Monthly Archives: July 2010

Recess!

The blog will be on hiatus for the next week or so. Congress takes a month, I think I get at least a week, especially after 48 hours without power (I feel the pain of anyone still powerless).

Meanwhile, MoCo Planning Board holds a public hearing tomorrow night on the Wheaton CBD and Sector Plan amendment, go forth and testify, or sit at home in (if your Pepco overlords have blessed you) air conditioned bliss and watch the proceedings via live webstream. In related news, one more step toward further redevelopment around Wheaton metro.

Oh yeah, eatin’. I hadn’t realized the Red Dog Cafe had closed — they had great macaroni’n’cheese pizza but clearly had some issues — but maybe the Daily Dish, newly opened in the former RDC space, will be good.  The Gazette likes it. The menu seems exactly like RDC, including the mac’n’cheese pizza. Has the old Dog been taught new tricks?  No mention of Red Dog in the “About” page of the new website.  Same owners? New staff? Such details oddly missing from the Gazette article.  Things that make you go hmmmmm

Also, DC law firm Steptoe & Johnson wants fine local hamburger purveyor Rogue States to stop infesting their workplace with fumes and odors, as reported by the Legal Times.  Injunctive relief alert! This seems backwards to me: if anything Steptoe should be paying RS a fee in exchange for the pleasure of delicious, tantalizing burgerific smells wafting throughout the building.

All for now.

Greater DC Italian Sub Showdown

We get sandwiches (and pizza dough and other items) frequently from Wheaton’s own Marchone’s Deli, but we also hear about other good Italian sub options throughout greater DC. Time for a taste test!

subs unwrapped

Subs Hoagies Heroes Lunch

Joey Tribbiani would be proud. I gathered a highly qualified (i.e. hungry and omnivorous) panel this weekend, procured some subs, took air-conditioned refuge, and pigged out. Our 12″ contenders (all prices not including tax):

  • A. Litteri (517-519 Morse Street NE) $7.90 “Classic Italian” with capicola, mortadelli, prosciuttini, provolone (and unadvertised ham)
  • Marchone’s (11224 Triangle Lane) $7.95 “Cold Cut Sub” with undisclosed toppings but pretty sure (like Vace) ham, salami, mortadella, and (like Taylor) provolone
  • Taylor Gourmet (1116 H Street NE) $8.90 “9th Street Italian” with Genoa salami, capicola, prosciutto, provolone
  • Vace (3315 Connecticut)$5.25 “Italian Coldcut Sub” with ham, Genoa salami, mortadella, mozzarella

We missed Capitol Hill’s Mangialardo & Sons because it is closed weekends, and we missed the Italian Store because it is in the Commonwealth and even so is overrated. In all cases, we ordered basic 12″ Italian cold cut subs with “everything” (which at Litteri does not actually include literally all options, but bottom line is all our tested sandwiches had largely identical ingredients). Results:

A Litteri

A. Litteri's Classic Italian Sub

Bread: the biggest differentiator, and a clash of the great Philly bakeries with Marchone’s rolls imported daily from Amoroso’s and Taylor’s from Sarcone’s; I would have liked Taylor’s best but for the highly objectionable sesame seeds, which none of us cared for, and others also thought Taylor’s bread was too dry; Vace’s roll was smaller and harder, causing the filling to slide out too easily, but it had the best flavor and a nice texture despite the hardness; Marchone’s was nice and soft but I wish it were a tad crustier on the outside; Vace’s Litteri’s was soft and bland and soggy in spots, having stood up poorly to its Italian dressing while it waited to be eaten  (our Marchone’s subs waited twice as long as our other subs but only Litteri’s failed on this account). Hard to choose in this category among Marchone’s, Taylor and Vace, all good and different.

Marchone's

Marchone's Cold Cut Sub

Meats, Cheeses: Taylor clear winner here, much higher-quality meats (and no cheap ham) and a bit more cheese; the other three were all pretty much the same, although Marchone’s and Vace could both stand to add another slice or two of cheese.

