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The World’s Saddest Order of Chicken Tenders

Lake Anna State Park, VA has a lot going for it: picturesque lake, walking trails, grassy areas, picnic spots, showers… But this order of chicken tenders from their snack bar takes the prize as the world’s saddest.

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For $5, three waif-like pieces of chicken (they look bigger because my camera’s so close up). I trembled as I held them in my hands, savoring each fleeting moment with my precious tenders.

Leave it to chicken tenders to turn a person into a character from a Dickens novel:

“Please sir, I want some more.”

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Chinese Dumplings Invade Glover Park

It doesn’t appear that the word’s gotten out yet, but there’s a bona fide Chinese dumplings spot in town. The name of the restaurant, Dumplings and Beyond, is undeniably goofy — it conjures up images of bed sheets and 20% off coupons.

Don’t snicker at those dumplings though, ’cause they’re legit.

It seems that the chef/owner? of the highly esteemed China Bistro in Rockville has expanded her reach with this new venture in Glover Park. The handmade dumplings (jiaozi) are prepared with the same technique. (You can watch them being made on the way to the restroom.) The result is heavenly.

First, choose your filling. The ones pictured below were the house special of pork, shrimp, cabbage and chives.

Then take your pick of steamed or pan-fried. Why not both?

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Dumplings come ten to an order.  That sounds like a lot, until you realize these aren’t the jiaozi you’re accustomed to eating in most Chinese restaurants. You know the type: gut-bombs with thick, gummy skin and leaden fillings. Two or three of those and you’re done.

The Dumplings and Beyond version is characterized by a delicate skin with chew. No easy feat — too delicate, and the filling would fall right out the bottom. It helps that the filling is packed with a gentle touch.

The result is a balanced dumpling that’s flavorful, juicy and light. You get rolling on these things and you’ll want to eat more and more. On this visit, three of us put down 40 dumplings with ease. I think we could have kept going.

I’d like to get the word out about Dumplings and Beyond, but not TOO much. Part of me wants to keep the place to myself so that I can stroll in there any time I’m around Glover Park. Sometimes a guy needs a dumpling fix.

Dumplings and Beyond
2400 Wisconsin Ave. NW
Washington, DC
202-338-3815

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For Charlottesville BBQ, Ace is the Place

If you didn’t know what it was, you’d think that Ace Biscuit & Barbecue was a garage, or the office of Jim Feinstein, local accountant. It’s a non-descript brick building in a non-descript part of Charlottesville near the train tracks.

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Ah, but looks can be deceiving.

Inside, the place was bustling with activity and customers, and the smell of barbecue wafted through the air.

The efficiency at Ace is impressive. To speed up the process, an employee walks through the line taking orders, so that by the time you reach the register all that’s left to do is pay.

Your jaw will drop as you observe orders come out of the kitchen. The fried chicken and waffles looked spectacular, as did the day’s special — brisket, fried egg and cheddar on a biscuit.

By the time my pulled pork sandwich arrived, my mouth was watering like a Pavlov’s dog.

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That’s an astounding heap of pulled pork. It spilled out the sides like a pork glacier. A container of Carolina vinegar, and mounds of potato salad and collards completed the platter.

The pulled pork was great, but the surprise was the bun. So many barbecue joints treat the bun like an afterthought; they spend all their time and effort on the meat, only to throw it on a shitty hamburger bun. This bun had been toasted and I believe buttered, and it was soft and chewy. That extra touch makes a world of difference.

The scenery, breweries and vineyards will draw me back to Charlottesville this summer. Thanks to Ace, so will the barbecue.

Ace Biscuit & Barbecue
711 Henry Ave.
Charlottesville, VA
434-202-1403

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Pho 14 Makes a Wallet (and Stomach) Happy

At Pho 14 the other night, someone at our table told us about the insanely low food prices in Vietnam, where a bowl of pho cost $1.50 American dollars. A more expensive bowl of pho? $2.

Clearly, the phrase “cheap eat” is relative. There’s cheap, and then there’s CHEAP.

As restaurants in D.C. go, Pho 14 has to be included on our city’s list of cheap eats.  It’s not often that you examine your bill and are surprised — because it’s so low.

A big bowl of pho will run you $9.49. For bun, the vermicelli bowls, between $8.49 – $11.99.

For a banh mi, one of my top three favorite sandwiches in the entire world? $4.49.

A banh mi platter goes for $9.99 and comes with your choice of appetizer (I went with the spring rolls — not pictured) and a cup of pho broth (golden and rich with flavor).

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This banh mi contained grilled pork and provided all the usual pleasures of the sandwich, crunch and tang.

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Lucky for all of us, Pho 14 has three locations: Columbia Heights, Adams Morgan and Van Ness.

Let’s be thankful for cheap eats, and for cheap eats that taste this good.

Pho 14
4201 Connecticut Ave. NW
Washington, DC
202-686-6275

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Ching Ching Cha: Georgetown’s Tea Oasis

I don’t think Ching Ching Cha has a suggestion box, but if they did, my recommendation would be to improve the lighting.

That’s it, that’s my suggestion. Aside from that, the Georgetown tea house is charming and quite unique. It feels like a peaceful oasis far removed the hustle and bustle of the city.

The place is a tea lover’s dream, with an abundance of exotic teas, teapots and accessories.

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There’s food too. It’s a smallish menu, focused mostly on light snacks and small bites. But I was very happy with my Tea Meal, which included a surprisingly excellent tomato egg drop soup, and generous pieces of miso salmon served along with crispy, fresh vegetable sides. It all felt very healthy and clean, just the sort of thing you’d want to nosh on at a tea house.

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“You know what this place needs?” I said to my friend Libby on our evening visit. “Better lighting.”

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There’s a coldness about the white light emanating from the overheads. A few low-hanging paper lanterns here and there, setting the place aglow with warm, inviting light, and the place would be transformed into something magical.

Anyway, that’s my two cents. I like Ching Ching Cha a lot. Hope they stay around for a while.

Ching Ching Cha
1063 Wisconsin Ave. NW
Washington, DC
202-333-8288