DC Guide: Great Places for Brunch + Sweets

Molly Jacques DC Guide Illustration Oh So Beautiful Paper1 DC Guide: Where to Drink

Illustration by Molly Jacques for Oh So Beautiful Paper

So now you know where we like to go out to dinner and have a great cocktail, but there are still two very important food-related topics to cover – brunch and sweets!  These are two things very near and dear to my heart; brunch is my favorite meal of the week (along with what seems like most of DC) and I have a ridiculous sweet tooth.  There are tons of great brunch spots in DC and more cupcakeries than you can shake a stick at, but today I thought I’d highlight just a few personal favorites…

Brunch

 

Photo Credits: Ted’s Bulletin

Belga Cafe  A Belgian restaurant in the middle of Capitol Hill, Belga offers a super-yummy European-inspired brunch with everything from thick Belgian waffles (of course) to crepes to omelettes.  It’s one of the most popular brunch spots on the Hill, so be prepared to wait (even if you have a reservation), but it’s so worth it.

Ted’s Bulletin  Located right across the street from Belga Cafe on Capitol Hill’s Barracks Row, Ted’s Bulletin really couldn’t be much different in terms of style and menu.  Ted’s is all about old school diner food – greasy burgers, delicious sandwiches, seriously amazing milkshakes, not to mention the homemade pop tarts – and they serve breakfast all day long!  We love the pancakes and omelettes, but T.U.B.S. – Ted’s Ultimate Breakfast Sammy – really should be experienced at least once.

Rosemary’s Thyme  Tucked away between Dupont Circle and Adam’s Morgan, Rosemary’s Thyme is such a little hidden gem of a restaurant, particularly when it comes to brunch.  The restaurant describes itself as a “Mediterranean kitchen” and there are lots of Turkish culinary influences on the menu.  With plenty of both indoor and outdoor seating (at least on nice days) and a family-friendly vibe, it’s one of my favorite brunch spots in all of DC.

Founding Farmers Founding Farmers is all about quality ingredients sourced from sustainable family-owned farms.  Brunch at Founding Farmers is still actually on our must-try list, but I’ve heard such good things that I had to include it here.  I was lucky enough to eat lunch here a while back and can’t wait to see what they offer for my favorite meal of the week.  I’ll come back with my report once we’ve had a chance to visit!

Sweets

 

Baked + Wired cupcakes (left) and Sweet Lobby macarons (right), both via my Instagram

The Sweet Lobby  I could not have been more thrilled when this adorable shop opened up on Barracks Row last year.  The Sweet Lobby offers cupcakes, macarons, and a variety of cookies.  Everything is fantastic, but I’m stuck on the macarons, which come in a rotating variety of amazing flavors (rose, orange cardamom, chocolate passionfruit, salted praline!) that change on a daily basis.

Baked + Wired  With some, ahem, rather famous cupcakeries in town, it’s almost controversial to ask a DC resident who makes the best cupcakes – I’ve personally been involved in heated discussions that mirror political debates!  With that said, no one else in DC comes close to the cupcakes at Baked + Wired.  Dense, sweet but not too sweet, with just the right balance between cake and frosting, and some seriously awesome flavor options.  My favorite (so far) is the carrot cake cupcake with cream cheese frosting!

Dolcezza Gelato  With multiple locations around DC, Dolcezza is hands down our favorite gelateria in the District.  The gelato and sorbetto are made fresh every morning using high quality (and mostly local) ingredients, and we love some of the more exotic flavors, like quince, lime-cilantro, thai coconut, and orange-honey-cardamom.

DC Guide: Where to Drink

Molly Jacques DC Guide Illustration Oh So Beautiful Paper1 DC Guide: What To Do

Illustration by Molly Jacques for Oh So Beautiful Paper

DC is a very boozy city.  Together we work hard and we… drink a lot.  We’ve got some great beer joints and wine bars (DC tops the nation in per capita wine consumption), but it’s increasingly easy to find  amazing cocktails here too.  This is in large part to DC’s cocktail renaissance, something that’s been unfolding over the last few years, led by such luminaries as Derek Brown and Katie Nelson of the Columbia Room, Todd Thrasher of PX, or Jeff Faile of Fiola.  I’m sure we’re leaving a few really great places off this list, but that’s not a slight against them – there are too many to list in one post.  Andrew

