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The explosion of color from rapidly turning foliage. That sudden nip in the air that precipitates a spike in upturned collars. Jaw-dropping sunsets that seem to set the firmament ablaze as office lights switch off for the evening.
Fall is a wondrous time in Washington, D.C. Or, at least it used to be.
Back before both sides committed to playing year-round chicken, lawmakers spent the waning months of each session larding up the “must-pass” spending bills (remember those?) with pet projects galore. Were it not for the government shutdown and/or the inability of our elected officials to hammer out any kind of agreement on the nonbinding budget resolution, we’d all be consumed with congressional pork instead of whetting our appetites for holiday turkey.
Several local restaurants, on the other hand, have made it their business to highlight just how wonderful pigging out can be.Belga Café: Mais Waffels
Back before garnering a nationwide following on “Top Chef Seattle” and storming the “it” dining corridor of 14th Street Northwest with his swanky B Too concept, chef Bart Vandaele kept busy by turning out Flemish comfort food at Belga Café.
Crowds still flock to the Barracks Row mainstay for beer-spiked mussels and slow-cooked proteins, but we remain smitten with the hearty mais waffel.
The meal is Belgian soul food at its finest, spicing up the fried-chicken-and-malt-waffle concept familiar to fans of Southern cooking by heaping zesty pulled pork atop a sweet, golden kernel-studded cornbread waffle. Sliced avocado melts into the mix, while the accompanying lightly fried egg cascades its silky deliciousness over all once pierced.
Belga Café: 514 Eighth St. SE; 202-544-0100; belgacafe.com. Average entree: $21 to $30 ($$$). Open for lunch Monday through Friday, dinner daily, brunch Saturday and Sunday.Chez Billy: Braised Pork Shank
Any reservations Chez Billy co-owner Ian Hilton may have had about allowing executive chef Brendan L’Etoile to rehash the cider-braised number he’d previously toyed with while manning the burners at Marvin appear to have been thoroughly dispelled by the overwhelming reaction the new menu item has received in just a few short weeks.
“Customers love it. Despite how large the dish is, all that comes back to the dishwasher is a plate with a cleanly picked bone,” Hilton said of the Flintstone-like meal which, despite being added to the carte in late September, is already challenging the top-selling steak frites entree.
The sizable shank is brined for 24 hours, then braised in French cider for a while longer before joining a soupy mix of tender white beans, whole stalks of fibrous kale and lusty cubes of applewood-smoked bacon (crispy edges, buttery center). The fermented apples lend the fork-tender swine a bittersweet bite.