You have a family to feed,or you have people comingfor dinner. What you don't have is time. ** Here are our favorite quick meals--easily picked up at the store or a carryout.
Barbecue ribs. You'll find some of the best in town at Rocklands Barbecue and Grilling Co. (2418 Wisconsin Ave., NW, 202-333-2558; 4000 N. Fairfax Dr., Arlington, 703-528-9663; 25 S. Quaker La., Alexandria, 703-778-9663). Call in advance, and Rocklands will have them packaged up for you. Complete the meal with its great sides--potato salad, corn pudding, and spicy jalapeño cornbread.
Beef brisket. Capital Q (707 H St., NW; 202-347-8396) makes long-cooked, Texas-style beef brisket. The tiny Chinatown restaurant is not open late, so you need to pick up the brisket and any sides--black-eyed-pea salad, collard greens, or black beans--before it closes at 7.
Charcuterie. Ibrahim "Ebo" Selmy, owner of Cornucopia in Bethesda (8102 Norfolk Ave.; 301-652-1625) carries more than 70 meats and cheeses. He can help you put together an antipasto platter of meats like bresaola, fennel salami, and a prosciutto di Parma that's aged for 500 days, plus cheeses like straccino, a soft-ripening Italian cheese that goes well with Champagne, olives, and bread. Dean & DeLuca (3276 M St., Georgetown; 202-342-2500) is another top spot for charcuterie.
Cheeses. A loaf of bread, a bottle of wine, and a few good cheeses--a perfect light supper. The best cheese shops in town are Dean & DeLuca, which has a large--and pricey--selection of cheeses in perfect condition; Whole Foods, where the prices are considerably less; newcomer Wegmans (45131 Columbia Pl., Sterling; 703-421-2400), which stocks 400 varieties; and Cornucopia in Bethesda, for unusual finds like raw milk Taleggio and ricotta baked with lemon.
Chicken in a pot. Even when you're well, few things are more comforting than this old standby. The chicken is stewed fork-tender, the matzo balls flavorful, and the golden broth--aka Jewish penicillin--an elixir. Get it at Krupin's in Tenleytown (4620 Wisconsin Ave.; 202-686-1989), Chutzpah in Fairfax (12214 Fairfax Towne Center; 703-385-8883), and, when it's a special of the day, at Parkway Deli in Silver Spring (Rock Creek Shopping Center, 8317 Grubb Rd.; 301-587-1427).
Crabcakes. Premade crabcakes vary wildly in quality. We tasted those from local supermarkets and specialty stores and found the winner at River Falls Seafood Co. in Potomac (10124 River Rd.; 301-765-8001). Its prebroiled Cadillac crabcake ($9.95) lives up to its name--the large cake is made up of big chunks of lump crabmeat and has little filler. The uncooked crabcake from Cannon's Seafood (1065 31st St., Georgetown, 202-337-3710; 762-A Walker Rd., Great Falls, 703-759-4950) is more traditional, with lots of backfin meat. It reminded us of a crabcake at a very good beach bar. Other good sources for crabcakes to cook at home: Bethesda Crabhouse (4958 Bethesda Ave., 301-652-3382) and Jerry's Seafood (9364 Lanham-Severn Rd., Seabrook, 301-577-0333).
Duck-leg confit. D'Artagnan duck confit, vacuum-packed and ready to be crisped in the broiler or sauté pan, makes a robust cool-weather dinner with sautéed potatoes or a salad. You can find the confit at Wegmans in Sterling, Dean & DeLuca in Georgetown, Sutton Place Gourmet/Balducci's, and Whole Foods.
German fest. Sausages, sauerkraut, vinegary potato salad, and brown bread with butter make the quintessential German supper, and it's a cinch to put together at the German Gourmet in Falls Church (7185 Lee Hwy.; 703-534-1908). We like the spicy Bauern sausage with mustard seeds, and the mild veal and pork weisswurst, seared for a minute in a sauté pan. Try to have some serious mustard on hand--like the sweet Bavarian.
Ham. Baked ham from Heavenly Ham or Honeybaked Ham (stores in Maryland and Virginia) is versatile and homey. A small ham, around seven pounds including the bone, will feed a family of four for a couple of days--including lunch sandwiches. Not into leftovers? Both also offer smaller packages of thick-sliced ham.
