On the Emerald Isle, you’re about as likely to spot a leprechaun as you are an Irish egg roll, but here in Washington the deep-fried cylinders stuffed with a Reuben-esque combination of corned beef, cabbage, and cheese are a common pub snack. Blame the creation on our American love of fusion food and convenience. It’s no easy task trying to consume a towering Reuben at a Jewish deli or a platter of corned beef and cabbage at a pub. And if you’ve ever worked in the restaurant industry, you know it’s ideal to use as many of the same ingredients in different dishes as possible. Thus these finger snacks packed with items from the oft-adjoining sandwich menu are popular with customers and owners alike. Plus they’re mighty tasty with a pint of Guinness—and even better still after drinking three.
Crispy Reuben Rolls at Columbia Firehouse
While many menus boasting the Irish egg roll use corned beef elsewhere, chef James Wolfe makes his own brisket specifically for the popular appetizer. The meat is then mixed with sauerkraut, Gruyère cheese, and caraway seeds (for a hint of rye bread flavoring), deep-fried, and served alongside house-made Russian dressing for dunking.
Killarney Cabbage Wraps at Galway Bay Irish Pub
Guy Fieri coined the term “Irish sushi” for this Annapolis pub’s riff on the Irish egg roll during his stop there on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Instead of deep-fried rolls you’ll find a mix of mashed potato, cabbage, and corned beef wrapped tightly in steamed green cabbage leaves, served with a warm whole-grain mustard sauce. Still craving fried food? Beer-battered bits of the same meat come in “popper” form.
Gas stations might be okay for a bag of M&M’s or a caffeine jolt, but the food is usually best left untouched. We’ve found an exception: Taco Bar, a tiny Mexican-food counter behind the racks of Bud Light inside a Washingtonian (no relation) station. Given its compact size—eight seats inside and 22 more outside—the joint has a long menu and pays surprising attention to detail.
Tortilla chips get fried to order and are a great match for the excellent cilantro-laced guacamole, a mix of smooth and chunky textures. Overstuffed tacos come in six varieties. We like the chicken best, the shredded meat full of smoky and spicy flavor; the ground chorizo is also worthwhile. A fixings bar with freshly chopped red onion, cilantro, and lime lets you customize your meal, and heat seekers can add jalapeños, hot sauce, and four salsas.
There’s a reason so many Chinese immigrants endure long waits to get into the cramped quarters of Joe’s Noodle House (1488-C Rockville Pike, Rockville; 301-881-5518). It’s because eating at this Rockville hole in the wall is like a trip to a Chengdu snack shop—from the brush painting of Emei Shan on the wall to the menu of Szechuan classics, including one glorious street-food staple, dan dan mian, pasta with hot meat sauce.
The man pointed to our corner table, deposited two menus, and marched back to the bar. We were a party of three. I waved him over. Could we get another menu?
“That’s all we have,” he said and retreated to the bar.
We were the only people in the dining room of the Portuguese Club (12210 Veirs Mill Rd., Silver Spring; 301-949-5605), a cavernous, dimly lit space sandwiched between Latin markets in a strip mall that once housed an X-rated movie theater. My friends wanted to leave.
“Let’s give it a chance,” I insisted. Now they were feeling hostile toward me, too.
Think “food cart” and you think hot dogs, kebabs, pretzels—not pizza. And surely not classic Neapolitan-style pizza.
Ordering a Margherita, the three-ingredient Naples pizza, at Pupatella, the lipstick-red food cart near the Ballston Metro at Ninth and Stuart streets, I imagined I’d be served a simply sauced and topped pie on a premade crust. I was stunned to see co-owner Anastasiya Laufenberg lay a thin, hand-rolled piece of dough on a wooden paddle, then slide it into a tiny, propane-fired oven. The oven bakes the pizzas at 650 degrees—just like the best boutique spots.
The crust emerges cracker-crisp and nicely blistered, a good canvas for the San Marzano tomato sauce and first-rate toppings Laufenberg lovingly applies—creamy buffalo mozzarella, sharp prosciutto, and freshly torn basil, among others.
I suppose it’s not saying much to claim it’s the best pizza I’ve eaten on the street—it’s the only pizza I’ve eaten on the street. But I’d put Pupatella up against most of the pizzerias in the area. The pies are that good.
And they’re not all that’s good. There are also deep-fried rice balls filled with peas and veggie crumble; a sandwich of sausage and grilled onions that rivals anything you’d find in South Philly; and a fried-to-order doughnut for $2 that tastes like funnel cake and is stuffed with a variety of fillings including a luxurious dulce de leche.