Taylor Gourmet

Taylor Gourmet 9th Street Italian Sub

Other ingredients: they all passed the mayo test (none of them used any); Marchone’s and Vace both had a smear of hot pepper spread (Marchone’s had a bigger kick from it); Litteri had sliced hot peppers instead of spread and while I loved how that looked, it worked less well because you only got a hit of pepper every third bite or so; Taylor had no spicy ingredients at all; all four had Italian dressing but Marchone’s and Vace’s were more noticeable, in a good way.

Vace

Vace Italian Sub

Size: doesn’t matter (though for the record, Litteri and Taylor subs were wider than Marchone’s or Vace’s, but filling amounts seemed about the same, yet bread-to-filling ratios were also generally fine, though I think if forced to choose we would all have picked Marchone’s/Vace on that front).

Sub Pentago

Lunch Pentagon

Overall, it was tough to pick a winner. All were at least good; Litteri finishes fourth mostly because it didn’t stand out in any way and the roll got soggy — I would get a 9″ hard roll sub next time at Litteri, though with Taylor just blocks away and me rarely venturing to that neck of the DC, I doubt I will be back anytime soon. I think if Taylor hadn’t had sesame seeds on the bun, it might have won (I also got their “Pattison Avenue” roast pork/broccoli rabe sub, which was great despite the sesame seed bun, not quite Tony Luke’s but who is?); it looked the best. Then again, the Vace and Marchone’s subs tasted great. Marchone’s did Wheaton proud, and those of us who like a little spice in our sandwich thought Marchone’s was as good as or better than the others.  But the overall five-taster consensus was, to my somewhat surprise, that Vace made the best sub, especially taking price into consideration (more than $2 cheaper than any of the others) but even maybe aside from cost.

So with Vace in Bethesda and Taylor Gourmet coming soon to Bethesda Row, those are nice West County options, but I am also glad to have confirmation that for those of us who live in and around Wheaton, Marchone’s is indeed a fine Italian sub (and also meatball sub, which is what we usually get) option.

Just Up The 95

Dan Dan the Just Up The Pike Man is moving up to Philly soon, says he’ll keep blogging but his MoCo content will surely lessen. JUTP is the most-read (my daily hits tripled the first time he linked to me), most influential MoCo blog; I don’t know where he finds the time to post so extensively every day. Skateboarders, food bloggers, and lots of folks in between will miss you here, Dan, and hope you return in 2012 for more East County blogging excellence. In the meantime, enjoy cheesesteak paradise.

It Came Via Car: Kenny’s Sub Shop At Last

Ever since It Came In The Mail back in April, the menu from Kenny’s Sub Shop (11210 Georgia) has lain dormant in the menu drawer, biding its time until I could resist no longer the siren song of Chinese & American Foods. I’ve been intrigued but apprehensive. How good could it be? How bad could it be? What could possibly go wrong?

Turns out: very good, not bad, and essentially nothing. How’s that for a shocker?

Expectations suitably low for a strip mall Chinese-American combo whose menu includes over 100 Chinese dishes, a bunch of subs, sandwiches, salads, sides, plus five types of wings, including with the vaunted Mumbo Sauce. It just seems like too much, right? How could they possibly do any of these things well?

Kenny's Spread

Bad Photo of Kenny's BLT sub, House Steak sub, and onion rings

I ordered a couple of American and Chinese items to get a sense of the place. Delivery took maybe 20-25 minutes, no ordering difficulties. The subs were good; the closest thing to a problem was that the insubstantial roll (which steamed inside its foil wrapper a bit too much in transit) nearly couldn’t hold the enormous mass of chopped beef and cheese — but it held! The “House Steak” sub reminded me of the cheesesteaks I used to get for lunch at a tiny dive at North Calvert Street in Baltimore when I was working up there: gooey, beefy, plenty of hot pepper spread, insanely unhealthy and really really good. Only the Kenny’s version contains even more beef. It’s definitely Baltimore style, not Philly style. BLT sub is also good, fresh L and T and lots of crisp B. Onion rings are heavy on the breading and light on the onion, but not awful, better as bar food than as a dinner side dish.

