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Born for This: The BeBe Winans Story ~ Arena Stage

Jordan Wright
July 10, 2016
Special to The Alexandria Times

 (L to R) Juan Winans as BeBe, Deborah Joy Winans as CeCe and Kirsten Wyatt as Tammy Faye Bakker in Born for This: The BeBe Winans Story, which runs July 1-August 28, 2016 at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. Photo by Greg Mooney, courtesy Alliance Theatre.

(L to R) Juan Winans as BeBe, Deborah Joy Winans as CeCe and Kirsten Wyatt as Tammy Faye Bakker in Born for This: The BeBe Winans Story, which runs July 1-August 28, 2016 at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. Photo by Greg Mooney, courtesy Alliance Theatre.

Checking out the program before curtain up, I counted 27 original numbers with two reprises. How would we get through all these tunes, I pondered?  But BeBe Winans, who wrote the music and lyrics, uses snippets of songs to underpin his story and what a surprising saga it is.

Working alongside of Director and Co-Scriptwriter, Charles Randolph-Wright (Motown the Musical), the collaborators regale us with the four elder Winans brothers’ rise to fame which came before BeBe (played by real life nephew, Juan Winans) and sister CeCe’s (played by real life niece, Deborah Joy Winans) road to glory on the The PTL Club.

(L to R) Chaz Pofahl as Jim Bakker and Kirsten Wyatt as Tammy Faye Bakker in Born for This: The BeBe Winans Story, which runs July 1-August 28, 2016 at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. Photo by Greg Mooney, courtesy Alliance Theatre.

(L to R) Chaz Pofahl as Jim Bakker and Kirsten Wyatt as Tammy Faye Bakker in Born for This: The BeBe Winans Story, which runs July 1-August 28, 2016 at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. Photo by Greg Mooney, courtesy Alliance Theatre.

Back in the 80’s the PTL (Praise the Lord) Television Network show was the number one global evangelical Christian station then hosted by the illustrious Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker.  For those of us who thought of the Bakkers as “whitebread” as they come, the story stunningly reveals that it was Tammy Faye and Jim (Chaz Pofahl as Tammy’s straying husband) who sheltered the gospel singing teens from the racist threats of the station’s Southern listeners who preferred cutesy, saccharine singing groups like Up With People.

Clearly BeBe and CeCe’s early success is inexorably linked to the Bakkers who raised the kids as their own and are as intrinsic to the story as that of the Winans’ own family.   It also provides us with some of the funniest lines.  As Winan’s mother Cynthia puts it when she discovers they’ve been signed to the show, “Ooh!  Those are some crazy Caucasians!”

 (L to R) Juan Winans as BeBe, Kiandra Richardson as Whitney Houston and Deborah Joy Winans as CeCe in Born for This: The BeBe Winans Story, which runs July 1-August 28, 2016 at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. Photo by Greg Mooney, courtesy Alliance Theatre.

(L to R) Juan Winans as BeBe, Kiandra Richardson as Whitney Houston and Deborah Joy Winans as CeCe in Born for This: The BeBe Winans Story, which runs July 1-August 28, 2016 at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. Photo by Greg Mooney, courtesy Alliance Theatre.

Much of the action takes place on Set Designer, Neil Patel’s rendering of PTL’s live stage where teleprompters urge listeners to donate and Tammy Faye (Kirsten Wyatt) skitters around shrieking “Thank you, Jesus!!!” in capital letters affectionately referring to the Winan kids as her ‘chocolate drops’ or ‘chocolate babies’.  Her ignorance notably preceding her affection for the teens.  Wyatt is phenomenal as Tammy Faye and plays it to the hilt, just as Tammy did in real life and the show overflows with highlights both lyrical and emotional.  Artistic Director Molly Smith calls it a “story of faith and redemption”, and the arrival of Whitney Houston (Kiandra Richardson), a close friend and advisor to the Winans, seconds that claim.