 

The Passenger & Columbia Room

Photo Credits: Tyler Nelson via Prince of Petworth (left) and Matt Cook via We Love DC (right)

The Passenger – the creation of Derek Brown, DC’s King of the Cocktail, and his brother Tom – is one of our favorite bars with a very casual vibe.  Don’t limit yourself to a glass of wine or a beer, the Passenger employs some of the most talented bartenders I’ve ever met who can whip up just about any cocktail you can think of, from classic pre-Prohibition cocktails with obscure, hard-to-find ingredients to something created on the spot to suit your tastes.  There’s literally no menu; it’s up to you and your bartender to figure out what you’re having tonight.

Inside the Passenger is a bar-within-a-bar, the Columbia Room.  Entering the Columbia Room is like being inducted into a secret order of bartenders – through an unmarked door in the often boisterously noisy Passenger, you enter a serene and elegantly styled speakeasy where Derek and some of his top bartenders will ply you with some of the best and most lovingly-crafted drinks you’ll ever taste.  You can order a la carte or enjoy their three-course tasting menu, but either way the drinks will be great.  Just as importantly, the bartenders will walk you through each drink – its origins, its ingredients, the best way to make it, and more.  The Columbia Room also offers classes on Saturdays; these are musts for cocktail enthusiasts.  Make reservations or sign up for classes early, as these fill up quickly.

Fiola

In addition to serving amazing food, Fiola has one of the best bars in DC.  Head bartender Jeff Faile has put together a cocktail menu that features many classic cocktails, but along with new drinks and variations on old ones that incorporate Amari, or Italian bitters.  Trust me on this one: even if you don’t like Amari, or have never tried them, these drinks are great and will broaden your taste horizons in surprising ways.  Jeff has a great team of bartenders who love a challenge and are happy to whip something up for you on the spot to suit your tastes or ply you with some of their newest experiments and homemade liqueurs.

Biergarten Haus

The first time I walked into Biergarten Haus, one of H Street’s best spots, I felt like I had been transported straight to Bavaria in southern Germany.  This is definitely the closest I’ve ever come to recapturing the spirit of that amazing land.  Biergarten Haus serves up an array of fantastic German beers on tap, which you can order in a manageable half-liter glass or a gargantuan, German style liter stein (I recommend the latter).  There are no reservations, so be prepared to swoop in to grab a seat at one of the barrels that serves as a table (or better, a section at one of the long, communal tables) outside as soon as someone gets up to leave.

PX

PX is, like the Columbia Room, something of a modern speakeasy.  Located just outside of DC in Old Town Alexandria, PX lays behind an unmarked door with only a tiny blue light to indicate when it’s open.  Once inside, you’re treated to a vibe of 1920s decadence and some really fantastic cocktails invented by our local mad scientist of mixology, Todd Thrasher.  One of the best things to do here is watch the cocktails being made as Todd or one of his bartenders adds, drop by drop, homemade bitters and other ingredients to made some really fantastic and inventive drinks.  This is one of the first places I went that helped me fall in love with cocktails, and I still remember some amazing drinks that I don’t think I could replicate at home, like an Old Fashioned flavored with pecan water.  Reservations are a must.

ChurchKey

Photo Credit: ChurchKey (right); William Couch (left)

Upstairs from Birch & Barley, ChurchKey is probably the best beer bar in DC.  It has an amazing rotating selection of bottles and beers on tap, most of which you will never have heard of before.  You might even want to bring a notebook to write down the names of your favorites if you hope to remember them the next day and order them again sometime.  Once you’ve tried it, you’ll understand why Beer Director Greg Engert has won pretty much every beer award that has ever been invented.  (Also: why don’t high school guidance counselors ever tell you about careers like “Beer Director”?)  Check out their website before you visit, because ChurchKey often hosts special events and tastings for rare brews and cask-aged beers.

The Gibson

One reviewer called The Gibson a temple to cocktails.  Another of DC’s speakeasies, the Gibson is a reservations-only bar hidden behind an unmarked door in DC’s U Street neighborhood.  Here you’ll find, as with PX or the Columbia Room, some fantastic and lovingly made drinks, old and new.  The inside is dimly lit, decorated in dark woods and embossed leather, a fantastic atmosphere to savor a cocktail or three.

