Pamela Hess leads a DC Metro Food Tour at Eastern Market. She arranges special samples from the vendors and gives a history of the building to the group. The companys Capitol Hill Food Tour closely tracks the Barracks Row Heritage Trail.
The restaurant visits were brief but informative. Pitt tried to justify each choice based on immigration patterns, which translated into multicourse meals at a number of well- regarded local restaurants.
The least exciting visit was also the first: Capitol Hill Tandoor and Grill. The Indian restaurant greeted us with bowls of Mulligatawny soup and spiced chicken, both of which were fine but hardly astounding. They were, however, incredibly generous with their portions. “This is way more food than I expected,” one companion uttered as the second full plate arrived.
The group got much more excited about the flash-fried cheese (saganaki), zesty harissa and fork-tender braised lamb set before us at Cava Mezze. “I’m going to try to make this,” one woman declared after savoring the lamb.
But the surprise hit had to have been the house-made limoncello poured by Lavagna. Staff explained that the digestif is traditionally made with grain alcohol but that they’ve settled on a less dizzying version forged from vodka and Meyer lemons. The drink was citrusy and sweet but still forceful enough to cause others to bow out.
Shop ’Til You Drop
Newly minted Eastern Market tour guide Pamela Hess knows a thing or two about food. Apart from being a die-hard local — “I’ve been shopping at this market for 27 years,” she proclaimed — she also serves as editor of the eat-local-minded publication, Flavor.
Her trip through the landmark-shopping mecca was marked by precision and preparedness. She handed out bottled water as soon as everyone in my group was fully assembled, discussed the history and architecture of Eastern Market with the authority of a Smithsonian staffer and made sure to snag all the pre-arranged snacks from the preferred vendors so that neither she, nor we, would clog up the lines for regular shoppers.
She distributed sweet and savory treats with abandon, retrieving the likes of terrifically juicy hot half-smokes (Union Meat Co.), mounds of beyond buttery goat cheese (Bowers Fancy Dairy Products) — “This is amazing,” one tour member gushed between bites — and spicy-nutty baklava (Calomiris Fruits & Vegetables).
Peering into each display case was educational on its own. Market Poultry, for instance, taught this hired mouth that there are such things as turkey “ribs,” “steaks” and “chops.”
Union Meat Co. runs the protein gamut, offering up traditional cuts (gorgeous bone-in rib eyes, country-style pork ribs, Black Angus boneless chuck roast) alongside gourmet splurges (osso buco, trimmed frenched racks of lamb, whole rabbits) and rustic delicacies (oxtails, pork ring pudding, hog maws).
Eastern Market Grocery may traffic in some of the most enticing grains around, including chipotle linguine, porcini taleteller, lemon-black pepper fettuccine, egg ziti and gorgonzola-braised-figs-stuffed ravioli.
The tour-supplied rugelach was very good. But if you’re going to visit Fine Sweet Shoppe anyway, I highly recommend indulging in the divine sweet potato bar, a light, fluffy cake slathered with dulcet cream cheese frosting and studded with big, crunchy nuts, or a tantalizing Key Lime cupcake (tart cake, ethereal frosting).
Pitt said he’s still trying to work out the logistics for a regular chocolate tour and standalone dessert trek, but he said those two universes tend to be too spread out for the walking set.