Outstanding are Nita Whitaker, as Mom Winans, whose spellbinding crystal clear voice shows itself on “Seventh Son”, Milton Craig Nealy as Pop Winans, the no-nonsense dad who triumphs in “I Got a Home”, Brad Raymond with the Teddy Pendergrass voice as brother Ronald, and BeBe and Penny (Alison Whitehurst) BeBe’s White girlfriend, dueting on “Forbidden Love”, a ballad destined to become a classic.

(L to R) Nita Whitaker as Mom Winans and Milton Craig Nealy as Pop Winans in Born for This: The BeBe Winans Story, which runs July 1-August 28, 2016 at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. Photo by Greg Mooney, courtesy Alliance Theatre.

(L to R) Nita Whitaker as Mom Winans and Milton Craig Nealy as Pop Winans in Born for This: The BeBe Winans Story, which runs July 1-August 28, 2016 at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. Photo by Greg Mooney, courtesy Alliance Theatre.

Costumes by famed Broadway designer William Ivey Long (Hairspray, Cinderella, Crazy for You) are totally spot on, especially for Tammy Faye if you remember those shoulder pads that launched into outer space, and the cutesy matching outfits of the PTL singers.  Long and Wig Designer Lashawn Melton follow the styles of BeBe and CeCe as their wardrobe and hairstyles become ever more sophisticated with Houston’s assistance.

As it stands now, the musical is overly long – 2 ½ hours – even with the short songs.  But how to cut the rich, lush tones of these voluptuous voices and the come-to-Jesus gospel sounds of the Winans?  And who would want to?

Highly recommended.

Through August 28th at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St., SE, Washington, DC 20024.  For tickets and information call 202 488-3300 or visit www.ArenaStage.org.

The Bridges of Madison County ~ Kennedy Center

Jordan Wright
July 3, 2016
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

Katie Klaus (State Fair Singer) and the company of the national tour of THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY. (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

Katie Klaus (State Fair Singer) and the company of the national tour of THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY. (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

A huge applause erupted from the audience at the Kennedy Center when it was announced that the show’s composer, orchestrator and lyricist, Jason Robert Brown, would conduct the evening’s performance.  The three-time Tony Award-winning Brown, who also tours as a singer and pianist, brought both energy and depth to this lush, sweeping score and the 9-piece orchestra’s response was as palpable as the performances.

The Bridges of Madison County, the 2014 Broadway smash hit musical, evolved from Robert James Waller’s 1992 best seller of a married Italian immigrant who meets a handsome photographer documenting the covered bridges of Iowa for National Geographic.  It is a tender love story of mutual passion, appreciably devoid of the syrupy schmaltz that often passes as romance in this genre.  Leading man, Andrew Samonsky as Robert, who has movie star good looks and spectacular tenor’s pipes, is just part of the appeal.  Another is the steely charm, wry delivery and soaring operatic voice of Elizabeth Stanley as the conflicted housewife and mother, Francesca.

Over a period of four days, while husband Bud (Cullen R. Titmas) takes the children Michael (Bryan Welnicki) and Carolyn (Caitlin Houlahan) off to the Indiana State Fair to show Carolyn’s prize steer, the strangers connect.  And oh, how they connect.

Elizabeth Stanley (Francesca) and Andrew Samonsky (Robert) in the national tour of THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY. (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

Elizabeth Stanley (Francesca) and Andrew Samonsky (Robert) in the national tour of THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY. (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

In their exploration of one another’s motives, Robert sings, “Temporarily Lost”, admitting he has been looking to restore the light in his life.  By the ninth number, “The World Inside a Frame”, Samonsky’s heart-stopping solo, he has learned to trust again and Francesca regains her lust for life.  She is Italian after all.  (In a particularly seductive scene, Francesca removes Robert’s crisp white shirt from his tight blue jeans and a woman’s excited gasp could be heard throughout the theater to the audience’s delight.)

That Robert’s truck hasn’t left the farm in four days is well-noted under the watchful eyes of Marge (Mary Callanan), Francesca’s true friend, and Marge’s husband Charlie (David Hess), family friends who live within binocular range.  Callanan is wondrously comic as the neighbor who revels in Francesca’s forbidden tryst, while trying to get a rise out of her spouse in a what-would-he-do-if-it-was-her scenario.

