Capital Chefs, Food and Drink, The Features

Capital Chefs: Mike Friedman of The Red Hen

Chef Mike Friedman at The Red Hen

Chef Mike Friedman at The Red Hen

We’re revisiting our Capital Chefs feature with a series by music reporter Mickey McCarter. A lot has been happening recently in kitchens in D.C. restaurants, and Mickey takes a look into them from his usual seat at the bar in this series, which runs weekly on Thursdays.

Positively embarrassed that I had not yet eaten at The Red Hen by the time it picked up a few RAMMY Awards last month, I recently slipped up to the 18-seat bar that dominates the room for dinner and a chat with Chef Mike Friedman.

Like myself, Friedman often enjoys eating at bars. It’s more casual and you can talk to the bartender and the people around you. Stroll in for a pasta and a glass of wine and you’ve struck gold. On this particular visit, I’m also very happy to hear David Bowie and the Talking Heads on the restaurant’s sound system, which makes me feel right at home. Friedman’s business partners Michael O’Malley and Sebastian Zutant decide what’s on the radio at the restaurant, he told me.

While good music does indeed make for a comfortable bar experience, there’s way more to The Red Hen, of course.

“Bars drive business to a certain extent. We didn’t want to have a restaurant that was a bar. We wanted to have a restaurant that was a restaurant,” Friedman said. “There is a central bar at The Red Hen where everybody dines. It’s the overflow for people that can’t get tables. It’s rare that you see it three seats back. We usually send people around the corner to Boundary Stone, which is our local bar. And they wait until they get a text from us saying that their table is ready.”

DC restaurants generally have been getting back to basics when it comes to food, Friedman said. And good neighborhood places have been able to excel by taking a more casual approach than some fancier DC staples.

Friedman compared the latest wave of DC restaurants to the scene in Paris some six years ago, when sous chefs were leaving Michelin-starred restaurants to open small bistros of their own.

“We are not at that level Paris was at, but certainly here you are seeing that new wave coming,” Friedman said.

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History, The District

McMillan Sand Filtration Site

Photo courtesy of mosley.brian
McMillan Sand Filtration Site – Walk By the Three Giants – 04-21-12
courtesy of mosley.brian

Crossposted on Got Nikon, Will Travel

The McMillan Park and Sand Filtration Site is a fascinating piece of DC history. In fact, to call the site fascinating really doesn’t do it justice; there’s nothing else like it in the area. Completed in 1905, it was part of the McMillan Plan to develop and beautify Washington. The site was used until 1985 to filter drinking water for the city. When the site was completed it was a state of the art water filtration system, using sand to filter water from the Washington Aqueduct (if you’re really interested, it used a slow sand filter system).

As I said, fascinating site: above ground are ivy covered water towers and open grass fields; below ground, twenty catacomb chambers, where the sand filtered water. As you can imagine, the only light that comes into the chambers is either from open man-mole covers in the chamber’s roof or the access doors at the front of the chambers. Photographically, it creates a fascinating play of light and shadows. And to break the monotony, there is even some damage from the 2011 earthquake (picture below), where part of the ceiling caved in. The site is similar to St. Elizabeths, with neglect and decay making some remarkable sights.

Photo courtesy of mosley.brian
McMillan Sand Filtration Site – Looking Down the Gallery – 04-21-12
courtesy of mosley.brian

As great as the site is, it was recently closed to future tours. I was lucky enough to go on the open houses, which the local ANC held, twice; once last October and another in April. The site is slated for development, but I’m not convinced it will happen anytime soon. Hopefully something can be worked out and the site can be reopened for tours. It truly is an amazing site and something every DC resident should see. It is a great part of the city’s history.

Photo courtesy of mosley.brian
McMillan Sand Filtration Site – Directions to the Well of Souls – 04-21-12
courtesy of mosley.brian

The park is located west of Catholic University, with by North Capitol Street on it’s east side, Channing Street NW to the south, 1st Street NW to the west, and Michigan Avenue NW on the north.  Continue reading

Food and Drink, The Features, We Love Food

Sunday Supper at Big Bear Cafe

Photo courtesy of Big Bear Cafe DC
Table is set! courtesy of Big Bear Cafe DC

Big Bear Cafe is everything I could ever want and more. A coffee shop that takes its coffee culture seriously in a space that is simple and inviting; a restaurant that serves breakfast until noon, uses good-for-you, farm fresh ingredients, and offers daily, seasonal items; a neighborhood gathering place that brings together musicians and comedians for weekly events. What more could you ask for? Killer craft cocktails? They’ve got them. A patio for the unexpected spring winter? Done. Supper to beat the Sunday blues? They have that too. Get over here Big Bear and give me a hug.

Big Bear’s story is as charming as the place itself. Formerly a Jewish Italian market/deli, it went through some hard times in the 80’s and 90’s. The space was boarded up with bulletproof glass inside and out, evidence of a different, more turbulent time in Bloomingdale. But in 2006, Stuart Davenport, a general contractor who lived in the area, saw a need for a decent cup of coffee and grub, so he gave up his day job and in a little over a year built a neighborhood gem. Struggling times just live in memories now, as Big Bear has become a sought-after destination, and is surrounded by equally great places and spaces.

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The Features, Where We Live

Where We Live: Bloomingdale

Photo courtesy of
courtesy of ‘mediaslave’

Thanks to your great suggestions telling me where you live, we have several more neighborhoods in the District, Virginia, and Maryland to profile over the coming weeks.  This week, we’re heading back in to DC to look at a very neighborly neighborhood: Bloomingdale.  It’s a beautiful neighborhood close to the center of town but it feels worlds away.  Read on to find out what makes Bloomingdale a great community, and the number one thing that residents love about the neighborhood.

History: Bloomingdale wasn’t part of Pierre L’Enfant’s original plan, and started out as a pretty rural area.  It was next to the planned suburb LeDroit Park, and didn’t really see much residential development until the 1890s when streets were paved and a streetcar connected through the area.  Bloomingdale quickly became home to rowhouses, churches, and schools, and it has remained a quiet residential neighborhood ever since.   More on the history of Bloomingdale over at Bloomingdale DC.

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