DC Guide: Where to Eat

Illustration by Molly Jacques for Oh So Beautiful Paper

We really, really love to go out to eat, and over the past few years DC has become quite the foodie town!  There are a gazillion amazing restaurants and it seems like a new restaurant opens every other week.  There’s no way I could cover everything, but here is a quick list (in no particular order) of our favorite restaurants in DC:

Photo Credits: Birch & Barley (Left); Star Chefs (right)

Birch & Barley (14th Street/Logan Circle)  Truly fantastic German-inspired nouveau cuisine, and one of our long-time favorite restaurants in DC.  If it were just about the food, Birch & Barley would still be one of our favorite spots, but they also have a wonderful beer director who really knows his stuff and a huge beer list with amazing rotation on tap.  I took my husband here for his first nice dinner after returning from a 6-month deployment in Iraq, and for special occasions we love to order the tasting menu – which comes with beer pairings selected by the beer director that truly enhance each course.

Photo Credit: Standard via Leo Schmidt

Standard (14th Street)  With outdoor-only dining, Standard is a perfect way to spend a warm summer evening with a group of friends.  Somewhere between a BBQ joint and a beer garden, Standard has fantastic sandwiches, hot dogs and bratwurst (my husband had a fabulous mustard currywurst), and a plethora of battered and fried sides, along with a long list of American and German craft beers.  A quick head’s up: they run out of the brisket really early, particularly on busy nights – so plan ahead!

Photo Credits: Eater DC

Fiola (Penn Quarter)  Fiola has quickly become one of our favorite places to both eat and drink in DC.  Everything is amazing, from the antipasti (we love the charcuterie and cheese plate) to the secondi.  We’re huge fans of the gnocchi and pappardelle, and definitely don’t forget to save room for dessert!

Photo Credits: Toki Underground (left) and Thrillist (right)

Toki Underground (H Street) They serve the most amazing Taiwanese-style ramen noodle bowls – and it’s the best ramen you’ll ever have.  Seriously.  The restaurant is very small, so expect a wait even on weekday evenings, but you won’t be disappointed.

Photo Credit: Smith Commons

Smith Commons (H Street) A fun bistro-style restaurant, we’re big fans of both the food and cocktails at Smith Commons – and the dessert menu is simply amazing.  They offer outdoor dining in nice weather and a cozy indoor dining room that is perfect for date nights or larger functions – we brought our in-laws here with us during their last visit and they loved it!

Photo Credits: Washington Post

Seventh Hill (Eastern Market)  For a casual Friday night out, we love the terrific Neapolitan-style pizza made with super-fresh ingredients.  I also love that the pizzas are named for Capitol Hill locales, like the Navy Yard, Potomac Ave, and Lincoln Park.

Photo Credit: Washingtonian

DC-3 (Barracks Row)  I’m probably the only person who would count an aviation-inspired casual restaurant dedicated to gourmet hot dogs as one of my favorite spots, but it really just is that good.  From traditional Coney Island hot dogs with mustard and chili to a California-inspired falafel dog with avocado and tzatziki sauce, you really just can’t go wrong here.  Also, BEST FRIED PICKLES in all of DC.  Sooo good…

Read below for more a few more restaurant recommendations!
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DC Guide: The Gardens of Dumbarton Oaks

I couldn’t really capture the beauty of the gardens at Dumbarton Oaks in just a couple of images, so I hope you’ll indulge me with a few more photos!  The gardens were designed over the course of 30 years by landscape artist Beatrix Farrand – today the gardens feature wisteria everywhere, multiple garden terraces, an indoor “orangerie,” and beautifully landscaped flower beds.  So pretty!

 

Continue reading below for more from the gardens at Dumbarton Oaks…

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DC Guide: What To Do

Hi Everyone!  As I mentioned on Friday, my husband and I are off on a little vacation this week – so I’m taking the opportunity to share some of my favorite things to do in my home base of Washington, DC.  I hope you enjoy!