Andrew Samonsky (Robert) and Elizabeth Stanley (Francesca) in the national tour of THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY. (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

Andrew Samonsky (Robert) and Elizabeth Stanley (Francesca) in the national tour of THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY. (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

Bartlett Sher’s tight direction and Donald Holder’s superb lighting are crucial to the effect as many of the scenes play out on alternate sides of the stage sequentially as steamy love scenes unfold around a kitchen table or a large wrought iron bed.  Michael Yeargan’s pastorally-evocative sets animate the rural setting.

Through it all we root for the lovers to hightail it arm-in-arm into the gathering twilight in this fairy-tale fantasy.  We can dream.  Can’t we?

Highly recommended for its sensuality, brilliant singing and indelible score.

Through July 17th at the Kennedy Center, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 or visit www.Kennedy-Center.org.

Kurios – Cabinet of Curiosities ~ Cirque du Soleil

Jordan Wright
July 1, 2016
Special to The Alexandria Times

Photo: Martin Girard / shootstudio.ca Costumes: Philippe Guillotel  © 2014 Cirque du Soleil

Photo: Martin Girard / shootstudio.ca Costumes: Philippe Guillotel © 2014 Cirque du Soleil

Steam Punk – as in Victoriana science fiction meets techno wizardry – is the quirky new style of Cirque de Soleil’s show, Kurios – Cabinet of Curiosities arriving in Tysons Corner on July 21th.   The story, set in an alternate yet familiar past, features a voyage Jules Verne would have envied.  Think leather goggles, steam train gadgets and a spectacular array of tricked out props.

Photo: Martin Girard / shootstudio.ca Costumes: Philippe Guillotel  © 2014 Cirque du Soleil

Photo: Martin Girard / shootstudio.ca Costumes: Philippe Guillotel © 2014 Cirque du Soleil

The tale of Kurios takes us on a journey into a deeper realm neatly hidden inside the larger-than-life curio cabinet of the “Seeker”.  Within this Dr. Caligari-like cabinet he finds a hidden, invisible world where he encounters bizarre curiosities that begin to animate.

Photo: Martin Girard / shootstudio.ca Costumes: Philippe Guillotel  © 2014 Cirque du Soleil

Photo: Martin Girard / shootstudio.ca Costumes: Philippe Guillotel © 2014 Cirque du Soleil

Unlocking this Pandora’s box unleashes a collection of otherworldly characters who step into his makeshift mechanical world.  The outlandish, yet quite benevolent, creatures turn his world upside down with a touch of poetry and and a ton of humor in an attempt to ignite the Seeker’s imagination and discover a parallel universe.  Heart-stopping and brilliantly imagined, it’s a magical journey worth taking.

Photo: Martin Girard / shootstudio.ca Costumes: Philippe Guillotel  © 2014 Cirque du Soleil

Photo: Martin Girard / shootstudio.ca Costumes: Philippe Guillotel © 2014 Cirque du Soleil

Written and directed by Michel Laprise, Kurios leads us into the birth of technology during the late 19th century and on a journey into the fantastical minds of the inventors of the great Industrial Age.  Laprise, a former actor, director and artistic director, who started his own theatre company in Montreal and trained at the National Theatre School of Canada, has been with Cirque for the past 16 years.  He also worked with Madonna on her Super Bowl XLVI halftime appearance and later directed her MDNA tour.  He recently sat down with this writer for a brief interview.

You were a Special Events Designer on Cirque’s specialty shows.  How did you transition into becoming a director of a large scale production?

I had ten years of theatre myself and pitching to raise money.  The department grew and they offered me the job.

How would you describe the story of Kurios?

It’s about a scientist, The Seeker, who looks through the portal at a time when electricity was bringing the world together.

There are 46 artists in Kurios.  How are the artists chosen?

In the beginning they were pre-selected through 3-minute demos, and later improvisation auditions.  Later I discovered that by directing them, the artists performed better, allowing us to really see their skills.  It became a workshop where I honed my director’s abilities.

