The Capital of Macaroni

Historical trends come and go in the District, and food trends are no exception.

After a history of culinary neglect, Washington is now considered to be a foodie haven, with new restaurants, star chefs, and now food trucks coming to the city in droves.

Top-Chef-DC-Poster
Season 7 of Top Chef was set in the District.

It’s currently home to two Top Chef stars – recent All-Star runner-up Mike Isabella, who is opening his Italian restaurant Graffiato in Chinatown, and Spike Mendelsohn, who helms a burger joint (Good Stuff Eatery) and pizza place (We, the Pizza) next door to each other on Capitol Hill.

The District even hosted a season of Top Chef, just a block away from where I live.

But for a town that used to be known only for its steakhouses and formal French restaurants, D.C. has had to import much of its food culture from other cities.

Recent food fads like upscale burgers and cupcakes (not served together, luckily) have their origins in nearby New York.

Right now, macaroni and cheese is having a resurgence of popularity in the

District, as evidenced by the success of the gourmet food truck CapMacDC.

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Mr. Lincoln Comes to Washington (Again)

I was standing in the cold on the platform of Union Station yesterday, waiting expectantly with camera in hand for the president to arrive.  The 11:21 AM train had just pulled in and was emptied of people, but its most important passenger was still on board.

A small cluster of Amtrak officials and security guards stood nearby. I recognized Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior, as he walked by (such is the nature of our celebrities in the District). He was escorted into the train by National Park Service rangers to officially welcome the president to Washington.

Abraham Lincoln at Amtrak in Washington, D.C.
Lincoln meets and greets at the Amtrak terminal in Union Station. (Photo: Robert Yule)

Eventually I saw an entourage of police, officials, reporters, and photographers emerge from the car and walk toward me on the platform, all surrounding the District’s most important new resident. Finally, he came into view. The former senator from Illinois was taller than I expected, but I couldn’t yet see his face.

What I saw first was the top of his stovepipe hat.

Then I saw the long face, the hollow cheeks, the short beard. There was no mistaking it – Mr. Lincoln had arrived (again) in the District.

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The Lost (and Found) Library of Thomas Jefferson

It’s not often that the discovery of a collection of rare books makes national news – but when those books are Thomas Jefferson’s, even the Today Show takes notice.

This morning – on President’s Day – there was an announcement on the NBC news program that a large number of books belonging to our third president were discovered among the collections of Washington University in St. Louis.

That makes the university the third largest holder of Jefferson’s surviving book collection, after the Library of Congress in the District, and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

After a bit of sleuthing, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation – located at Jefferson’s home Monticello in Charlottesville – discovered 74 of those books at Washington University’s library. They had been donated in 1880 from the collection of a husband of one of Jefferson’s granddaughters, but lost to historians for 130 years.

It turns out that they took a circuitous route there – from Charlottesville to Washington, D.C. to Boston, and finally to St. Louis. Missouri was a fitting repository for the collection – it was part of the territory in the Louisiana Purchase bought by Jefferson during his presidency.

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The Douglass-Lincoln Debates

Two iconic Americans – and former District residents – celebrated birthdays in the past few days: President Abraham Lincoln on February 12th, and abolitionist Frederick Douglass on February 14th.

Both men played integral roles in bringing about the ending of slavery. And though they often were at odds, they developed a unique friendship toward the end of Civil War, which began 150 years ago in April.

I recently traveled across the Anacostia River to visit Frederick Douglass’s home, Cedar Hill.

Cedar Hill
Frederick Douglass’s home, Cedar Hill, in the Anacostia neighborhood.

It’s in the neighborhood of Old Anacostia, and I’ve been meaning to take a tour of the house for about as long as I’ve lived in the District.

Cedar Hill is in a part of the city that many Washingtonians and most tourists never visit – east of the river.

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A Big Apple Inaugural

So I found myself wandering the wind-blown streets of lower Manhattan this past weekend, searching for traces of the nation’s first federal capital.

It might seem a little early for a field trip in this blog about historic Washington, D.C., but my flight back from South Africa brought me through JFK, and I decided to make a weekend of it.

New York City’s Federal Hall, our first Capitol.

Here’s the question I wanted to investigate: How much does the Big Apple celebrate its capital heritage?

Short answer: Not much.

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