If you haven’t uttered the following sentence, you’ve at least heard someone else say it: “D.C. is such a transient city.” For those District residents who hail from another state, here are some dishes prepared by local chefs (many of them transplants themselves) that may assuage longings for familiar flavors. Not that D.C.’s half-smokes aren’t something to write home about …
Thought to have originated in Chicago with Italian immigrants in the early 1900s, the Italian beef sandwich is a variation of the French dip: It’s made with sliced, slow-roasted lean beef topped with sweet roasted peppers, hot pepper relish and served on bread which is dipped entirely in beef juice and/or gravy. Red Apron founder Nate Anda veers slightly from tradition. “Instead of dipping it, we dip the meat so the juices soak into the roll from the inside out,” Anda says of his sandwich ($8), which makes frequent appearances on the rotating menu.
Red Apron Butcher, 1309 Fifth St. NE; 202-524-6807 (NoMa-Galludet U) & 8298 Glass Alley, Fairfax; 703-676-3550 (Dunn Loring)
In 1856, John Taylor of Trenton, N.J., created the pork roll, a processed ham product not unlike Spam (which it predated by 80 years). The “Taylor Ham, Egg and Cheese” is a New Jersey diner staple, and Garden State native Mike Isabella grew up eating them. At his new sandwich shop, you can find his more sophisticated version ($7) served on an English muffin seared in duck fat. “I took the classic model and kicked it up a bit,” Isabella says. “We use a duck egg and the Taylor ham that we make in-house.”
G, 2201 14th St. NW; 202-234-5000. (U Street)
Originating at the Central Grocery in the French Quarter, the muffuletta is a little over a century old. A classic Italian sandwich of mortadella, salami, mozzarella, ham, provolone and olive salad served on a split Italian roll with sesame seeds, it’s as distinctive to New Orleans as beignets. At Louisiana native David Gaus’ kitchen, you can find a smaller (5-6 inches), more manageable version ($7) of the monstrously portioned sandwiches common in the Big Easy.
Bayou Bakery, 1515 N. Courthouse Road, Arlington; 703-243-2410. (Court House)
Pretzels are to Philadelphia as bagels are to New York. The twisty treats even originated in Pennsylvania, back in the 1700s. Displeased by what he saw as a lack of quality pretzels in D.C., Philly native Sean Haney took it upon himself to fill the void. Haney’s are hand-rolled and boiled before baking for a chewy and pillowy texture ($2 each). Frank’s sodas (another Philadelphia import) and a variety of mustards are also available at this one-room shop in Capitol Hill.
The Pretzel Bakery, 340 15th St. SE; 202-450-6067. (Potomac Ave)
The Juicy Lucy is a burger filled with cheese. As simple as that sounds, it’s at the heart of a rivalry between two competing South Minneapolis bars that claim to be the originator. At Michael Landrum’s burger house, you can request that your patty be turned into a Juicy Lucy (or “gusher”) with the cheese of your choice.
Ray’s to the Third, 1650 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; 703-974-7171. (Rosslyn)
The Kreuz Market in Lockhart, Texas, is a Texas BBQ institution whose sausages inspire fierce loyalty. The New York and D.C. locations of Hill Country Barbecue are the only places outside of Texas where you can get a Kreuz sausage. Grab an original or jalapeno-cheddar sausage ($6.25-$6.75 a link) — they’re smoked and served whole-link with bread — and pair it with a Big Red soda, another Texan delicacy.
Hill Country Barbecue and Market, 410 Seventh St. NW; 202-556-2050. (Archives)
Soldiers stationed in Hawaii during World War II ate a lot of Spam, mostly because of its portability and long shelf life. Its prevalence made it something of a staple with the locals, too. “You would just grab a can of Spam and head to the beach,” says Hula Girl Truck owner Mikala Brennan, who serves Spam musubi ($3) — seared Spam and sushi rice wrapped in nori (dried seaweed) — from her truck. “I had to have at least a couple of items that gave us street cred with the Hawaiians,” Brennan says.
Hula Girl Truck, @hulagirltruck.
All photos by Brian Oh (For Express)