How long does it take to put together these complex productions?

It took two years of choreography and theatricality and being in the training studio each day to get ready for Kurios.  In addition, on site we have a director, two coaches and a captain who continue training the artists every afternoon.

What’s different about this show?

When we started to create it we had heard from our audiences that we were becoming predictable.  So I eliminated everything that was habit and predictable.  We took out traps and turntables, and the artists are now closer to the stage and the audience can connect to the characters.  We also do a tribute to Shelley’s Dr. Frankenstein.  It all came out of an 80-page scenario.

Talk about the cool steampunk props?

The props speak to the art of recycling.  I wanted it to look low-tech to make it very genuine.  This show uses 426 props – the most props of any Cirque show ever.

What’s new about the music?

We have the A Team!  The composer, Raphael Beau, comes from Paris and every note is a vulnerability.

What are you working on now?

Last October I started working on my next show for Cirque in Buenos Aires where I spent three months putting together Soda Stereo.  It’s based on the legendary Latin rock band and debuts in 2017.

Through For tickets and information to Kurios visit www.CirqueduSoleil.com

Kinky Boots ~ Kennedy Center

Jordan Wright
June 21, 2016
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

‘Kinky Boots’ National Touring Company. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

‘Kinky Boots’ National Touring Company. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

A beacon of hope shone down mightily onto the stage at Kennedy Center’s Opera House this week.  It was more than hope, really.  It was a balm for the soul of Orlando’s LGBTQ community and their friends and supporters around the world.  A clearing of the clouds, if you will – if only for a few hours.

In this timely story of tolerance, love and self-acceptance, Lola (J. Harrison Ghee), a black drag queen from the seedier side of London, performs with her chorus line of queens.  When, in a stroke of fate, she meets Charlie (understudy, Adam Kaplan, who appeared to be struggling in the role), the reluctant scion of a fourth generation shoe factory in the hinterlands, she schools him in ‘dragdom’ and what it means to be absolutely fabulous in six-inch high-heeled boots.  When she alludes to the challenge of strutting her stuff in ladies’ boots, ill-designed to support the weight of a man, Charlie becomes sympathetic to her plight.

(l to r) Macho Don (Aaron Walpole) the floor manager and George (Jim J. Bullock). Photo by Matthew Murphy.

(l to r) Macho Don (Aaron Walpole) the floor manager and George (Jim J. Bullock). Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Intrigued by Lola, soubriquet “Kinky”, and the idea of making boots for a niche market, he offers her the job of Head Designer at his factory.  Unfortunately, it’s run by a crew of narrow-minded blue collar workers.  Lola, bullied by the male workers tries to fit in by wearing suits instead of dresses – a transition that falls flat.  Hoping to present Lola’s racy designs at the shoe show in Milan, the workers, especially the females of the crew who are enamored of Lola’s femininity, get on board.  Macho Don (Aaron Walpole) the floor manager and George (Jim J. Bullock) the numbers cruncher remain reluctant.  And therein lies the rub.

Contrary to what you may imagine, the romance in Playwright Harvey Fierstein’s six-time Tony Award winning musical is not between Charlie and Lola, but with Charlie’s fiancée, Nicola (Charissa Hogeland), who has grander ideas for their future in real estate development, and one of his employees Lauren (Tiffany Engen) who believes in his dreams.  Guess who wins out.

Jerry Mitchell, who received the Tony Award for his choreography in the original Broadway production, both directs and choreographs this production, along with famed Costume Designer Gregg Barnes, Scenic Designer David Rockwell and Lighting Designer Kenneth Posner.

Lola (J. Harrison Ghee) and her Angels in ‘Kinky Boots.’ Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Lola (J. Harrison Ghee) and her Angels in ‘Kinky Boots.’ Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Ghee is a force of nature.  Fierce and fabulous with a leggy, Amazonian frame that complements an astonishingly versatile voice, he delivers a show-stopping performance tinged with raw emotion.  The duet with Kaplan in “Not My Father’s Son” is especially spell-binding.  And Engen too, will steal your heart with her solo, “The History of Wrong Guys”.  And should you ever question what drives men wild, Lola (aka Simon) sets us straight in “Sex Is in the Heel”, adding, “Red is for sex, and sex shouldn’t be comfy.”  Got it?

