Welcome to the New Republic. Now with Booze!

If anyone has been following the blog–back to when I spent almost every day touting the seemingly simple logic of: Go to bed at a reasonable hour and go to class. This will actually help you save tens of thousands of dollars–then you may know why this restaurant opening was such an exciting idea. Of course, I’m only about 10 minutes away from the old haunts of “downtown” Takoma Park but I’m still not down the creek very often these days. But one night I made plans to meet a friend who lives there (practically around the corner) for dinner one night to celebrate his new job.

Republic, located in Takoma Park

Republic, located in Takoma Park

For anyone who is familiar with the nicer suburbs of DC, Takoma Park is a bit of an oddball in that it’s classy but it hasn’t been “hip” in a while. It’s also known as the “hippie repository” of the outer DC area. For anyone wondering why that might be, I happen to know exactly why that is: The Seventh-day Adventists.

That’s right, those teetotal religious looneys who happen to have large churches on three major corners within the city, adjoining church offices and schools (elementary and high school), a university (from which I happen to have two degrees), and that rather large hospital (at which I happened to be born). Those were the original vegan hippies hailing from Battle Creek, MI. Spewing the usual Second Awakening Revivalist type nonsense about religion, the SdA’s had this really crazy thing against booze and meat. Some of their other school even to this day don’t have ketchup (because of the vinegar) or pepper in their cafeterias because of the church’s original health message.

So how did this eventually affect my evening’s entertainment? Well what all this means is that Takoma Park, for a very long time was a “dry” city. To this day there are no liquor shops in the city limits and only recently was alcohol even a topic of discussion in many of the local cafe’s and restaurants. Partly, this was due the fact that the church folks practically owned the city (mafia style). Their headquarters were there, their churches, schools… so the actually passed legislation that prevented the type of locales that would bring in the type of people you see in the newer restaurants in DC.

There have been cafe type places in Takoma Park for quite some time. The Capital City Cheesecake right down the sidewalk has been a favorite spot for coffee and pastries for years (since it was Savory’s). It was a rocky start for a place that didn’t seem to fit in with the neighborhood needs but it’s finally found it’s path and looks to be doing well. I enjoy reading my comic books and sipping coffee there many an afternoon when I was still working at the university.

Capital City Cheesecake

Capital City Cheesecake

When it comes to restaurants there were Mark’s Kitchen and Middle Eastern Cuisine (from which many of my events at the university were catered) which have both been something like “fixtures” in the area. And we were all curious and twittering in anticipation when Roscoes began to put up signs. Roscoes, by the way, is named after a wild rooster that used to run around Takoma Park and was lovingly named Roscoe by locals. Roscoe was hit by a car and a memorial statue of him now stands where the weekend farmer’s market begins. I learned this all while not being very productive before finals week from a professor of mine.

Roscoe (Link goes to the WETA blog post on “Boundary Stones” about the community’s beloved chicken)

This photo is clearly somewhat outdated since you should be able to see at least some of the black “Republic” sign on the right. It looks like it was still Video Americana at the time this picture was taken. Video stores, another archaic item… But we were talking about Republic.

Republic, which was oddly just ok this time around. It looks like a nice downtown restaurant but it had the crowd of…well… Takoma Park. We tried the drinks and they were what one would expect from a good DC bar. And the service was great. But the food needs work. It wasn’t bad but it reminded me of a dinner I had once in CA during those beach bum days where the person with me made the experience good but I don’t remember the food. Then again, I’m usually alright with that. in this case, however, something was a bit off. And If I go back and have the same experience I will definitely say something. Because when a sauce for empanadas can be described very quickly as “not-very-good-homemade-mayo” there is a serious problem.

If you’re suddenly very concerned and thinking that this is a place to avoid, think again! Takoma Park is picky. If a restaurant like this can maintain itself in a city that’s fairly closed off yet open minded, please the natives, and yet still draw out downtowners into this rather small off-shoot from the DC diamond that’s something to keep in mind. Republic is still new to the area but I’d be interested to see with what they manage to turn into. They’ve already started off well with their interior designs, menu concepts (no matter what details still need a little tweaking), and the fact that they plan to add a patio and hire a music manager to coordinate.

