Have Your Latté and Drink Your Cocktail at Takoma Park’s New All-Day Cafe

This article first appeared in Washingtonian Magazine on June 20, 2017

 

People who like good coffee are often the kind of people who like good wine and cocktails. That was the thinking behind cousins Seth Cook and Chris Brown’s first restaurant, Takoma Beverage Company, which opened Sunday. The shop serves up coffee and pastries in the mornings, then transitions to cocktails, beer, and wine in the afternoon and evenings. A full food menu, ranging from avocado toast with a poached egg to a crispy pork belly, is available throughout the day.

While Cook, the former coffee director at Northside Social, is the brains behind the morning menu of espresso drinks and pour-overs, Brown brings a world traveler’s approach to food. Beyond visiting 25 different countries and 40 U.S. states in his lifetime, Brown worked as an agricultural extension officer in Tanzania while in the Peace Corps. During his time there, he gained an appreciation for organic farming and fresh vegetables, which is reflected on the the veggie-heavy menu.

For Cook, the important thing about the menu was that each product have a story—whether it’s the coffee beans passed directly from the farmer in Ethiopia to his shop in Takoma, or it’s kale from a local farm ten miles away used in the shop’s version of a Caesar salad.

While the menu highlights local products for food (designed by chef Liam LaCivita of Bar Civita) and pastries (from bakery Souk), Cook and Brown sourced most of their beverages internationally—“just to make sure we had the best and most beautiful examples out there of each drink we were serving,” Cook says. To do so, he brought on sommelier Sonja Eberly, mixologist Tim Higgins, and beer expert Drew Lemberg to hand-select options for the drink menu, like the pinot noir from New Zealand and the pilsner from the Czech Republic.

Overall, the drinks menu is purposefully short because Cook plans to change it up often. Expect three draft beers, four wines, and eight cocktails, including several summery drinks like the “Rose of Mary” (gin, lime, rosemary, honey, and sparkling water) and the “After the War” (gin, Aperol, orange juice, simple syrup, and Angostura bitters).

Counter Culture supplies the shop’s coffee. Beyond the lattés and espressos, the storefront will soon sell retail bags of the roaster’s beans, coffee brewing equipment, tea bags from Rishi, and even alcohol.

As of now, the Takoma Beverage Company shop is pretty small. The narrow set-up fits only the bar and a few tables lined against the opposite wall and window. But at the end of the month, the shop will expand into the next-door unit when the current tenant, vintage clothing store PollySue’s, relocates down the street. By August, the additional area will be home to a long communal table that will double as an after-hours events space. Coming up first are free coffee cuppings and classes led by Cook.

The events fit into the owners’ vision for the shop to be something more than a place where you do work on your laptop or grab a cappuccino to-go. On the tentative events docket is a social awareness program to recognize Ugandan NGO, Grassroots Reconciliation Group, founded by artist, Sasha Lezhnev, whose photographs line the shop’s walls.

Takoma Beverage Co. Taps Into Everything

This article first published on Eater Washington DC on June 19, 2017

 

Takoma Beverage Co., a combination coffee shop and bar pieced together by two first-time restaurateurs, is now mixing up drinks and offering pour-over service in Takoma Park, Md.

The all-day cafe and drinking establishment comes from cousins Chris Brown and Seth Cook, who previously worked at similarly themed Northside Social in Arlington, Va. Sonja Eberly, another Northside Social alum who’s currently working at a vineyard in New Zealand, serves as sommelier. Sehkraft Brewing alum Drew Lemberg is the resident beer director.

Total capacity at this neighborhood eatery is pretty modest, with eight seats at the bar, a couple stools along the front window, and a scattering of tables. There’s also a curbside patio.

The caliber of caffeine is pretty high; a custom espresso machine built for the restaurant is fed a strict diet of Counter Culture Coffee. The main bar hosts 10 draft lines and serves up a full slate of signature cocktails. A front counter with a white quartz top features a display case and is stocked with pastries and other impulse buys.

The menu was composed by yet another Northside Social alum, Bar Civita chef/owner Liam LaCivita. Offerings include the Spicy Pig ($7), a breakfast sandwich featuring fried pork belly, maple sage hot sauce, poached egg, and cheddar, while the midday menu includes an “All Kale” Caesar salad($8), and evening ushers in a lineup of tartines ($8-$10).