‘Kinky Boots’ National Touring Company. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

‘Kinky Boots’ National Touring Company. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Through it all, pop diva Cyndi Lauper’s show-your-true-colors score is as sustaining as a hummingbird’s heartbeat and her emotionally-stirring ballads and electrifying show tunes add up to a winning night of crazy, funny, wonderful theatre.

Highly recommended for, according to Lola, “Ladies and Gentlemen, and those who have yet to make up their minds.”

Through July 10th at the Kennedy Center, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 or visit www.Kennedy-Center.org.

Nibbles and Sips ~ June 18, 2016

Jordan Wright
June 18, 2016
Photo credit: Jordan Wright
Special to DC Metro Theater Arts

 

Indique Redux; Asia Nine Bar & Lounge – An Asian Oasis Endures and Thrives; Italy in the Box; Simit + Smith – A New Turkish Bakery and Café; Chickpea Mediterranean Grill; Q Barbecue’s Secret Corn Pudding Recipe 

Indique Introduces New Dishes, New Décor 

Chef K. N. Vinod and Co-Owner Surfy Rahman

Chef K. N. Vinod and Co-Owner Surfy Rahman

Chef and Co-Owner K. N. Vinod along with Co-Owner Surfy Rahman recently re-launched their modern Indian cuisine restaurant with a totally revamped menu that included street food, family style dishes and classics with a modern twist, as well as gorgeous handcrafted Indian art and an updated décor.

Orange Shreekandh made with orange, saffron, cardamom, Grand Marnier, pistachio and mint from Indique

Orange Shreekandh made with orange, saffron, cardamom, Grand Marnier, pistachio and mint from Indique

As a staple of the Cleveland Park community for over 12 years, the upscale Indique has always been at the forefront of Indian cuisine in DC and, Chef Vinod, one DC’s most most celebrated chefs is a well-known frequent guest at the Smithsonian Resident Associate Programs.  His annual contributions to the prestigious Sunday Night Suppers series, hosted by Alice Waters, Joan Nathan and Jose Andres, cannot be understated.

(l-r) Tellisherry Cocktail -- Shrimp Puckka Shots

(l-r) Tellisherry Cocktail — Shrimp Puckka Shots

For Rahman it’s a family affair.  His sister-in-law sourced the new china, furniture and glassware; his daughter accompanied her father to India for fresh inspiration; and his two sons, Rahul Vinod and Sahil Rahman, who intend to follow in their father’s footsteps, are looking forward to a DC opening of their fast casual Indian concept called Rasa Indian Grill.

Indique

Indique

Rahman hired Carlie Steiner of Stir Bartending Co. to create a stylish cocktail menu for Indique which she based on Indian spices and herbs.  Her delicately spice-infused drinks use house made tonics made with garam masala and another that incorporates a blend of Indian herbs and spices such as fresh curry leaf, coriander and fenugreek.  Unique ingredients like toasted mustard seed and tamarind chutney contribute to an exotic and aromatic profile.  Addictive bar snacks included.

In a few weeks Indique will add a Happy Hour menu and Saturday and Sunday brunch.  Check the website for deets.  www.Indique.com

Asia Nine – Penn Quarter Perennial 

Asia Nine

Asia Nine

As one of the longer lasting Asian-owned restaurants in Chinatown’s Penn Quarter, Asia Nine has rightfully basked in its reputation.  It’s proximity to the downtown action – theatres, Verizon Center, museums and more – is yet another draw.  But this cozy, hip spot doesn’t rest on its laurels.  It continues to turn out an amazing variety of Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Korean and Japanese dishes for the adventurous diner.