Indian feast. Bustling Delhi Dhaba (7236 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda, 301-718-0008; 2424 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, 703-524-0008; 4455 Connecticut Ave., NW, 202-537-1008) does great takeout, and the dishes are meant to be served family-style. Crunchy aloo papri (cold salad of potatoes, chickpeas, and fried crisps) and vegetable samosas make good beginnings. Creamy Butter Chicken is a favorite, and exotic choices like goat curry and tandoori lamb chops are worth a try.
Lasagna. One of the better premade lasagnas we've tried is the Kirkland brand from Costco. It comes in meat and meatless versions, and one $10 lasagna feeds about a dozen. Also good: the spicy vegetarian lasagna and unconventional meat lasagna--studded with hard-boiled eggs--from the freezer case at Marcella's in Chevy Chase (8540 Connecticut Ave.; 301-951-1818); ready-to-heat meat lasagnas from La Piazza in Alexandria (535 E. Braddock Rd., 703-519-7711; call in advance); and meat lasagna from Vace (4705 Miller Ave., Bethesda, 301-654-6367; 3315 Connecticut Ave., NW, 202-363-1999).
Lobster. Lobster makes for a luxe dinner any time. Fish markets like Cannon's Seafood and River Falls Seafood Company and stores like Whole Foods and Sutton Place/Balducci's will steam the crustaceans for you. All you need is a bottle of Pouilly Fuissé and lemon butter for dipping.
Middle Eastern mezze. A sampling of mezze from Mediterranean Bakery in Alexandria (352 S. Pickett St.; 703-751-1702) or Lebanese Taverna Market in Arlington (4400 Old Dominion Dr.; 703-276-8681) is an easy meal for company. Start with creamy hummus, baba ghanoush, and lebneh (seasoned yogurt), then round things out with stuffed grape leaves, olives, and cheeses like Bulgarian feta and kasseri. We especially like the made-to-order spinach pita pizza at Mediterranean Bakery and the kebab skewers that you can get cooked or ready to cook from Lebanese Taverna. Serve with Gantous arak, the Lebanese version of ouzo, for an authentic meal.
Moussaka. A couple of orders of this pileup of eggplant, ground beef, and béchameled potatoes from Greek Deli & Catering in downtown DC (1120 19th St., NW; 202-296-2111) makes a substantial repast, and that's not even counting the sides that are part of the deal like green beans or favas bathed in olive oil and tomato sauce or a heap of spinach-flecked orzo. Keep in mind that the deli closes at 4 PM.
Pasta. When you're craving a big bowl of pasta, head for the freezer case at Vace (in Bethesda and DC), stacked with bags of homemade noodles and pints of sauces. Cheese ravioli and tortellini make great foundations for the hearty red meat sauce, which would make even a Brooklyn grandmother smile. Also worth trying are the pumpkin agnolotti, lovely when served with melted butter and a dusting of Reggiano.
Peruvian chicken. El Pollo Rico (2541 Ennalls Ave., Wheaton, 301-942-4419; 932 N. Kenmore St., Arlington, 703-522-3220) is the answer when you're after a bird of a different stripe. These chickens are tender inside, crispy and burnished outside. The secret's in the marinade--and the mayo-yellow mustard sauce. Skip the sides and add your own.
Pot pies. Sweet sausages, bell peppers, eggplant, and thinly sliced potatoes make the sausage-and-pepper pot pie from Pie Gourmet in Vienna (507 Maple Ave. W; 703-281-7437) a winner. Mexican pot pie with bean chili, green onions, olives, sour cream, and a crushed-tortilla-chip crust is crunchy bliss. A salad with a sharp vinaigrette is all you need to make these a meal. Order by phone or online (piegourmet.com) and have pies delivered to your door that day or the next.
Individual chicken pot pies from Dean & DeLuca in Georgetown, with egg-shiny crusts, make a good no-dishes-to-wash meal.
Quiche. With a green salad, quiche makes a simple, comforting dinner. Sutton Place/Balducci's prepackaged Hay Day quiches ($5.99 for a six-inch pie), in flavors like broccoli-and-cheddar and Lorraine, are dense and rich with cheese. In Georgetown, Baked & Wired (1052 Thomas Jefferson St., NW; 202-333-2500) bakes quiches to order ($28 for a nine-incher) up to one day in advance. The Greek variety--laced with spinach, feta, and tomatoes--is especially tasty. Pie Gourmet, in Vienna, makes eggy versions like zucchini-and-mushroom ($20.95 for a ten-inch pie).
Salad supper. Throw together a salad of the season's best offerings at a farmers market. Markets are held in Georgetown (3219 O St.), Bethesda (7155 Wisconsin Ave.), and Arlington (next to Courthouse Metro) on Saturday mornings; DC's Dupont Circle (20th and Q sts.) holds its farmers market on Sunday mornings.