Status: Certified open. 6917 Laurel Ave., Takoma Park, MD.; website.

mothersauce press

Don’t Let the Wine List Intimidate You: Ordering wine in a restaurant should be fun, not stressful. Try this approach.

This article first appeared in Arlington Magazine on May 15, 2017

It’s hard to say what I love most about wine. The taste? The feeling it gives me? The vineyards it comes from? The memories it helps to make? I could go on and on.

What is easy for me, by contrast, is naming what I hate most about wine.

My biggest issue with wine is the culture of intimidation that surrounds it. It makes me crazy that a beverage that is so accessible, so broadly appealing and so conducive to conviviality remains, for many, unapproachable. Why? Mostly because it can be hard to buy it or order it in a restaurant.

Do wine lists leave you feeling bewildered and moderately illiterate? As a guy who has spent 20 years in the restaurant business, let me say, first and foremost, that it is the restaurant’s job to make you feel comfortable and help you find something you like. But good communication between the customer and the house can also demystify the process. Here’s where you come in:

Know what you like.

Seems simple, right? It’s not. A lot of people order wine that they think they like, that they think they are supposed to like or that someone else likes. The best way to identify what you like is to try a lot of different wines. Take advantage of tastings at wine shops, festivals, even the grocery store. If you’re trying to decide which wine-by-the-glass to order in a bar or restaurant, ask to taste more than one. I have seen people’s eyes widen with joy the first time they taste a wine that truly suits their palate. You don’t have to buy a whole bottle to find out that you don’t like a particular grape.

Start basic.

Red or white? Lighter or heavier? A little sweet or a little dry? Creamy and buttery or crisp and minerally? Fuller mouth feel because of malolactic fermentation? Okay, just kidding on that last one, but you can see how people can get carried away. You shouldn’t have to know what that means to order wine off a wine list. If you have a general sense of what suits you and you can articulate those characteristics in lay terms, then it doesn’t matter if all the wines on the list are Italian and you’ve never heard of them. Describe what you are in the mood for and a good staff member should be able to match that up with what the place has in stock.

State your price point.

Don’t be shy. Money is weird, and oftentimes guests don’t want to say (and have their entire table hear) that they want to keep it under $30 a bottle. Of course that is your prerogative as a customer, but if you aren’t specific then you leave the staff guessing. A good bartender, sommelier or server will suggest wines at different price points to tease out a sense of your budget, but if you’re up front about it, the conversation will go a lot faster. The good news? Restaurants now offer incredible wines across many different price points, particularly as they tap into emerging wine regions in lesser-known places like Croatia and Bulgaria. You don’t have to spend $100 to find a bottle that will blow you away.

Fear not the screw top.

Cork trees can take 100 years to mature (not exactly sustainable), and screw tops keep wine better preserved anyway. Great wine comes with twist-off caps. Trust me.

Don’t like it? Speak up!

There’s no need to ruin a good meal by suffering through a wine that isn’t working for you. A good restaurant will have the policy that you get the wine you want, period—even if your dislike isn’t immediately apparent upon your first sip. Keep in mind that a wine will change quite a bit as it breathes, and it may taste different once you pair it with food, so there is no shame in switching bottles a few minutes in. (Although if the bottle is half gone, don’t be that guest.) Don’t fret that the wine will go to waste if you send it back. It won’t. Provided the bottle isn’t corked (a fancy word for wine that’s “turned” or sour), the restaurant management may offer it by the glass, use it for staff education or drink it themselves. This is basic customer service and a cost of doing business. But if you don’t speak up, they may never know.

 

Nick Freshman is a co-owner of Spider Kelly’s in Clarendon and principal of Mothersauce Partners, an Arlington-based investment and consulting venture that helps D.C.-area chefs and restaurateurs bring new food and drink concepts to fruition. www.mothersaucepartners.com

city state

City-State Brewing Co. Has a Can-Do Attitude: Husband-wife team is all about celebrating life in the District

This article first published on Eater Washington DC on April 21, 2017

If they’re going to pour their life savings into opening a brewery anyway, City-State Brewing Co. co-founders James Warner and Kim Carnahan figure they might as well build something to grow into.

