Snallygaster – Mythical Beast and Beer Fest of Legend

Following on the heels of my visit to the Applebutter Festival, this past Saturday involved a trip to a different kind of festival. A Beer Festival… And despite the existence of the “Little Monster Zone,” this event was far more adult-themed. For those of you who don’t belong to the beer nerd camp, Snallygaster was organized by Neighborhood Restaurant Group, a band of restaurateurs and beer enthusiasts that are responsible for Churchkey (my favorite bar in DC), Rustico, Birch and Barley, Red Apron Butcher, and their latest venture, a DC brewery by the name of Bluejacket. For the inaugural Snallygaster event, Beer Director Greg Engert hand-picked almost 150 of his favorite beers and ciders, including a selection of over 20 different Pumpkin ales to celebrate fall. The entire thing was a benefit for Arcadia Farms, which had an awesome school bus on site with fresh produce you could pick up (and pair with your beer?….)

I met up with 3 other beer nerds (although I hesitate to even include myself in such a community – I’m not sure I have enough street cred for that) at Yards Park just after the opening of the event. We wound our way through the stalls named for a variety of mythical beasts like Hydra, Jabberwock, Leviathan and Kraken. The organizers weren’t exactly subtle about how legendary they envisioned this festival to be. Along the way, and after consuming a couple taster portions, we grabbed some choice items from the Red Apron Butcher tent — a classic hot dog for me, and a sauerkraut, bacon and mustard-topped bratwurst for my friend. With a belly quickly filling with beer, this really hit the spot–especially when enjoyed overlooking the sparkling Potomac, listening to a live band right on the waterfront.

Over the course of the 4 hours we spent wandering and basking in the sun, I sampled 14 different beers – a total I’m pretty darn happy with. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Bluejacket & Mad Fox Mad Jacket | Weizenbock | DC & Virginia | 7.2%
  • Bluejacket & Oxbow Freestyle #10 | Saison | DC & Maine | 4%
  • Elysian The Great Pumpkin | Pumpkin Ale | Washington | 9.5%
  • Heavy Seas The Great Pumpkin | Pumpkin Ale | Maryland | 8%
  • Schneider Wiesen Edel-Weisse | Hefeweizen | Germany | 6.2%
  • Brewer’s Art Le Canard | Belgian Strong Dark Ale | Maryland | 8%
  • New Belgium Peach Porch Lounger | Saison (Peach) | Colorado | 9.4%
  • Fritz Briem 1809: Zymatore | Berliner Weisse (Pinot Noir Barrel-Aged) | Germany | 5%
  • Smuttynose Strawberry Short Weisse | Berliner Weisse (Strawberries) | New Hampshire | 3%
  • Timmermans Pumpkin Lambicus | Lambic (Pumpkin) | Belgium | 4%
  • Rogue 19 Original Colonies | Mead | Oregon | 5.2%
  • Bayerischer Bahnhof Leipziger Gose | Germany | 4.6%
  • Williamsburg AleWerks | Pumpkin Ale | Virginia | 7.3%
  • Kulmbacher | Eisbock | Germany | 9.2%

Pretty acceptable, right? I also snagged some Disco Fries (i.e. fries covered in sausage gravy…yum) at the end of the day–the better to prepare me for a night that may or may not have lasted until the wee hours of the morning.

So here’s to (hopefully) many future Snallygasters…but not the actual mythical beast because whoa, that thing looks surly.

A West Virginia Kind of Weekend

 With unending twitter and facebook updates and four different email accounts synced to my iPhone at all times, I rarely find myself totally disconnected (even when I’m sleeping, MetroAlerts continues to ping my phone with updates about the broken Red line). But I was lucky enough to enjoy a pause from all that this weekend in an adorable cabin on the outskirts of Berkeley Springs, WV. When describing the trip to a friend, she pointed out that saying “rural West Virginia” was a bit redundant; West  Virginia doesn’t have much space that’s not rural. Just so where we were: situated along the edge of the Cacapin river (just a hop away from the Potomac, funnily enough), the cabin is literally enveloped in trees, and in the entire weekend, only one truck passed by on the road outside.

Saturday was the big day of our trip, for we were visiting the acclaimed (at least by the citizens of Berkeley Springs) Applebutter Festival. Berkeley Springs is also home to the famed (by more than just the citizens of Berkeley Springs) hot springs that Washington dignitaries would historically visit. You can even stop by George Washington’s bath (please visit Wikipedia at your leisure if curious). Despite the sun, it was brisk and windy, and we were all aghast at the (obviously local) little girl splashing around in her bathing suit. Despite the shivering, we had a marvelous time testing out applebutters and other preserves, chowing down on county fair-type food, selecting the best Honey Crisp and Crispin apples for the to-be-baked-that-night apple crisp, and engaging in some awesome, unabashed people-watching.

