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Nibbles and Sips Around Town- July 20th

Jordan Wright
July 20, 2012
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Love Thy Neighbor and Their Beer 

Let the tasting begin - photo credit Jordan Wright

Let the tasting begin – photo credit Jordan Wright

What’s more local than partnering with your neighbor?  For the food trucks that visit Alexandria’s Port City Brewing Company, producer and neighbor Logan’s Sausage lends kitchen space close by the Wheeler Avenue brewery.  Fun fact:  From 5 till 8pm on alternate Friday or Saturday nights The Big Cheese and Borinquen Lunch Box food trucks join the party at the brewery.  Try the Puerto Rican style Churrasco Steak Sandwich or Cuban Sandwich from Borinquen, or the Cherry Glen Chevre with lemon fig jam from The Big Cheese who sources all their cheeses from the Cowgirl Creamery.

The monster storm that knocked out power to over a million people in our area earlier this month caught many local businesses off guard.  At Alexandria’s Port City Brewing Company power was out for five days, compromising the process of some of the precision controlled beers.  But from disaster comes a story to warm the cockles of your eager brewhearts.

Founder Bill Butcher along with Head Brewmaster Jonathan Reeves had been in the process of making the last batch of Downright Pilsner when the storm hit.  “From lemons you’ve got to make lemonade,” Butcher told me.  I think he meant that in a beer way.  So while the vats’ temps had soared, fermenting the batch at a higher temperature than intended, they did a little research and found a style of beer called ‘California Common’ or ‘Steam Beer’ that ferments nicely at the higher temps.  This happy accident will be called “Derecho Common” in deference to the type of storm that brewed it.  Also called a ‘one-off’ or ‘shadow beer’, Port City will carry it along with the four other brews they are known for – Optimal Wit, a Belgian style Witbier; Essential Pale Ale, a golden beer with a fruity hop aroma; Monumental IPA, a balance between hoppy bitterness and rich malty goodness; and Porter, displaying a roasted coffee/dark chocolate character.

Spice mix for the Optimal Wit at Port City Brewing Company - photo credit Jordan Wright

Spice mix for the Optimal Wit at Port City Brewing Company – photo credit Jordan Wright

As for their drowned out July 1st “Pint Party” to celebrate the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control board’s new law finally allowing breweries to serve on premises, neighbors provided the borrowed electricity for the bands and lights a few days later.

In the meantime they’ve put their shoulders to the vats seven days a week for the past three weeks to get back on track after losing three weeks off their production schedule from the storm’s aftermath.  (No worries.  If you drop by all your faves are there on tap or for sale.)

During a recent tour I learned a great deal about the craft beer process, a quantum leap from the massive operation I beheld at the Guinness Storehouse last spring in Dublin.  For example they use a Robot Coupe to blend the coriander, orange peel and Grains of Paradise – an exotic combination of African peppers used in the Optimal Wit.  And that Reeves developed a machine called the ‘hop cannon’ to dry hop the beer while it rests in fermenting tanks.  In addition their beers are all date stamped and leftover grain stored in the silo in the parking lot goes to a farm in Virginia for cattle feed.  Oh, and they use the freshest local War Shore Oysters to make their Revival Stout a process that adds the oysters and their liquor to the briny brew during the boil and steep the shells in the brewing water to add mineral content.

This location is a busy spot both days and evenings with fans arriving regularly to refill growlers and enjoy tastings.  Butcher has had to add a second tasting bar, proudly telling me, “It’s a very thirsty market!”  Indeed!

For tours and hours visit  Or Go to PCBC’s Twitter, Facebook or website to keep current on daily events.

Celeb Chef Joins the Equinox Team 

Ellen Gray (center) with Executive Chef Karen Nicolas (left) and Pastry Chef Brandi Etinger (right) - photo credit Jordan Wright

Ellen Gray (center) with Executive Chef Karen Nicolas (left) and Pastry Chef Brandi Etinger (right) – photo credit Jordan Wright

Equinox’s Executive Chef Karen Nicolas could get lost behind a dough machine.  The petite chef with the gleaming brown eyes may be small in stature but her ingredient-driven cuisine is now writ large on the culinary stage.   At a summer casual party, replete with a live band, the much-adored Todd and Ellen Gray introduced Nicolas and her cuisine to the city’s food writers with the oft-hinted at but now formal announcement that she has been chosen Food & Wine’s Best New Chef of 2012.  Nicolas who is Filipino as is White House Chef Cristeta Comerford (Is this a trend?) has been keeping the secret since the magazine informed her last November.  Try keeping that under your toque.

Nicolas served up some scrumptious bites straight from her “Ode to Summer” menu. Here are a few of the items on this season’s four-course or six-course menu that offers the option of wine pairing.

Heirloom Summer Melons compressed in anise hyssop with cubanelle peppers, formaggio capra and cucumber water; Sea Salt Cured King Salmon with apricot, fennel crema, Minus 8 Ice Wine; Corn Flour Tagliatelle with Maine Lobster Velouté, summer squash and sorrel.  I could go on, but I’m delicately drooling on my keyboard as I write this.  I don’t usually mention the prices but in this case I note that they are astonishingly gentle – the four-course at $40 the six at $60.  Add on for the wine pairings.

When I asked Nicolas if she had a signature dish she appeared to ponder the question. “Not yet,” she mused.  Maybe diners will choose one for her.

I urge you to taste her imaginative dishes for yourself and weigh in when you find your favorite.  Gray has always been out in front when it came to buying fresh and local and still is.  We’ll happily afford a pass to the Maine lobstah and Alaskan King salmon.

In Just Under the Wire Saturday’s Party and Femivore Award Winners 

Eat Local First Farm-to-Street party on V Street - photo courtesy of Think Local First

Eat Local First Farm-to-Street party on V Street – photo courtesy of Think Local First

In another celebration of local farmers and restaurateurs the Eat Local First’s Farm-to-Street Saturday party is the last of a week’s worth of local food, beer, drinks and artisans events at the 1300 V Street, NW outdoor location.  Think Local First’s Executive Director Stacey Price and her dynamic team have been partying with the community for the past seven days and have one last event to offer this Saturday from 1 till 7pm.  With 40 vendors and 4 bands there’ll be plenty to enjoy.  Admission is $15.00 and includes four drink or food tickets.

The organization sponsored a Femivore award with a dinner at RIS.   The top finalists and a $1,000.00 award were Lauren Biel and Sarah Bernardi of DC Greenswhose mission is to focus on DC college students, putting them to work in school gardens throughout the city mentoring younger students to grow their own produce to “connect communities to healthy food.”

Femivore Award - photo courtesy of Think Local First

Femivore Award – photo courtesy of Think Local First

Tied for runners-up with a $500.00 award provided by Mitch Berliner of Essential Farm Markets were Kathryn Warnes and Lisa Jordan with their Taste of Place program to expand culinary tourism in Washington D.C.   The women seek to “help you experience the taste of place with hand-on farm-to-table culinary adventures, exploring local food in urban and rural environments.”

Allison Sosna with PINE and MicroGreens also came in as runner up with her innovative business model combining her experience as a restauranteur with a desire to contribute to community outreach.  Sosna hopes to, “bridge the gap between food access, food knowledge, and the joy of cooking.”  Her fast casual resto PINE sources locally and uses its resources to fund MicroGreens, a program to teach children to cook on a food stamp budget.  Berliner generously provided an equal reward to both.

Well-deserved and enterprising programs coupled with thoughtful recognition for their selfless efforts.  Now that’s what we call Olympian!

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