To paraphrase Emperor Joseph II in "Amadeus," the $20 Diner has been known to produce too many words. Take last week's column, in which I left hundreds of words on the cutting-room floor (to mix my metaphors into the syntax equivalent of lumpy gravy) in an effort to help D.C. interns eat well on a budget.
Thankfully, millennials consider the printed page quaint and passe — this antiquated notion that a few can determine what the many will read! — and will read or scan (or pretend to read or scan) anything their friends forward on Twitter. Which means the $20 Diner now has endless gigabytes within which to bloviate.
It's not all bad. I can, in the process of emptying my brain pan, offer a few more suggestions for chef-driven bites on the cheap. Like these:
The pastries at Room 11
Paisley Fig, a seasonally driven bakery that operates out of Room 11 in Columbia Heights, initially got me hooked with its apricot-cardamom scone, a breakfast treat in which the spice is incorporated into a creamy glaze draped across the surface of the cake. The scone is so damn delicious I was tempted to hoard every specimen in the city and redistribute them on the black market, at triple the price.
Then I discovered Paisley Fig's guava turnover, a crackly confection that packs a great deal of flavor into something sprinkled with so much sanding sugar (photo above). Then I tried the jalapeno-cheddar biscuit, which is as flaky and phenomenal as it sounds. In short, I found a one-stop shop for my morning fixes. Prices vary from $2.50 to $6.
Room 11, 3234 11th St. NW, 202-332-3234.
The pastrami sandwich at Stachowski's Market and Deli
When you're looking for one single sandwich to feed a small touring circus (and still have leftovers for the performing bears), order up the 16-ounce-plus pastrami sandwich at Stachowski's in Georgetown. Brined and smoked overnight for hours, the brisket is sliced thick and served on pumpernickel bread slathered with hot deli mustard. Save for the beef's pinkish color and lush texture, the slices are smoky and spiced enough to pass for Texas barbecue. The sandwich costs a mere $12.99, plus whatever time you lose during the nap that inevitably follows eating the beast.
Stachowski's Market and Deli, 1425 28th St NW, 202-506-3125
The margherita pizza at Etto
The District has mercifully moved beyond its obsession with Neapolitan pizza and the self-serving rules that pizzaiolos are required to follow to receive official certification from the pie sticklers back in Italy. Few pizzas speak to this post-Neapolitan era better than the margherita at Etto, the Logan Circle project jointly run by the folks behind 2 Amys and the Garden District.
The dough is not prepared exclusively with the fine "00" flour. Instead, it's made with red winter wheat and spelt, which are freshly milled and sifted. "The flour has a vaguely creamy color as there is still a small percentage of bran we are unable to sift out," notes co-owner Peter Pastan, the chef who made Neapolitan pizza famous at 2 Amys. The dough also begins with a biga, or fermented starter, which adds flavor to the final crust.
By the time the pizzaiolo pulls the pie from the wood-burning oven, the round is gorgeously charred and puffy, chewy and slightly nutty, a perfect vehicle for the simple, fresh ingredients of a margherita. If you want to appear cool, don't ask the kitchen to slice your pie; the crew will think you're a pro. The margherita costs $17.
Etto, 1541 14th St. NW, 202-232-0920
Pop tarts at Ted's Bulletin
If you were the average American kid, growing up in the average American household, you likely killed a toaster or two by feeding the appliance a steady supply of Pop-Tarts. The cardboardy confections were simultaneously terrible and terrific, sweet and leaden and loaded with preservatives. You didn't know better.
Now that you do (and still hanker for that childhood flavor), head straight to one of three Ted's Bulletin locations, where bakers offer five kinds of "pop tarts" every day. Three are always available (strawberry, cinnamon and peanut butter/bacon) and two rotate daily (like the blueberry cheesecake recently on the menu at the 14th Street store). The flavors aren't always so childish. The peanut butter pop tart, for example, replaces kid-friendly jelly with that ingredient no adult American can avoid: bacon. Ted's pop tarts run $2.99 each.
Ted's Bulletin has three locations in the metro area.