Got Innovation? (Part 1)
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Find out who is pushing boundaries when it comes to dining in our two-part series celebrating the 20 most innovative restaurants, chefs, products and programs in the DC area.
Founding Farmers has been crushing it at making high-volume, craft cocktails for years, but its latest beverage launch is particularly innovative and it doesn’t involve booze (yet!). Beverage Director Jon Arroyo debuted “Farm Health” a cold-pressed juice line currently available at the new Founding Farmers Tysons location. “I thought, we’re really good at being bad, what if we were to take our contributions to the beverage world and provide some good,” he tells us. The six juices are available all day, or you can call ahead and pick up a one-, two- or three-day cleanse. “I couldn’t believe the response; we sold 88 of them in our first four days—I have to hire another juice guy to keep up,” Jon says.
Bayou Bakery, Coffee Bar & Eatery
Sometimes being innovative means returning to the past. Chef David Guas uses cornmeal and grits from the Gristmill at George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate in many of his recipes at Bayou Bakery, Coffee Bar & Eatery. The mill was erected in 1771! The unique partnership between David and Master Miller Steve Bashore was forged after David participated in a hoecake competition with other chefs on the estate in honor of George Washington’s birthday. “The only difficult part was sorting out the logistics of getting the products to the bakery, so I said I’ll drive there and get it,” David tells us. Taste a little history when you bite into the lemon cornmeal cookies, lemon chess pie and the cornbread. Bayou Bakery also sells two-pound retail bags of cornmeal.
Arcadia Farm's Mobile Markets
Arcadia Farm's mission to get high-quality, fresh food onto more plates betters the DC area food system. It does this through its Mobile Markets, which make 20 to 22 weekly stops in predominantly underserved neighborhoods. Think of it as a roving farm stand that accepts several forms of food assistance such as SNAP/EBT. The Mobile Markets also feature cooking demos so those buying produce have a game plan once they’re in the kitchen. Arcadia Farm is located just outside DC on the Woodlawn Estate, and Michael Babin of Neighborhood Restaurant Group founded it. His family of restaurants also utilizes produce from the farm.
Female winemakers produce 40% of the wines on Boss Shepherd’s wine list. Daniel Mahdavian, the restaurant’s managing partner and sommelier, says women have a better nose and generally exude more passion and finesse. At first it was a coincidence—Daniel would taste wines with the same “DNA,” meaning the same varietal from the same appellation and would blindly select the “more feminine” wine as superior. Now, he seeks them out. “I ask distributors to bring me wines from female winemakers—they just know how to make wine better,” he says. Two of his favorites include 2013 Domaine Henry Natter Sancerre, Loire, France, available by the glass and 2012 Penner Ash Pinot Noir Willamette, OR, available by the bottle. We snapped Daniel using his Riedel "Dragon" decanter on the Penner Ash.
Hot dogs get, well, dogged on for being unhealthy. That's why Swizzler Foods stands out. The food truck new to the DC mobile scene serves grass-fed hot dogs on pretzel buns and tops them with local, high-quality ingredients like diced Virginia apples. Dubbed “swizzlers” because of their swizzle-stick shape, these franks are adorned in ways that blow traditional hot dog stands out of the (boiled) water. A favorite is the Leonardo Dog Vinci with homemade pesto, fresh mozzarella, sliced cherry tomatoes, arugula and balsamic glaze. The business is run by three college friends: Jesse Konig, Ben Johnson and Jack Zimmermann, whom we snapped in the truck. They came up with the concept in a class competition while enrolled at Wake Forest University.
Prison to Kitchen
A unique cleaning crew is keeping area restaurants, commercial kitchens and distilleries in mint condition. They’re “returning citizens,” meaning individuals re-entering society after time in prison. The for-profit company hiring them, Clean Decisions, was founded by Graham McLaughlin (center) and Will Avila (right) in October 2014. Some of their recent clients have included The Argonaut, One Eight Distilling, Union Kitchen and a few food trucks. The returning citizens are able to acquire work experience, demonstrating how the restaurant industry can be the perfect place for second chances. Clean Decisions often seeks clients that align with their mission, like Food for Life, a nonprofit program teaching 18- to 24-year-olds kitchen skills out of a commercial kitchen housed in a church.
Union Kitchen has made countless contributions to the DC community by nurturing food-related small businesses. Inside the 7,300 SF warehouse in Northeast DC you’ll find a web of commercial kitchens being used by local artisans filled with hope. Union Kitchen co-founder Cullen Gilchrist uses numbers to demonstrate its impact: “Union Kitchen and its members have created more than 400 jobs, more than 100 businesses and put $10M in cash into the DC food economy,” he tells us. They also have more than 10 “graduates” of Union Kitchen who found success and left to launch their own brick-and-mortar locations, including RareSweets and TaKorean. We snapped Faith Alice Sleeper, who runs her boozy cupcake business, Crunkcakes, out of Union Kitchen. Elevation Media reports they're planning to expand into a 15k SF food warehouse in Ivy City this spring.
This Balkan restaurant on Barracks Row found an innovative way to introduce an unfamiliar form of liquor to the District. Ambar’s “Rakia Tasting Challenge” encourages guests to come in and work their way down a list of 33 flavors of Rakia while acquiring passport stamps. Freebies are awarded along the way, but the biggest prize of all comes when your passport is complete: a personalized 750ml Rakia bottle, which will be stored in a private locker for in-restaurant consumption. Rakia is a clear spirit primarily produced in Serbia, Bulgaria, Macedonia and other Balkan countries, and it’s often infused with fruit like plums and apricots for a well-rounded sip that doesn’t burn on the way down. Ambar’s rakia challenge runs through July.
3 Stars Brewing Co
A pint of 3 Stars Brewing Co suds is never ordinary. At times, founders Mike McGarvey and Dave Coleman are aging coffee beans in bourbon barrels and using them to dry hop beer. Other times they’re teaming up with an area restaurant to create a custom brew like The Sansho Panza they made for Daikaya that had a zesty flavor thanks to yuzu and sansho peppers. Plus, there’s always a seasonal Saison that impresses, like “Nectar of the Bogs” with cranberries. “Mike and I are continuing to pursue further ways to break ground in craft brewing,” Dave tells us. We snapped him at the Takoma brewery, which is a great place to taste their beers and visit the home brew shop.
Prequel by EquityEats
Soon you’ll be able to visit a restaurant pop-up megaplex called Prequel, from the innovative minds at EquityEats. The space at 918 F St NW will allow the concepts utilizing the EquityEats crowdfunding platform and others to showcase their food to attract investors. Prequel itself used crowdfunding to raise $200k and notably, investors didn't need to be accredited to participate (thanks to a change in regulations). Close to 340 DC residents invested, and even those who contributed as little as $100 can expect perks when Prequel opens. “We were excited about this raise because people in a city or a neighborhood showed interest in investing locally, where they can experience their investment on a weekly basis,” Steve Lucas, VP of strategy and communications, tells us.