On the Chinese side, I opted for lo mein, which is easy to do decently but difficult to do really well, and Crispy Orange Beef, my personal Chinese food obsession that almost no restaurant does even decently (Hunan Garden of Palo Alto is our reigning orange beef champion). Kenny’s pork lo mein is decent, kind of greasy, mostly noodles, some pork and scallion and possibly carrot shards, but tastes fine, about as expected, and a solid value at $7.50 for a large container so stuffed they couldn’t close the lid and had to rubberband the takeout box shut.

And the Crispy Orange Beef?

crispyorangebeef

OH MY GOD

My jaw is still on the floor, but who needs it as long as I have my tastebuds. It isn’t quite Hunan Garden, but it is close, and easily the best version I’ve had outside of California. At Kenny’s Sub Shop! In Wheaton! Words nearly fail. In fact, Kenny’s COB texture is like how HG’s OPB used to be back in the day, as crisp as it could be given its spicy orange bath and its self-steaming journey to my house. Many restaurants fail by having too-large beef chunks, but Kenny’s are smallish, just right. I could tell by looking at it that it had potential, the sauce was the right deep orange-brown color, the right viscosity, the right orange (possibly tangerine) slivers mixed among the beef. If anything, my primary criticism is that the taste profile has too much orange and not enough fire, thus missing the perfect balance of orange-sweet-spice (plus sour pickled onion/carrot, which Kenny’s does not include) that sets Hunan Garden above the rest, but it isn’t far off.  All in all, a shockingly successful dish that I still cannot believe came from Kenny’s, but I guess that will teach me yet again never to judge a restaurant by its facade, or menu.

So this discovery could be dangerous to our waistlines, given that Kenny’s food is both well-portioned and inexpensive (Kenny’s COB is $9.25, HG’s OPB is $9.95 for about the same amount of food). Doesn’t matter. We are so down with COB. Thank you, Kenny. Thank you.

Chevy Chase Supermarket

Again Groupon led us down paths previously untraveled, this time having spent $20 for a $50 Groupon to use at Chevy Chase Supermarket (8531 Connecticut). We were expecting fabulous variety and quality at typically jacked up West County prices, and planned to carefully case the store to make our $30 in “freebies” stretch as far as possible. I also wanted to like the place because they have been family owned and operated for more than fifty years — I think that was co-owner Kevin Kirsch waving goodbye to us as we left — and they remain thoroughly invested in their community, which I love.

The prices weren’t as bad as feared, but the quality also wasn’t as good as hoped. Someone had told us the cheese selection was amazing, but it wasn’t any different from Giant, not even close to a Whole Foods/Wegman’s style cheese-o-rama. The small deli looked decent — we bought a loaf of challah bread that resulted in outstanding French toast — and the meats looked good, we were happy with the delmonico steaks we bought and grilled, but they weren’t cheap. Produce was uneven: cucumbers, for example, were big and fresh and reasonably priced, but limes (I bet you thought I’d never get there) were brown and sad-looking and yet two for $1.

Mrs. Me toured the wine section and found no bargains. CCS also has a strange layout, with household goods piled high in your face when you walk in and aisles spreading across the store instead of front-to-back; you have to maneuver past the diapers and paper towels to get to the food, and produce is segregated in a back corner while frozen foods are in the middle of the store. The store design dates to 1964 and an interesting note on their website explains some of it; of course it doesn’t really matter, so who can blame them for not updating, but it certainly seems less…fresh, or something, than modern supermarkets.

Anyway, even if CCS were fabulous, it is much less convenient for us than H Mart or Giant (or, maybe someday, a new Wheaton Safeway, perish the thought), so it wouldn’t likely enter our regular rotation. I wish them well, what with the local family ownership and whatnot. They’ve survived this long so they must be doing some things right. But I wonder if it would be worth their while to find a way, without totally remodeling, to give the store a bit more sparkle.  Disco balls? Live octopus? Making sure brown wizened limes aren’t left in the bins would be an easy start.

