Summer is but a heartbeat away, which (hopefully) means regrettable meals scarfed down while chained to one’s desk will soon give way to leisurely strolls and exploratory eating all around town.
Here’s a handful of palate-pleasing carryouts we recommend checking out during your downtime.
1. Sunrise Catering 50 Massachusetts Ave. NE
The opposing carts at Union Station — one serving traditional Jamaican cooking, the other catering to vegetarian and allergen-sensitive eaters — are the satellite arms of Sunrise Restaurant (107 Kennedy St. NW). They specialize in Caribbean cooking, doling out heaping portions of curiously spiced proteins (jerk chicken, curry shrimp, stewed oxtails) and heartwarming hand pies.
Their signature beef patty was, quite possibly, the best $2 we’ve ever spent. The golden crust is buttery and flaky. The filling is all about unrelenting spice, each probing bite returning masses of seasoned ground beef firing off sparks of cumin, ginger and black pepper.
The veggie patty partied just as hard, its pastry crust milder and perhaps a shade more tender than the meat pocket. But the interior gave no quarter, tickling the tongue with a medley of mushy peas, sweet golden corn and cubed carrots bound by a fake-me-out curry that slowly unfurls its creeper heat.
The fire-engine-red veneer spread across the jerk chicken certainly suggests this bird has spent time in the company of serious spices. The underlying meat, though pleasantly juicy, is nowhere near as fiery as it looks, making it an acceptable go-to even for mild fans.
2. The Pretzel Bakery 340 15th St. SE
Philadelphia native Sean Haney grew up eating soft pretzels and often wondered why he couldn’t scratch that nostalgic itch here in D.C.
When his last contracting gig expired, the self-taught baker decided to get serious about sharing the tastes of his youth with his adopted hometown. While he was busy tweaking his recipes, a friend on Capitol Hill just happened to be mulling what to do with a vacant lot. And so the Pretzel Bakery was born.
Haney sells 400 to 600 pretzels a day out of his modest shop, each salty-spongy twist more closely resembling a thicker-skinned croissant than the ampersand-shaped specimens most folks are used to. The warm, delicious treats retail for $2 a pop (three for $5 or a dozen for $18) and are accompanied by your choice of mustards (yellow or spicy brown), individual pods of Philadelphia cream cheese or premium dips.
Nutella is good —“the salty and sweet work perfectly together,” Haney said — but you’d be a sucker not to splurge on the spectacularly sweet caramel mustard. Haney imports that alluring combo, the most popular condiment, from a mom-and-pop shop in Rhode Island.
So, how long before we’ll be able to enjoy these D.C.-born pretzels at the ballpark?
“One of the most lofty goals I set in my business plan was to become a vendor at or around Nats Park,” Haney said of his endgame. “So we will see how that goes.”
3. Mangialardo and Sons 1317 Pennsylvania Ave. SE
Nobody wants the Feds on their back. But folks have been gladly stuffing their guts with G-Men for decades.
The Mangialardo and Sons deli has been cranking out the souped-up hoagie since at least the 1970s. It’s so revered, in fact, that Washington City Paper readers last fall overwhelmingly endorsed having the homegrown sub represent the District in the inaugural “The United States of GOOD Sandwiches” roundup.
Each wide-mouth sandwich begins with an 8-inch sub roll procured from a pair of trusted providers, either D.C.’s own Catania Bakery (hard) or H&S Bakery (soft) out of Baltimore.
Staff then layers on the goodies, stacking the deck with ham, salami, mortadella, provolone, fontina, pepperoni and oregano. Lettuce, tomato, mayo, oil, vinegar, onions and sweet or hot peppers are then applied at each eater’s discretion. The resulting hero is awesome, vanquishing hunger in a single bite (okay, a few bites) and tantalizing the taste buds with marvelously complementary flavors (buttery mortadella, zesty pepperoni, creamy fontina).
Staff declined to share exactly how many G-Man sandwiches they feverishly slap together each day, hinting only that, “It’s never enough.”
4. 32 Below Frozen Yogurt 703 Eighth St. SE
If chilling out is a top priority, get thee to 32 Below.
The self-serve froyo stand officially debuted last July and has been growing in popularity ever since.
“We are in the middle of creating froyo personalities based on eating styles from some of our most loyal customers,” one of the owners told us.
Becoming a regular is easy enough.
Wander in. Survey the bank of eight rotating flavors, which currently include strawberry, root beer float, cake batter, cookies and cream (a top seller), vanilla, chocolate delight, pomegranate- raspberry tart and plain tart. Pile on toppings (think: shaved almonds, gummy bears, assorted berries, crushed Oreos, chopped Kit Kats, Fruity Pebbles and mochi) to your heart’s content. Add a few squirts of decadent Ghirardelli sauces (chocolate, caramel, white chocolate). Then pony up $0.49 an ounce per frosty, indulgent creation.
Management said they rotate three flavors of their live and active culture-packed refreshments each month, two of which are decided on in-house and one selected by popular vote.
Dulche de leche is already in the pipeline for June. We hope root beer float (a spicy-sweet knockout) and pomegranate-raspberry (fruitacular) both linger a little longer.
5. Crown Fried Chicken 716 H St. NE
This one’s a no-brainer — particularly when neighboring H Street bars empty out but alcohol-steeped bellies still need filling.
Crown Fried Chicken will never win any prizes for ambiance, but it does have hot fried chicken available virtually round the clock.
The grab-and-go juggernaut prepares every permutation of fried chicken imaginable (individual pieces, nuggets, fingers, strips, popcorn) and markets them to all manner of munchies-seekers (mild, hot, white, dark, with fries/rice/waffles/ribs/fried whiting).
The signature chicken is lightly floured rather than aggressively breaded like other commercial birds, its crackling skin sparingly seasoned (smacks of salt and pepper). The underlying meat is hot and juicy, the perfect capper to an evening of overindulgence. Judicious squirts of hot sauce exponentially raise the enjoyment level, but the plain bird is just fine (even without a buzz).