And from the original article (if you follow the link from the first photo of Republic’s interior) I see a lot of comments about Takoma Park not being funky. And it’s true. Takoma Park is just weird. But in an incredibly homey way. Republic, on the other hand is very SoCal (including the moustaches in some cases). This is a place where you raise a family but as more and more people in my age bracket are starting to do that, we’d like to bring a little more of the inner city into our suburban lives and it’s appropriately being started by someone who knows DC and also happens to be learning very quickly about some of us weird folks who got excited about an italian restaurant/cafe (across the street) named after a community chicken.

Drug Dazed Haze Causes Foodie To Watch Ina Garten Without Her “Eyesight”

At the end of my office hours on Monday (around 9pm) my headaches had gotten to the point where staying, or even becoming, upright was just a herculean task. I don’t often cry from my many aches and pains but when I do you know something is broken inside.  So yesterday I stayed home to try and give my poor brain a chance to heal. I’m still having migraines but now I’m on a bunch of drugs and in-taking St. John’s Wort  (in tea form: Yogi’s St. John’s Wort, Blues Away to be exact) and I’ve brought my Super Booster vial that I got in Boston last week (which you would be all caught up on if you were following the adventure on Gastrogasms’ Facebook Page).

Hotel Chocolat Purist Super Boosters

Hotel Chocolat Purist Super Boosters, link goes to a review of the nibs and a couple more images.

Why the emotional balancing tea? Well because pain makes you weak and when you cry because you’re in pain you might as well cry about everything else while you’re at it. Plus, it’s caffeine free (which is good because the cocoa nibs and migraine drugs both have caffeine and that’s enough for me now, thanks) and tastes sweet on it’s own. I do add a little honey because the taste of honey is nice too but it doesn’t really need it. But let’s be brutally honest. When life sucks, sometimes you just gotta eat what you gotta eat. I may feel like the thought of food will making me throw up but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to admit that I could really use some super dense chocolate cake to make all the emotional pain go away so I’ll only have to deal with the feeling like my eyeballs are going to pop out of my head while my brain is being eaten by fire ants.

Strawberries with Balsamic Vinegar

Strawberries with Balsamic Vinegar

At some point while draped all over the living room sofa yesterday I was listening to the Food Network on TV and heard this recipe: Strawberries with Balsamic Vinegar. Personally, I think Ina Garten is a weirdo and watching her cook (even without a migraine) makes me want to rip all my hair out and scream. But I didn’t have enough energy to get up and get the remote to change the channel so I watched the blurry images (I wasn’t wearing my glasses, i.e. “my eyesight”) of strawberries do their little dance on our 40″ screen. This was like the only recipe she made that didn’t involve an ass-butt’s portion of butter (at some point I was dreaming about Supernatural so I was referring to a lot of things as “ass-butts”) or meat. And after watching “Vegucated” last week for work I was reminded how much I don’t like buying, cooking, or eating meat very often so now every time I see chicken being prepared (and I never really cared for chicken anyways), I see cute baby chicks freshly hatched getting crunched up while they’re trying to escape an industrial sized grinder. Horrified? Yeah, I was sniffling at my desk at work and crying “Nooooo!”. My office mate things I’m insane. And she wore pink jeans to an honors induction ceremony last weekend where the speaker was a representative from the White House and everyone else was either wearing a suit or some other fairly equivalent form of attire. Even I wore a dress. And that’s saying something. But there’s nothing like that connected with this recipe (as far as I’m aware) so I think it looks pretty good.

 

The Pre-Thanksgiving Post: Part 1 (The Rant)

I know that most of the readers of this blog do not know me personally and are probably not aware of what’s going on in my life. So here’s the gist of it: I got a job. Full time and a half with no benefits but still… A job. I work as a First Year Experience Coordinator at my alma mater which means I work with freshmen. 130 freshmen, in fact. There were 135 but I lost a few somewhere along the way. Or more like I could never find them. Part of my duties in this job is to try and help the “Class of 2016” bond as a group and create strong ties to the campus community. How better to do that than with food?

So while my job is an administrative one I’ve tried to make as many of our programs and events include food of some sort. Actually, while typing this section of the post I am supervising a Freshman Study Night and there are enough snacks and hot drink fixings here to sink a small ship. And that’s what I’ve been doing. Enticing young college students into the house of learning with the promise of hot chocolate with whipped cream and fancy biscuits to dunk in it. A lot of the students still don’t seem to realize I get paid to do this.  Sometimes I don’t realize I’m getting paid to do this. Then, magically, checks show up on my desk and thus my bank accounts grow.