Illustration by Molly Jacques for Oh So Beautiful Paper

I’ve been a DC resident for nearly ten years, and while I know I’m biased I really do love my city.  From history to art and culture to outdoor spaces, there are so many great things to see and do.  It makes me sad to think that so many people travel to DC each year and never see anything outside the monuments and museums around the National Mall, which really isn’t seeing DC at all!  DC is full of amazing attractions – many of them completely free – so to kick off this little mini guide I thought I’d share a few of our favorite things to do in this beautiful city.

Dumbarton Oaks

 

Comprised of an art museum (free entry) and well manicured gardens ($8 admission), Dumbarton Oaks is pretty much my idea of a perfect afternoon.  The museum contains a small but well-curated selection of Byzantine and Pre-Colombian art along with a rotating special exhibition.  For any of you who enjoy outdoor spaces, you absolutely MUST visit the breathtaking 16 acre gardens (a bit more on that later), which include a rose garden, beautiful arbors and fountains, several terraces, and groves of blooming trees.

The National Arboretum

National Arboretum: Azaleas

Photo Credit: Garden Visit

National Arboretum: Capitol Columns

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

 

Situated on 446 acres in Northeast DC, the National Arboretum is an oasis in the middle of DC – especially during spring and summer.  The Arboretum is home to a variety of collections, from magnolias and dogwoods to camellias and azaleas.  The Arboretum is most easily accessed by car or bike and is a beautiful place for an afternoon picnic.  You can also see the original columns from the U.S. Capitol Building, which were transferred to the Arboretum when the Capitol underwent an expansion in 1958.

Library of Congress

Library of Congress: Great Hall

Photo Credit: Wikimedia

 

The Library of Congress might just be the most beautiful building in all of DC.  Intended to be something of a U.S. answer to Italian Renaissance-style architecture, the construction was overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  But when Congress failed to appropriate funds for the décor, the son of the General in charge of the construction recruited more than 50 U.S. artists to contribute sculptural and painted works – so the the building is full of amazing frescoes and sculptures, a gorgeous painted ceiling, and ornate architectural details (not to mention some awesome exhibits).  We highly recommend signing up for free docent-led tours, which sometimes include a sneak peek at the main interior reading room (pictured above).

National Portrait Gallery

National Portrait Gallery National Portrait Gallery

National Portrait Gallery National Portrait Gallery

National Portrait Gallery 

The National Portrait Gallery is actually two museums in one – a classic art museum with portraits, landscapes, and still life paintings on one end, and modern art collections on the other.  I love them both!  The museum is housed in a gorgeous building that originally served as the U.S. Patent Office and served as the venue for President Lincoln’s second inaugural ball in 1865.

National Air & Space Museum – Udvar-Hazy Center

 

The National Air & Space Museum on the National Mall is the most visited museum in the entire world.  It’s one of our favorite museums, but it can be unbearably crowded.  Luckily, the museum has an annex building located a little outside of DC (near Dulles Airport) – the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center – and I think it might be even better than the main museum.  The air exhibit includes a historical walk through both civil and military aircraft, while the space exhibit includes lots of interesting rockets, satellites, and a space shuttle!

National Zoo

National Zoo

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

 

The National Zoo isn’t exactly off the beaten path, but it’s one of our favorite spots in all of DC.  It’s best to try to visit early in the morning or late afternoon, but there is always something fun to see at the Zoo if you’re willing to be patient.  Our favorite exhibits are the Amazonia house, which includes an open air walkway with free roaming monkeys and birds, and the Aviary – which also has an open area with free roaming peacocks, ducks, and other colorful birds.

Congressional Cemetery

 

Okay, so this one might be the furthest off the beaten path, but we figured it was worth mentioning for any history buffs.  Arlington National Cemetery receives thousands of visitors each year, but did you know about the Congressional Cemetery in East Capitol Hill?  This (much) lesser-known cemetery contains Civil War-era graves along with a few other notable members (J. Edgar Hoover is buried here), and there’s even a free cell phone tour with interesting facts and a bit of gossip.  Bonus: in the spring, the cemetery is full of beautiful cherry blossoms.

p.s. If you’re visiting DC for the first time and want to see the monuments, go see them at night!  They’re way less crowded than during the day, beautifully lit, and I think some of them are even more dramatic at night – particularly the Korean War Memorial and FDR Memorial.

Illustration by Molly Jacques / Except where noted, all photos by Nole Garey for Oh So Beautiful Paper