Here’s another edition of our Farm Fresh feature where WeLoveDC authors Donna (greenie) and Katie (foodie) have paired up to tell you about local area restaurants that take on the challenge of being green. Donna explains the restaurant’s environmentally friendly efforts and Katie tells you if the food tastes any good. It’s a rough life, but someone has to do it, right?
Katie: Radius is one of those neighborhood gems that make you feel like you won the jackpot when you discover it. Tucked away on the second floor of an old row house on Mount Pleasant Street in Columbia Heights/Mount Pleasant, the little pizzeria is one of my very favorite restaurants in the city. Last April, husband and wife team Todd and Nicole Wiss took over the former Italian eatery and turned it into one of the city’s most eco-conscious restaurants.
Donna: Chef Todd and his Nicole met while working at Poste Moderne Brassiere, which also has a commitment to local and sustainable food. It was there, while directing a James Beard Dinner that Todd became passionate about farm-to-table cooking. “Having eaten this way the majority of my life, I found it really important to make it our goal to create awareness to the diner that this is really important for the sustainability of our land, for future farming, and future generations,” said Todd. And then he shared that other reason: “It tastes a hell of a lot better!”
Katie: Todd kept in the tradition of Italian, but chooses to push the envelope of what is considered pizza, and what sides should be served. His menu branches out – the winter pie has celery root puree instead of tomato sauce, and crispy chickpeas bump out garlic bread as an appetizer. The menu is thoughtful, yet still totally affordable for a weeknight on your way home after work.
Donna: Part of Radius’s secret is that its dishes are made from local ingredients. Most are produced within 300 miles of the restaurant, and by traditional farming practices. In the summer, 85 percent of the restaurant’s produce is locally grown; in the fall, 70 to 80 percent, and in winter 65 to 70 percent. “We always try to source whatever we can locally,” said Todd. “Obviously, it gets harder once we get into really cold weather. But greenhouse technology is amazing.”
Katie: And it’s really places like Radius that rise to the top in the farm fresh movement here in DC. It’s easy to put together a delicious seasonal farm menu in the summer when we’re up to our ears in ripe tomatoes and juicy watermelons. But it takes real thought to make a pizza with parsnips and pine nuts.
Donna: The Radius Web site describes Chef Todd’s cooking style as “simple, fresh and seasonal.” I would agree with that, but what it does not say is that he can make brussels sprouts taste like dessert. To these odd-looking little veggies that many folks avoid, he adds a few simple ingredients, like butter and maple syrup, and creates something amazing.
Katie: Some of the menu standouts include the antipasto, a platter of prosciutto, anchovies, feta and pickled veggies, or the panzanella salad with honey crisp apples and organic greens. I’d recommend ordering your pizza off the specials menu – the pizza carbonara is like breakfast for dinner with pancetta, sieved egg and ricotta. The shitake and oyster mushroom ravioli is a pitch-perfect vegetarian dish, served over creamy polenta. Also served with organic beets, the dish would be a great dinner with a side of the brussels sprouts Donna mentioned.
Donna: So why else buy local or organic food? Chef Todd shared these thoughts: “It may cost more to buy local and/or organic, but in the end, you’re doing the right thing. You’re supporting local business and the local economy, and that is paramount. That is not a very lucrative career.” Chef Todd also enjoys the strong connections he makes with the farming community. “I love hearing Steve Turange’s voice every Monday,” said Chef Todd of a farmer from Hague, Va. “He inspires me.”
Katie: The beer list is paired perfectly with the pizza menu, serving great rotating seasonal beers on draft. I tried the wine-like Rodenbach Belgian Ale and loved it. Radius runs a pizza and pint special every day – try a $5 Slice and Pint from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday nights they run a Wine Wednesday special with a free bottle of wine when you order a large pizza and an appetizer (or two entrees and an appetizer). Monday nights if you buy two large pizzas you get one free, either delivery or take-out. Bottom line? You have no excuse not to try it.
Donna: Now is a great time to learn more about food production and how it ties into environmental issues. Food is this year’s theme for the Environmental Film Festival, which runs March 16-28 and includes 155 movies. While I can personally recommend Fresh, many on the list look great. Chef Todd recommends this approach as well. “Watch FOOD INC., read The Omnivore’s Dilemma, go to the farmers markets, or drive to the country and stop at a road side stand,” he said. Or better yet, just go and taste his sweet brussels sprouts. That’ll make a believer out of you in no time.