 “To go as big as you can from the start can set you up for success in the future,” is how Warner explained his desire to start with a 30-barrel system — by comparison, DC Brau Brewing Company has built up its presence with a 15-barrel system; a new 30-barrel brewhouse is in the works — outright. The aspiring entrepreneurs are looking for a 10,000-square-foot facility (Ivy City, Edgewood, and Anacostia are all on their short list) able to accommodate a production brewery, taproom and beer garden.

In addition to being a supportive spouse — “James is so ecstatic when he’s making beer,” she told Eater — Carnahan, who works for the State Department, said the pair crunched the numbers and remain confident there’s still money to be made in craft brewing.

A former congressional aide (Warner said he and Carnahan met while working on climate change issues and energy policy), Warner has been home brewing for years. He’s also spent time within the industry, having worked as a server at ChurchKey, and currently handling sales for a major beer distributor.

 He noted that some of the products bookmarked for the City-State launch are literal labors of love. “Some of these recipes started life getting ready for our wedding in 2013,” he said. (Their theme was “celebrating D.C.”)

Core City-State beers

  • Holy Go-Go: Abbey Dubbel brewed with grains of paradise from West Africa and sugar from Latin America as an homage to the city’s musical history
  • Eight Wards Independent Pale Ale: expected to feature an ingredient representative of each part of the District
  • The Brookland: saison
  • Equal Marriage: dark wheat beer
  • Self-Determinator: German-style lager

“Each beer will tell the story of D.C. in a different way,” Warner said of his portfolio of beverages.

Warner and Carnahan are working with Nick Freshman, a hospitality vet who last fall launched strategic consulting firm Mothersauce Partners, to find investors for the ambitious project. The goal, Warner said, is to have the taps flowing at City-State by summer (or fall) of 2018.

“We think there’s plenty of room in D.C. still,” Warner said of the local beer scene.

The Eleanor, Bowling Lounge, Bar & Grille, Coming to Ivy City!!

This article first appeared on PoPville on April 20, 2017

 

Holy mackerel – my dream is becoming a reality!! For those still doubting the hotness of Ivy City – behold The Eleanor from Adam Stein and Nick Freshman:

“The Eleanor will be a Bar and Restaurant from several of the city’s industry veterans. Located at 1900 Kendall Street, Washington, D.C. in the Ivy City Neighborhood, the space is just under 7000 square feet to accommodate four bowling lanes, event/music space, movie screen, bar, arcade, large outdoor patio, and kitchen. From bar stools, to high-top seating, couches/lounge areas for seating at the lanes, and outdoor patio, we are expecting an occupancy of around 300 people.

The Eleanor is an idea fifteen years in the making. It originated in Yellow Springs, Ohio while Chef/ Owner Adam Stein attended school at Antioch College where a ten-lane bowling alley was for sale. Stein knew opening a venue with bowling lanes was something he wanted to do. Long story short, the lanes were sold and parted out to make room for a parking lot.

The Eleanor will offer a wide range of cocktails with many house-made components, mid-Atlantic draft beer, and an exciting bar menu featuring regional products in an approachable way. High open ceilings, concrete walls and floors will set the stage for a funky industrial space that will house four bowling lanes, movie screen, music venue, and nostalgic arcade games. Casual bistro meets art deco bowling alley is the aim.

The kitchen will focus on Adam Stein’s track record of sourcing sustainably from the region and in season. Daily food specials will be available to showcase the scratch kitchen and available products throughout the year. Fresh takes with attention to detail will be the hallmark.
The large outdoor space allows for special food events such as crab boils, pig and lamb roasts, and smokers for BBQ.

The heart of The Eleanor will be a multi-use space with stage and large movie screen. Along with offering regular nostalgic and holiday themed movies throughout the year, the screen can be used for first-run independent films from artists in the region, video game competitions, slide shows and presentations for events, coordinating visuals for music performances, and not to mention sporting events.”

I guess this is what I needed to finally download one of those fandagled car sharing apps the kids are always talking about. Buckle up and stay tuned for many updates as they get closer to opening!