Softshell Crab Sushi

Softshell Crab Sushi

Start with a refreshing Hibiscus Mojito or Lychee Martini.  No passport required.  Want sushi?  There’s maki sushi, nigiri sushi and vegetarian sushi.  Honey roasted duck?  Coming right up.  Your dinner partner is craving Thai curries?  There are three types – green, panang and lemongrass.  Noodles, your thing?  There’s everything from pho to udon.  All made to order.

Steamed buns

Steamed buns

Chef owners Natalie Tantivejakul and Rod Yomanee both immigrated individually to America from Thailand.  Natalie is from Bangkok and Rod is from a small town in the south named, Na-Korn.  The couple met and later married when Natalie hired Rod to be a chef at her first restaurant, Rice & Spice in Lorton, VA.  With roots from both the North and South of Thailand, Natalie and Rod are able to create menus that reflect both cooking styles as well as their favorite dishes from all over Asia.  In addition to two Asia Nine locations, they now have Rice & Spice Thai Cuisine restaurants in Alexandria and Fort Belvoir.

Fried Shrimp and Pho with Udon Noodles

Fried Shrimp and Pho with Udon Noodles

This week Asia Nine announced a new Saturday brunch service from 11am to 3pm.  The menu includes plenty of egg dishes, like kapow, bipimbap as well as the ubiquitous street food, pa thong ko, a deep-fried donut-style confection served with fresh fruit and sweetened condensed milk for dipping.

N.B. They’re especially welcoming to large groups with advance notice, the restaurant prides itself on getting everyone served and out in time for curtain up.

915 E St. NW, Washington, DC 20004 or their newest location at 254 Crown Park Ave.,  Gaithersburg, MD 20878 www.AsiaNine.com

Simit + Smith

Turkish Bakery and Café Opens in the Heart of Georgetown 

Cary Pollak with Jordan Wright

Simit + Smith is a two-story Turkish-inspired eatery housed in a charming historic townhouse.  Arriving on the ever-burgeoning bread and baked goods scene, the Istanbul-based company surprises the adventurous eater with authentic Turkish savory breads and rolls.  The star of the show is simit, a baked, not boiled, ring-shaped bread eaten throughout the day in both Balkan and Mediterranean countries.  Its texture is moist and light on the inside.  The dough is briefly dipped in a grape molasses and water mixture which helps the two types of coatings, sesame seeds or multigrain, stick to the bread, giving it a delectably crunchy crust.  Simit is the Turkish name, but it is also known by different names and comes in many varieties in Greece, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Lebanon and Israel.

Turkish breads from Simit + Smith

Turkish breads from Simit + Smith

You’ll find three varieties of simits here – original, whole wheat and multigrain.  To prepare these delightful puffs of bread for the oven, the first two varieties are the ones that are coated with sesame seeds.  The third is dipped in a multigrain mix that includes sesame, rolled oats, flax, poppy and sunflower seeds, and millet.  On a recent visit to the new Georgetown branch, both company President Zulfikar Bekar and Business Development official Dina Careccio pointed out that the simit is lighter on the inside and crunchier on the outside than its cousin, the bagel.  All are handmade and preservative-free.

The company’s name is the result of an effort by the Turkish-based parent company to portray “a synthesis of Turkish/Mediterranean food culture and American food culture.”  They felt that the simit is something very familiar in Turkey, as is the name Smith in the U.S., so they chose a name that is blends East meets West.

Street cart in Turkey

Street cart in Turkey

While the simit gets top billing, there are other Turkish breads to explore.  Acma (pronounced ACH-mah) also is in the form of a bagel, but is more akin to the light, eggy dough of brioche.  The un-holey pogaca is baked with different fillings, the most interesting of which is black olives and tangy,Turkish kasseri cheese.  Lamahcan is their version of pizza that’s topped with marinated minced meat with spices, sumac, onion, parsley with a wedge of lemon on the side.