Sausages. Most markets, especially upscale ones such as Whole Foods and Sutton Place/Balducci's, have a dozen or more kinds of house-made sausages. Cook them on the grill and put them on a bun for a great sandwich, or add them to tomato sauce for a tasty pasta topping. Our favorites include the Italian links from A. Litteri (517-19 Morse Ave., NE; 202-544-0183) and weisswurst from German Gourmet in Falls Church. San Francisco chef Bruce Aidells's wonderful Aidells sausages are available frozen at Giant. We like the artichoke-and-garlic and chicken-apple.
Seafood supper. The cold seafood platter ($24) at Crisfield Seafood in Silver Spring (8012 Georgia Ave.; 301-589-1306) is heaped with enough chilled lobster, blue crab, and shrimp for two. The seafood and its side of coleslaw travels well, though the French fries that come with it can turn soggy on the way home.
Shrimp. Keep frozen shrimp on hand to toss with pasta or into a casserole. The secret's in the thawing (in a colander under cold running water), and draining properly. We like to flash-sauté defrosted shrimp for five seconds before using to seal in the flavor. Our favorite shrimp sources: the scoop-your-own freezer case at Whole Foods and Trader Joe's house brand.
Smoked salmon. Try keeping a package of smoked salmon on hand for a quick meal. It can be eaten on a bagel with cream cheese, made into a sandwich, or chopped up and put into an omelet. Perona Farms salmon, available at Marvelous Market, is expensive but first-rate. For value, it's hard to beat Costco's Kirkland brand.
Soy-sauce chicken. Steeped in thick sweet soy sauce, this flavorful chicken from Oriental Market in Rockville (891-F Rockville Pike; 301-340-8018) is the kind of dish you can't get enough of. Get extra containers of sauce, and serve it with sautéed or steamed greens like Chinese spinach or watercress. Another good source for soy-sauce chicken--not to mention roast pork and duck carved to order--is Eden Supermarket in Falls Church (6763 Wilson Blvd.; 703-532-4950).
Sushi. Fast and healthy, sushi and maki (sushi rolls) make a perfect summer dinner. Top restaurants like Sushi-Ko (2309 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-333-4187) and Kaz Sushi Bistro (1915 I St., NW; 202-530-5500) do carryout. Dean & DeLuca and Wegmans each have an in-house sushi chef preparing prepackaged sushi throughout the day.
For quality and variety, Dean & DeLuca and Wegmans have the best takeout food in the area. Here are other places you might keep in mind when pressed for time.
Bread Line. Mark Furstenberg's delicious bakery and lunch spot, Bread Line (1751 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; 202-822-0622), makes the best breads in town, and if you call in the morning, staff will tell you what else is on the menu that day. Recent offerings included a cold-roasted tomatillo soup; empanadas and knishes; quesadillas filled with black beans, cheese, and avocado; chicken salad; and cheeses from McLeod Farm Creamery near Marshall, Virginia.
Bread Line also sells par-baked pizza crusts to top with its pesto and roasted vegetables and finish in the oven, with a sprinkling of Parmesan. Furstenberg urges customers to do "just a little cooking"--browning the quesadillas, for example--because some things are better hot. He includes directions for reheating or finishing each item.
EatZi's. Some old favorites like coconut-crusted chicken fingers are gone, but newer arrivals at EatZi's in Rockville (11503-B Rockville Pike; 301-816-2020), like pork tenderloin with a zingy peach-bourbon glaze, have won us over. The pork is a bit undercooked so it will reheat nicely in the microwave or oven. Other worthy standbys: King Ranch Chicken--a chicken/hot-pepper/cheese casserole; yellow-squash-and-cheese bake; and the gourmet salad bar with add-ons like shrimp and salmon.
Tony's Kitchen. L'Academie de Cuisine alum Tony Trombly's online carryout, Tony's Kitchen (tonyskitchen.com; 703-351-0083), offers lots of options for the time-starved, with a weekly changing menu full of kid-friendly choices, both fresh and frozen. Recent dishes included a low-carb salade niçoise, Afghan barbecue chicken, and Cajun jambalaya. There's no restaurant--it's just Tony's kitchen--so after ordering through the Web site, you either pick up food at Pica Deli (3471 N. Washington Blvd., Arlington) or have it delivered ($2 charge in Arlington, $3 in other areas). Same-day orders are taken until 4 PM.