You wouldn’t order a squash spice latte. Admit it. Oh, but you’ll sip your pumpkin spice latte while eating your pumpkin granola bar while lighting your pumpkin candle during your pumpkin bubble bath, all while tweeting about how you love fall. The reason pumpkin has become the defining taste of autumn is marketing, and it’s time it stops dominating the market. We sought out local dishes that celebrate the season with fall flavors like plum, fig, pear and chestnut — and there’s not an orange menace among them. Welcome to the pumpkin-free zone.
Ensalada tibia de coles de bruselas, fruta de temporada y yogur
Jaleo, multiple locations; $10
An autumn salad doesn’t have to be beet-based. At Jaleo, the ensalada tibia de coles de bruselas, fruta de temporada y yogur tosses lightly blanched leaves of the fall standby Brussels sprouts with jewel-like pomegranate seeds, oranges, apples and white grapes. Citrusy Greek yogurt lies at the bottom of the bowl, giving the crunchy dish a welcome tang. If the only way you’ve had Brussels sprouts is your mom boiling them to death, this dish might make you a convert.
Roasted hen of the woods mushrooms
District Winery, 385 Water Street SE; $8
Among the mushrooms that favor damp, fall forests, hen of the woods is one of the showiest. These frilly little beasts — also known as maitake in Japan — can stand on their own, and District Winery chef du cuisine Ben Lambert keeps his presentation simple, roasting the mushrooms with thyme and olive oil. But before sending the dish out, he adds a splash of the unexpected: a drizzle of Minus 8 ice wine vinegar from Niagara, Canada.
Espita Mezcaleria, 1250 Ninth St. NW; $12
For anyone who has ever heard mezcal described as “smoky tequila,” know that phrase is reductive. At Espita Mezcaleria, the Mexican spirit is not to be pounded down, but sipped and savored. The Mariposa tracionera, one of their fall cocktails, is made with mezcal, cardamaro (an herby liqueur), a punchy damson plum gin, Cocchi vermouth and Fernet; it’s garnished with a dried fig. It has the sweetness of plum, a little vegetal bite, and it finishes like you drank one of those perfect fall days where someone is burning leaves off in the distance somewhere.
Apple spiced espresso tonic
Slipstream, 1333 14th St. NW; $6
Upgrade your fall brew game and trade that pumpkin spice latte in for something fresh, like Slipstream’s apple spiced espresso tonic. Made with espresso, apple bitters, tonic water and a cinnamon stick, all poured over ice, this chilled cup of java — available until the end of the month — captures the crisp ambiance of autumn in ways a hot latte simply doesn’t.
Graffiato, 707 Sixth St. NW; $18
It’s a lamb’s world at Graffiato, where executive chef Elliot Drew has constructed a dish built around pleasantly chewy slices of leg of lamb. It sits atop a sweet chestnut puree and is topped with roasted chestnuts; balls of compressed apple add crunch and tartness. It has the hearty feel you want when the weather turns crisp without sending you into a comfort-food coma.
Bresca, 1906 14th St. NW; $19
Bresca’s chestnut agnolotti checks off a few boxes on the list of what makes an ideal fall dish. Perhaps the most obvious: The little pasta pockets are stuffed with a creamy roasted chestnut filling, so you’re immediately hit with a quintessential fall flavor. Second, the agnolotti is paired with tender rabbit and more subtle fall flavors like sunchoke, Asian pear and lightly pickled mustard seeds. They combine with the richness of the chestnut to create a heavenly sweet and savory combo that’s the ultimate comfort.
Osteria Morini, 301 Water Street SE, Suite 109; $26
Chances are, you’ve only had porcini mushrooms dried. Deliciously pungent, this Italian staple has a more delicate flavor when you hunt down the rare, fresh variety, which is available only in the fall. Executive chef Ben Pflaumer has embraced the season by creating a double-pocketed ravioli, with fresh porcini on one side and tangy squacquerone cheese on the other. The dish is finished with a drizzle of browned butter and shavings of another fall fungus: fresh black truffles.
Apple fall spice cake
RareSweets, 963 Palmer Alley NW; $6 per slice
Forget apple pie. What you need this fall is apple cake. Pastry chef Meredith Tomason has baked slivers of pink lady apples into a moist yellow cake, and glued the layers together with creamy, house-made apple butter. The icing features a warming blend of four fall spices: cinnamon, clove, cardamom and ginger.
Maple rye pecan ice cream
Ice Cream Jubilee; multiple locations; $3.50 per scoop
You don’t need to be over 21 to buy this ice cream, but it sure tastes like it. Rye whiskey from Virginia’s Catoctin Creek Distillery packs a surprisingly alcoholic punch — a pleasant edge to the otherwise mild flavors. Maple, applied with a light touch, brings coziness to the iced treat without being too sweet, and candied pecans add a buttery crunch.