On the drive back from festival, the trees were literally exploding in front of our eyes–vivid reds and oranges burst out of the forest of green surrounding us on all sides. It’s beautiful country, no doubt. The only catch? Nestled amid the lush greenery, scores of neglected or abandoned farmhouses, barns, trailers and sheds slowly sink into decay. The deterioration is quiet, unassuming. It’s a reminder of the scores of people that have struggled–are struggling. In my world of DIY and design blogs, fixer-uppers are a fun challenge for the budding homeowner. In the quiet roads of West Virgina, not 3 hours from my own neighborhood, windows are broken and the paint is peeling, and a quick trip to the local Home Depot won’t be enough to stall the slide into ruin. In West Virginia, 17.4% of people live below the poverty line. That’s almost every 5th person living in poverty. And that’s enough to give you pause.

But inside that cabin, the mood was light. We sipped on hot apple cider, crouched close to the woodstove for warmth, and played with a delightful toddler and baby duo. A six-year-old amazed us all in the game of Taboo when she guessed that the word was “pipe-skirt” (not being familiar with the word “kilt,” but completely understanding the concept). We ate simple food – grilled chicken and sausage, grilled veggies, corn-on-the-cob (well, I didn’t), baked beans (again, I skipped those), and rosemary bread with apple butter spread (applebutter, cream cheese and cinnamon), and finished the meal with a bowl of hot apple crisp made by yours truly.

A gorgeous evening, followed by 2 days of relaxing, reading, playing board games, telling ghost stories, and watching Seinfeld on DVD (to distract us from said ghost stories at 3am). We drove home in a steady rain, none of us quite ready to rejoin civilization and the stream of texts and alerts that erupted on our smart phones as soon as we finally regained service on the road…

Jersey Shore

Don’t worry, I’m not going to talk about Snooki. Jersey Shore, on this occasion, refers to a pizza you can find at Mike Isabella’s (of Top Chef fame) first DC restaurant, Graffiato. Good old Mike has actually just published his first cookbook, Crazy Good Italian, so it seemed timely to do a roundup of my dining experiences at Graffiato. And when I say dining experiences, I mean 6 or 7 trips (thank goodness I work only 2 blocks away!) of awesomeness.

Although the menu varies with the seasons, as all good menus should, I’m doing my best to tick off some of his classic dishes each time I visit. Being a small plate kind of a joint, Graffiato enables you to try at least 4 or 5 dishes per meal, so the variety (and my list) is quite respectable. So far, I’ve sampled:

  • Broccolini | spicy pepper relish, walnut, feta
  • Baby Beets | house ricotta, orange
  • Roasted Cauliflower | pecorino, mint
  • Marinated Olives | citrus, chili, herbs
  • Greens | pickles, radish, mint, ricotta, salata
  • Gnocchi | butternut squash
  • Hand Cut Spaghetti | olive oil poached cherry tomatoes, thai basil
  • Citrus Cured Striped Bass | peppers, fennel, saffron
  • Classic Pizza | melted cherry tomatoes, sicilian oregano, garlic
  • Papa Smurf Pizza | speck, gorgonzola, caramelized onions and potato
  • Jersey Shore Pizza | fried calamari, tomato, provolone, cherry pepper aioli
  • Flatbread with Pepperoni sauce (recipe is rumored to be in the new cookbook!)
  • Brussels Sprouts | maple, egg,  pancetta

I will admit that I keep checking the online menu to see if it’s brussels sprouts time again. Longing might be the right word for how I feel about those brussels sprouts. On my most recent visit, I couldn’t stop taking pictures of the gloriously lovely roasted cauliflower dish, which was, by far, the winning dish of the lot. Also gracing our table was the broccolini (served cold with a great crunch to balance the creaminess of the feta and relish), an herbed pasta dish with crab that deceptively appears to be gnocchi, and, of course, the inimitable Jersey Shore pizza topped with calamari. The aioli has a kick that’s just right, bleeding into the chewy, slightly charred crust.

Once you find a place that’s great about accommodating your particular dietary restrictions, chances are you’ll keep on coming back. Just so for Graffiato. On my first visit, I learned that the restaurant GM actually has a peanut allergy, so they rarely have peanuts on the menu (you’ll find some in the desserts occasionally), and they’re exceedingly understanding and careful about cross contamination in the kitchen. On my latest visit, after looking over the special $20 lunch menu (awesome deal!), we asked for a recommendation on a pasta dish, and the first words out of our server’s mouth was, “Oh, the corn agnolotti…” Unfortunately  I had to stop him right there and explain my corn intolerance, to which he gave me a sympathetic smile and suggested the crab pasta instead. People seem to melt at the very mention of the acclaimed corn agnolotti; a particularly eloquent Yelp Reviewer described the dish as “amazingly light handmade(?) pasta wrapped around a homemade sweet corn mash that hit me with a wave of fields, summer, and memories of eating corn on the cob all at once.” What imagery! If you don’t happen to be corn-intolerant, order it while it’s still on the menu!

Ultimately, I keep going back to Graffiato for their incredible food, very attentive service, and the knowledge that the peanut-allergic GM is keeping his staff accountable and the kitchen safe for me.

Graffiato | 707 6th St NW Washington, DC 20001 (202) 289-3600