Monday, June 4, 2012

Society Fair, George Washington’s Whisky and DC Treats

My entire trip to Virginia had been packed to the brim, but no day proved to be busier – or more interesting – than the final one.

The morning started at Society Fair Epicurean Emporium in Alexandria. I cannot begin to tell you how impressed I am with this place. I have never seen anything like it and can’t imagine that I will again. The Eat Good Food Group has managed to put together in one spot a combination of food and drink items like no other, many of which are from their venues.

Did you love the bread pudding at Virtue? It’s here. Can’t live without Todd Thrasher’s Tonic from PX? Buy it at Society Fair. Craving the birthday cake served at Restaurant Eve or the coconut cake from Majestic? You’ll find it on the shelf.

In addition to supplying the homemade products sold in the restaurants, you will also find a full bakery, cheeses, a selection of sausages from Julian the butcher, a wine bar and a coffee counter. You can take out or stay (I enjoyed a latte and a delicious egg and cheese sandwich on a biscuit). Whatever you have, you can guarantee that nothing has ever been frozen and as many local businesses as possible have been supported.

My friend and colleague Julia Coney picked me up at Society Fair and we headed to Mount Vernon, the former home of the nation’s first president. I was there on a mission to do more than just check out the grounds.

I had been to the George Washington Distillery two and a half years ago at the start of my press trip on the American Whiskey Trail. I had been anxious to make it back to see (and taste) the progression of the products. It remained mostly the way I remembered it, which is the whole point here – to show the public how Washington made his whiskey. It is authentic from the gristmill that grinds the grain to the blend it is believed the former president used.

Project Manager Dennis Pogash is still around running the place and he was kind enough to take time out to give Julia and me a private tour. We then tasted some of the whiskey and rye, which could stand up to any made in a modern facility. Pogash also told us that they had also made small quantities of peach and apple brandies that should be available for sale in the fall (all of the GW Distillery products are only for sale at Mount Vernon). 

After the tasting, we walked over to the museum and learned about the food the Washingtons ate here at the “Hoecakes & Hospitality” exhibition. We took the exploration of food it one step further by taking “Dinner for the Washingtons' Walking Tour.” We walked through the greenhouse and the garden, where we saw all the vegetables that Martha Washington would have had in her kitchen. When the tour was over, Julia and I had worked up quite an appetite, so we had great lunch at the Mount Vernon Inn Restaurant.

We had some time before our next stop and I asked Julia if she minded driving over to see some of the monuments. I couldn’t remember the last time I was in DC and I had never seen the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. I was as memorized by the statues as I was by the quotes all around it, taken from speeches King had made.

After a brief walk around in the rain of DC, we headed to the just opened Sugar Magnolia,  next door to its sister restaurant Ripple. We had wished we had a lighter lunch as pastry chef extraordinaire Allison brought by some of their special treats.

The specialty here is ice cream sandwiches and they are definitely not the kind you usually get. My favorite was the Ginger Beet (ginger cookie; beet ice cream), but the waffle cookie with maple bacon ice cream was also quite good. Allison was continuing to concoct her next treats as we sat there (balsamic with strawberry, anyone?) while some of the waiters from Ripple brought in a little food for us to try. It was very hard to walk away without more than a bite of superb dishes like Black Quinoa Risotto, but we actually had another restaurant to go to.

We left with some of the best granola in the world (also Allison’s specialty), as well as a bag of their famous Bacon Pecans and headed to another part of DC for dinner at Graffiato. This very popular eatery has only been open a year. It is the brainchild of Top Chef Mike Isabella.

Graffiato was packed with people standing, sitting and generally smiling. We were escorted to our table and began to decipher the menu of small plates. Julia had been here previously and right away told me I had to try the Crispy Potato Gnocchi with wild mushrooms and stacciatellia. She wasn’t kidding. It was great. We were also blown away by the Suckling Pig Lasagna, filled with sweet and tender pulled pork and topped with lots of cheese.

The waiter recommended the Roasted Cauliflower with pecorino and mint and I’m glad we took him up on the idea. I also thought the Tortellini with butternut squash, goat cheese and walnut was delicious. They only thing I have to say I wasn’t thrilled with were the wines on draft. We tried a few, but nothing worked well.

Even my sweet tooth couldn’t get me to consider a dessert after a very full day of eating, but I’m glad I got to see Alexandria, Mount Vernon and Washington, DC, from a foodie’s eye.

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