Flowers Bakery Café (14300 Layhill Rd., Silver Spring; 301-438-6087) doesn’t make things easy for the first-timer. It’s nestled in the corner of a Silver Spring strip mall and completely obscured by a gas station.
But the homey, European-style shop does a brisk business, turning out dependable versions of classic cakes, pastries, and cookies. One sweet worth trying: the marble mousse cake. Under its dramatic feather-boa shavings of white and dark chocolate are layers of chocolate and yellow cake alternated with silky dark- and white-chocolate mousses.
Also notable is the Italian rum cake, which isn’t as boozy as the name suggests. It’s also not very cakey, looking more like a napoleon and tasting more like crème brûlée.
Not everything’s a winner: The rugalach can be doughy and skimpy on filling, and the Kahlúa cheesecake, which lacks any hint of alcohol or coffee flavors, is reminiscent of a grown-up Devil Dog.
Still, this is a corner bakery that anyone would be happy to have on the corner.
Honey, they’ve supersized the tea sandwiches at Lord & Taylor in Chevy Chase. Used to be you’d get a triangle each of egg, tuna, and chicken salad plus a gooey wedge of date nut bread with cream cheese, roughly adding up to a whole sandwich. Now that New York chef Larry Forgione has taken over the restaurants now know as the Lord & Taylor Signature Cafes, the sandwiches have doubled in size. So knock off the whole plate — easy to do since they’re delicious in a retro sort of way — and you’ve scarfed down two sandwiches. And though the price has gone up a couple of dollars, happily the '50s-style, Junior League-ish fillers haven’t been messed around with — i.e. no capers in the tuna or curry in the chicken salad.
The tea sandwiches have been a staple at L&T since I was a child and the restaurant was known as the Bird Cage. Then the triangles were served alongside tall elegant glasses of rainbow-colored sherbet or a very grown up salad bowl heaped with chicory (avant garde for the iceberg-obsessed '60s), moundlets of shredded carrots and beets, and slivered radishes
These days the tea sandwiches show up with a bowl of cut up melon (unless you request a green salad), a dab of Waldorf salad, and a swirl of tart frozen yogurt that tastes like a leaner version of the yogurt gelato you find in Italy. And though I have to admit I liked things the old way, one plus of the new supersized version is that it’s much easier to share.
Lord & Taylor Signature Cafe, 5255 Western Ave., NW; 202-362-9600
“Got any chit-ter-lings?” I asked one afternoon not long ago, for some reason stressing each syllable of that soul-food classic.
A tired-eyed woman, who’d been working since the breakfast shift started at 7 AM, shot me a baffled look. “You mean chitlins, chil’? Those are a winter food. Don’t got those right now.”
Everyone complains about the sub-par food at Nationals games, and after several soggy sandwiches and dry chicken tenders, I can’t say I blame them. But I have found one diamond in the rough: the potato knishes sold at Kosher Sports, just outside section 321 on the ground level.
At $4.50 a piece, they’re overpriced (like everything else in the ballpark). But you get a generous, burger-sized pastry, with a nice crispy-chewy crust and plenty of mashed potato filling. A testament to their authenticity? My dad’s a native New Yorker, and he knows a good knish. He’s abandoned the Yankees and Mets and is a big Nats fan, but I think he looks forward to these knishes about as much as watching the games.
RFK Stadium, 2400 E. Capitol St., SE.
Memorial Day is the classic harbinger of grilling season. Propane and sacks of charcoal fly out of grocery stores nationwide. But what to grill? Back in October, we profiled Mike Smollen of My Butcher and More, the old-school butcher shop (complete with blood-flecked smocks and a mother-in-law behind the counter) hiding in a strip mall off Defense Highway in Gambrills. We just spoke to Smollen, and though he's already got people lined up out the door, he spared us a few seconds to tell us what's in store for the holiday weekend.
Smollen promises that he's prepared for the onslaught (pun intended) of customers. His prime rib, Kobe, flatirons and choice Angus steaks are well-stocked and waiting in the back. He notes that strip steaks and dry-aged Roseda Black Angus have been flying out of glass cases. So too the prime steak burgers, which he just began selling a few weeks back. For those, Smollen takes the trimmings of USDA prime rib-eyes and grinds the meat himself. With such good marbling, the meat doesn't need seasoning. This weekend only, he's selling them for a bargain--$4.99 a pound. "They definitely won't be that cheap next week.," he says.