Relic (Bethesda)

Everything we know we learned from Groupon.

Most recently, Groupon sent us to Bethesda to eat at Relic (4936 Fairmont), a riot of baroque red Tudor erotica (and food and drink!) that still makes my head spin days later even though we were only there for happy hour not for the dance club that breaks out after dark. I am not linking to their website because it commits the dual sins of automatically playing music upon arrival and of Flash, everywhere Flash.

Open for a year or so now, the restaurant itself is pretty good, and we did enjoy the decor, from kitschy plastic red chandeliers over the bar to the R-rated art along one wall to the huge portrait on the back wall of Henry VIII, the kind of painting where you keep looking over your shoulder to see if the eyes are watching you eat.  Scooby Doo and Shaggy would have freaked completely out if while pursuing a ghost they had stumbled into Relic.

Excellent happy hour specials, many things for $5 including (on Thursdays) perfect mojitos and (all weekdays) enormous burgers (cheese $2 upcharge), juicy and very good; Relic is proud of its Himalayan Salt Locker (we did not get a salt locker tour however) where they keep all their meat, and they grind their own beef for burgers. It was just as good as the ones at BGR up the street, and a better deal at happy hour pricing. The calamari was less successful, mostly breading (although crisply fried) and oddly boring, maybe the only thing in the place about which the term “boring” might apply.

Service was also great: Phil the bartender/manager is supercool and really knows what he’s doing back there; he was also training some new servers who were friendly and eager to learn. We ended up having to discuss the finer points of Groupon use with one of the owners, who was also friendly and accomodating. I’m pretty sure we’re not hip enough to visit Relic when it is in full-on nighttime getdown lounge mode — though I am tempted to go once, just to see what it’s like — but we will for sure return for happy hour or dinner down the road, though probably not often because it isn’t that convenient for us. If I worked in that part of Bethesda, I’d hit Relic for happy hour once a week.

Gazette Restaurant Review Review

I have had the sense lately that the Gazette reviews MoCo restaurants disproportionately in NoMoCo, specifically Rockville and Gaithersburg, versus SoMoCo, specifically Wheaton and Silver Spring.  By NoMoCo I really mean Central MoCo, because devoting every third review to cafes in Damascus or Laytonsville would just be silly.

So I tallied up all the 2010 reviews so far, and the coverage is more balanced than I thought. Of 27 total reviews this year, Rockville is (as predicted) the most-reviewed town with seven, followed by Bethesda/Chevy Chase (six), Gaithersburg and Silver Spring (five apiece), and then Wheaton (two) and Olney and Germantown (one each) — that’s not including the random cupcake review on January 5. That breakdown seems reasonable to me, especially when you consider new restaurants are most likely to get reviewed, and there’s relatively more development right now in Rockville and Gaithersburg.

The two 2010 Wheaton reviews, for example, have been for the relocated and reopened Hollywood East and the new-this-year New Kam Fong.  Other than the Samantha Diner (which I haven’t reviewed, or eaten at, either) (in the old Anchor Inn spot at Georgia/University), those are the only recent openings here that I can think of. I’m sure if Pashion ever actually opens in the Fern stripmall, it will get a Gazette review. On the other hand, one of the Silver Spring reviews was for Negril, which has been open since Biblical times, so not only new places get ink. So I’m no longer annoyed, I think overall coverage is fair, but I still say more Wheaton, please!

I’m not linking to any of the non-Wheaton reviews in the interest of time, but it’s easy to generate a list by searching the Gazette website for “brian patterson” or “bernice august” — those are the two MoCo reviewers, alternating week to week. I do find it interesting that eight of Bernice’s last nine reviews have been in Gaithersburg or Rockville, while Brian has been (literally) all over the map. Not sure that means anything, just interesting. Also, my perception of over-focus on those two towns is surely related to the fact that five consecutive reviews (Brian and Bernice combined) in April and May were for GaithersRockBurgVille spots.