A light fare salad from Simit + Smith

A light fare salad from Simit + Smith

The DC menu differs from the one in the New York area largely in that more “simitwiches” are available in the Big Apple, though the DC outlet has a variety of homemade sourdough bread sandwiches including a roasted chicken sandwich with cheddar cheese, sundried tomatoes, mixed greens and honey mustard sauce, and a Doner (sirloin) Kebap sandwich with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and Café de Paris sauce, a butter-based sauce commonly paired with beef.  A vegan sandwich also is on the menu.  Choose from an array of salads – Aegean Feta, Chicken Orange, Quinoa Salmon or Caesar served with the doner kabap.  (Hopefully the menu will widen to include some of the spreads like baba ganoush, Nutella and hummus which they serve in their three New York and two New Jersey restaurants.)  Be sure to try their real Turkish coffee and Turkish chai tea, too.

Last year the simit was listed in Zagat’s “9 Snack Foods You Need to Try in 2015” (albeit with an inaccurate claim that boiling is part of the preparation process).  The article predicted that this tasty treat will soon be seen around country and lucky for us, they chose Washington, D.C. as their first outpost beyond their U.S. home area!

Simit + Smith, 1077 Wisconsin Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20007 www.SimitandSmith.com

Italy in the Box 

What says amore more than a surprise box filled to the brim with Italian gourmet delicacies and landing on your doorstep?  Arriving without a card or return address, I had no one to thank, or share it with, before racing to the kitchen to prepare what it had in store for me.  All I had to do was boil water, toss the jar of Ligurian pesto from Niasca Portofino onto the artisanal basil tagliatelle from Pastificio Camp’Oro, then shave bits of aged pecorino from Famiglia Busti on the whole divine mess of pasta al dente.

The resulting homemade supper from Italy N The Box

The resulting homemade supper from Italy N The Box

The nifty brown box also included truffled potato chips from Tartuflanghe, which will wind up crumbled over roasted lemony green beans, and a delightfully fragrant Prunotto Mariangela Moscato wine jelly, which will find itself married to vanilla yogurt.  I wasn’t going to mention the three different flavors of chocolate Camardo truffles – rum, coffee and hazelnut – since I left no evidence of their existence.  But now that you know, I recommend you get your own, because I have no intention of sharing something that should not be made public anyway.  Check out www.Italynthebox.com for all their other products.

Chickpea – A New Mediterranean-Style Fast Food Spot

Bright red umbrellas punctuate the patio seating at Chickpea

Bright red umbrellas punctuate the patio seating

From the team who brought you DRP Pizza (in Del Ray and Belle Haven) and Stomping Ground the bakery/coffee shop/Southern menu eatery along Mount Vernon Avenue beside the farmers’ market, we now have Chickpea.  This new spot, as cute as its name, is beside the playing fields along Route 1 near Crystal City.  You can’t miss it for the bright red umbrellas on the large patio.  Open only a few months, its already catching on with those on the go.  Because sometimes you just WANT IT NOW!  No waiting, no table service, no tipping.  Okay, a contribution to the small glass jar by the register would be the kind thing to do.  Grab a tray and get in line.

The hardest part is choosing from the tons of options at Chickpea

The hardest part is choosing from the tons of options at Chickpea

It took me awhile to figure out the system and make my choices, but the dish I concocted was very tasty.  You begin by selecting a base from among brown or parsley rice, toasted quinoa, a giant oven-baked pita, spinach, arugula, mixed greens or romaine.  I was feeling healthy just reading the menu.  I mixed arugula with romaine.  Next is protein – lemony chicken cooked with wine, fresh herbs and garlic; spicy chicken with yogurt, peppers and herbs; chargrilled beef kofta; pulled lamb shank, which they slow roast; or falafel, crunchy little chickpea balls flavored with garlic and cilantro.  I had the lamb shank and it reflected the long, slow-cooked flavors you’d expect.

Slow roasted lamb shank with toppings served on vintage enamel trays at Chickpea - baba ganoush and hummus sit to the side at Chickpea

Slow roasted lamb shank with toppings served on vintage enamel trays at Chickpea – baba ganoush and hummus sit to the side at Chickpea

Toppings are next and there are tons to choose from.  You can add whatever you like from among lettuce, tomatoes, feta, olives, sumac onions, cukes, fresh mint, tabbouleh, grilled veggies and more.  Stay focused because your fourth decision will be spreads and here come the classics – tzatziki, baba ganoush, harissa, green chili chutney, two kinds of hummus or a creamy roasted garlic sauce.  All made in-house.  Not wanting to overwhelm the dish with too many flavors, I asked for mine served on the side so I could enjoy it separately with a side order of pita chips.

