). Serving food that is local, seasonal and “pork centric,” The Pig “respects the whole animal” much in the way we respectfully ate through almost the entire menu.
My overall impression: their food, focused on a sweet, rich fatty meat, with sides like bacon-wrapped apples, peach mustard, truffled mac and cheese and grits, tastes remarkably light and mild. Full of flavor, the mustard doesn’t bite too strongly, the pickled green beans, cauliflower and onions taste fresh and bright, and the pork tastes of, well, mostly pork. The bacon isn’t too smoky and the barbecue shines through the vinegar. Even the mac and cheese, rich with the taste of milk and cheese, is almost airy, with breadcrumbs that taste heavily of butter, but offer a sharp, crisp crunch.
The highlights began with their new sausage board offering spicy chorizo and a beef frankfurter, almost floral with coriander. The face bacon--yes, it’s actually made from the pig’s face--was a study in texture and reserve. The crisp, crisp skin, gave way to tender meat and melting fat with just the right amount of salt and smoke.
When it comes to comfort, the meatballs, a blend of ground pork and lamb over creamy grits, capture familiar childhood flavors of canned pasta and meatballs but are, well…good--delicious in fact! The meatballs are tender and light, not dense, and the sauce is sweet with fresh tomato and the right grassy, spicy hint of oregano.
Pierogis and Borscht at Bistro Bohem
Comfort food is ultimately personal, a mix of memory and history. For me, the Polish foods of my childhood, the everyday soups and the pierogi we ate at holiday meals, hold a special and particularly comforting place. They are rustic and rough, rich and heavy, the spices tending toward savory seeds like caraway, celery and poppy, and I can find them at DC’s Bistro Bohem (www.bistrobohem.com, 600 Florida Ave. NW)
Bistro Bohem is pan central-European, delivering a uniquely Slavic flavor. The always delicious pierogi changes almost nightly, offering tender dough filled with everything from cheese and potatoes to sausage and mushrooms.
There’s always a special soup. Recently we tucked into a golden beet borscht, pairing sweet, mild, golden beets with smoky pork and chicken in a broth that tasted of caraway and rendered pork fat. It certainly wasn’t light, but it offered comforting richness without being heavy or hearty. The small dining room, cozy and warm, is an easy stop on the way home for a quick bite and a Polish beer enjoyed with my husband.
Those dinners together are my greatest comfort of all.
Jonathan Bardzik is a storyteller, demo chef and author living in walking distance of Shaw. You can find him outside at Eastern Market, each Saturday morning through Thanksgiving, cooking with local, fresh produce. Jonathan’s first cookbook, Simple Summer: A Recipe for Cooking and Entertaining with Ease, is available now (just in time for the holidays!). Find out what Jonathan is cooking at www.jonathanbardzik.comor his Facebook page “What I Haven’t Cooked Yet.”Need some foodporn? Follow @JonathanBardzik on Twitter and Instagram.