In years past my family has tried various traditions for Thanksgiving. We never seem to stick to any one. One of my favorite Thanksgiving memories was from while I was living in England and a friend and I decided that life just wouldn’t be the same unless we had a proper Thanksgiving. One of the American professors that the school held a Thanksgiving dinner for the American students but you had to pay and it was vegetarian (my friend was NOT okay with that) and it was missing some seriously major elements: (1) Pecan Pie, (2) meat, (3) participation in the kitchen, (4) our friends.

So my friend and I decided that the only proper thing to do would be have our own Thanksgiving dinner and invite our non-American friends so that they could experience Thanksgiving our way. Not to mention the regular Thanksgiving on campus was ONLY for American students and we didn’t have too many of them in our posse. What is it about groups of Americans in Europe? I swear they aren’t that loud and obnoxious in their own country. We planned dinner for about 15 people. We made our lists, bought our groceries, scrubbed the dorm kitchen so it was usable and asked around campus for all the supplies we’d need like plates, silverware, chairs, etc.

Thanksgiving day comes and we both have class in the morning so nothing can happen until after lunch. That’s when we start hauling stuff over to the dorm from the cafeteria and people start to notice. It’s when we’re carrying over an extra table that a couple other students offer to help us out that we realize we might need to up our numbers for dinner. After all, people are helping us set up for dinner and they’re asking questions about Thanksgiving and we’re telling them it’s about being thankful for everything we have and bringing people together. So within an hour of beginning our preparations we’ve gone from our original 15 guests to around 20 and as the afternoon goes on we’re up to 35 and so we call in some favors and ask some friends to bring us a few more ingredients to make sure we have enough food. We’d apparently planned for everyone on our original guest list to eat until they rolled over dead because we didn’t have to ask for too many extra ingredients.

By the time people had pitched in to help set up, cook, clean up afterwards, etc, we had a total of (and we counted) 55 people attend our Thanksgiving. While it wasn’t the same at Thanksgiving at home it was still very special to me. It was after that big event that we put on that I was asked to be the Social VP at the school which brought on a whole different kind of intensive kitchen workout. But that’s another set of tales.

Like I said in a previous post, Thanksgiving is a magical time for me. I tell people who I bring or invite home (or wherever I happen to be) for Thanksgiving that this is the one day a year you can eat whatever you want. I know this has next to nothing to do with the spirit of the holiday but I don’t care. That’s a big part of  it for me. If you’re a guest in my house on Thanksgiving I will do my very best to make sure that what you love to eat most in the world in on that kitchen table at some point during the day. It just so happens that the Thanksgiving staples (mashed potatoes and stuffing) happen to be one of my favorite food couples in the world. I ask for it on my birthday along with pecan pie which I’m pretty sure I could eat a truckload of all on my own if I didn’t have parents. (I always make sure my mom makes two for Thanksgiving so I’m assure to have at least a half to a whole pie at my disposal throughout the day)

But every Thanksgiving we get ambitious at my house. My dad buys the biggest turkey and then 2-3 chickens. My mom checks out books from the library. I go online. Magazines get murdered. Lists get made. We all start yelling. It’s really quite horrifying how much we yell when planning family events/meals that are supposed to represent peace and togetherness. I’ve had friends state this quite bluntly to me. And somewhere in there we end up with a menu that works for everyone.

While the same thing is probably going to happen this year there will also be the potential addition of young college students joining us which is both a little stressful but in a good heartwarming kind of way. I hope that the students who come feel the love in how loud we yell at one another about who is cutting what completely wrong. But it is important to me, as me and as their adviser (possibly boss, we might get some older students) that they feel like Thanksgiving is magic no matter where they are or who their with. And also like they couldn’t possibly eat another crumb by the end of the night.

The second part of this post will be a special Thanksgiving Gastroporn Menu which includes some of my personal favorites for the holiday as well as some new things I’d like to see (and hear) my family argue about later.

To be continued…

Gastroporn Menu – August.2012

Outdoor Bites & Sips

Grilled Watermelon Salad (with Video)

Cucumber Feta Rolls

Chicken Satay with Chunky Peanut Sauce

Nasi Lemak (Coconut Rice)

Carolina Peach Sangria

Pineapple Berry Hobo Pack