Freshly made lemonade , pomegranate ice tea and a refreshing infusion of mint, lemon and cucumber water are some of the delicious drink selections at Chickpea

Freshly made lemonade , pomegranate ice tea and a refreshing infusion of mint, lemon and cucumber water are some of the delicious drink selections at Chickpea

Lastly you’ll opt for one of three vinaigrette dressings for your very large bowl of deliciousness – lemon-oregano, Greek or red wine.

I have tried one other Mediterranean fast food spot that couldn’t hold a candle to Chickpea.  Try it.  You’ll love it.  It’s just outside Old Town, a few blocks from downtown Del Ray and thankfully there’s plenty of parking.

529 East Howell Ave., Alexandria, VA 22301 www.MyChickpeaGrill.com

Tuffy Stone’s Q Barbeque Secret Corn Pudding Recipe 

If you can’t get to one of Q Barbecue’s four locations in the Richmond area, here’s some inspiration just in time for summer grilling.  We asked pitmaster Tuffy Stone for this fan favorite side dish and he willingly obliged.  It’s the perfect accompaniment to your chargrilled protein, or just on its own with a salad of summer tomatoes, cukes and garden greens. Tip of the Day: Be sure to use the same, or similar, high quality ingredients in this classic Southern tribute to the king of summer vegetables – corn.

Head shot of Tuffy Stone aka "The Professor"

Head shot of Tuffy Stone aka “The Professor”

Tuffy, aka ‘The Professor’, is a barbecue ninja.  Oh, and I should mention he’s also a classically trained French chef.  Working with his team “Cool Smoke”, the Lynchburg native and über pitmeister has won countless awards for his smoked meats.

Q Barbeque's Ribs

Q Barbeque’s Ribs

He has appeared on the TV show BBQ Pitmasters and was a judge on Season Three.  Last October he dazzled the barbecue world with a win at the 2015 Jack Daniel’s Invitational BBQ competition in Lynchburg, TN.

Q Barbeque's Famous Corn Pudding

Q Barbeque’s Famous Corn Pudding

 

To give his corn pudding authenticity, Tuffy uses freshly shucked corn and Patrick Henry Yellow Cornmeal, milled by Ashland Milling Company of Virginia.  If you’re serving a crowd, just double or triple the recipe.  www.QBarbeque.com

Q Barbeque’ s Corn Pudding

Yield: 5 servings
Preparation Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Bake Time: 40 minutes

  • ½ teaspoon vegetable oil
  • 4 ½ tablespoons diced onions
  • 4 ½ tablespoons corn, cut off the cob
  • 1 ½ teaspoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 rounded tablespoon of yellow cornmeal
  • 1 extra-large egg, beaten
  • ½ egg yolk, beaten
  • ¾ creamed corn or ½ (14.5 ounce) can creamed corn
  • 1 rounded tablespoon sour cream
  • 2/3 cup plus 1 ½ tablespoons whole milk
  • ¼ cup plus 1 ½ tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon butter, melted
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 pinch ground black pepper
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and 8-x-8-x-2-inch glass baking dish with butter and set aside.
  • In a skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and corn. Cook until soft, approximately 10 minutes. Set aside.
  • In a large bowl, combine sugar, flour, cornmeal, and eggs. Beat at medium speed with an electric mixer until combined.
  • Add creamed corn and sour cream, beating for 1 minute on lowest speed.
  • Add milk and cream, beating for 1 minute.
  • Add melted butter, salt, pepper, and corn mixture, beating for 30 seconds. Transfer mixture to prepared baking dish.
  • Place a shallow pan on the lower oven rack and place baking dish inside. Fill larger pan with enough water to come up halfway on sides of baking dish.
  • Bake for 20 minutes, then turn pan ¼ and back for 20 minutes. Serve hot.