No need to check your WeatherBug app: Summer is in full swing.
That means sweltering morning commutes and increasingly sticky afternoons. Even shorter — if that’s possible — congressional work periods (c’mon, August recess!) And, we hope, several months of fun-filled nights watching the Washington Nationals make their case for inclusion in the 2014 pennant race.
The latest six-game homestead, which starts Tuesday, will give us plenty of indication of whether the Nats are for real, with four games against the division rival Atlanta Braves.
Luckily, there are a number of places surrounding Nats Park that lend themselves to enjoying our national pastime (beer, food, etc.) without having to awkwardly climb over fellow fans who refuse to budge from their seats.
Mind you, we only considered comfy, relaxing perches for this endeavor. Which is why the ridiculously overcrowded mess that is the Half Street Fairgrounds does not figure into this line-up.
Red Porch: Center field
Average entree: $13-$20 ($$). Check schedule for times.
This inside-the-park wonderland has got it all: Cool, delicious air conditioning. Ample seating. Unobstructed views of the entire field.
And loads of beer.
“No food at the bar. We specialize in liquid calories,” one barkeep quipped as she tossed a coaster our way. The list of featured suds is impressive, offering up a who’s who of artisan brews for $9 to $10 a pop (comparable to prices in the rest of the park).
One recent roster included: New Belgium Snapshot, Terrapin Rye Ale (a full-bodied, beer-lover’s beer), Foothills Torch Pilsner and People’s Porter (dark and lovely, with hints of coffee, hazelnuts and vanilla), Allagash Saison, Atlas Brew Works District Common (a pleasantly hoppy brew), Yuengling Lager, Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy (refreshingly tart), Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA, Starr Hill Grateful Pale Ale, Blue Moon and Flying Dog Snake Dog IPA.
More importantly, the restaurant specializes in boozy desserts.
The Boulevard Dark Truth Stout vanilla ice cream float is a thing of beauty. The top is adorned with whipped cream, cherries and milk chocolate swizzle sticks. Underneath lies a richly complex brew that smacks of chocolate and bourbon and is sweetened by slowly melting vanilla ice cream.
Craving something more substantial?
House-made kettle chips smothered in tangy balsamic, smoky chopped bacon and chunky blue cheese are tasty. A foot-long “homewrecker” half smoke topped with fried onions (splendid crunch), bean chili (more heat, please!) and queso (so-so) is messy as all get out but worth it.
Justin’s Café: 1025 First St. SE; 202-652-1009; justinscafe.com
Average entree: less than $12 ($). Open for lunch Monday through Friday, dinner daily, brunch Saturday and Sunday.
A neighborhood spot since 2010, Justin’s ropes in regulars with quality eats, frosty beverages and almost prescient service.
“Did you know we could get $3 drafts right now?” one patron asked his buddy after the bartender suggested they swipe their loyalty cards and enjoy some discounted refreshments. Another night, a server bid her pizza box-juggling client farewell. “We’ll see you soon,” she said. “Yeah, I’ll probably be here tomorrow,” the departing gent fired right back.
Those with actual tickets come to pregame and often return for a parting shot. Others spend entire game days here, sucking down cold drinks (Jack’s Hard Cider is dangerously easy to drink) on the sun-splashed deck or following the action on the five flat-screen TVs that halo the main bar.
Happy hour looses $3 drafts, $4 rails or house wines and $5 Firefly cocktails.
Soak up some of the free-flowing alcohol with the stupid-hot ghost pepper grilled cheese — I teared up a few times while eating it, then flat out bawled much, much later — or a trio of lip-smacking sliders featuring juicy beef, zesty mustard, savory onions, sharp cheddar and bitter greens.
Bluejacket: 300 Tingey St. SE; 202-524-4862; bluejacketdc.com.
Average entree: $13 to $20 ($$). Open for lunch Monday through Friday, dinner daily, brunch Sunday.
Southeast D.C.’s preeminent brewery absolutely kills it when it comes to whetting one’s whistle.
The Fix blends together beer, gourmet coffee and vanilla beans into a robust pour displaying hints of toffee on the nose and a brandy-like complexity on the palate. Part chocolate shake, part coffee cocktail, this one has the potential to serve as both nightcap and eye-opener.
Come to pound?
Our favorite session beers include: Disaster Proof (medium hoppiness, smooth finish; more intricate than a light beer but still very approachable), Forbidden Planet (strong citrus kick; ideal for swigging while baking beneath the beating sun) and Heavy Meadow (gorgeous golden color, crisp flavor, lingering spice).
Not your first rodeo?
Oak-aged, cask conditioned Pyro comes across as the love child of smoke and citrus (we tasted grapefruit and tangerine). High Society lures you in with the scent of tropical fruit, then begins its slow burn down the gullet, dispensing hints of caramel and sherry all along the way.
Some bar snacks (overpriced pretzels, underwhelming pig tails) were instantly forgettable.
Not so the daringly spiced baskets of fries. The scallion-topped, red pepper-flecked General Satan’s sauced spuds were crowd favorites. The Frank’s Red Hot sauce-splashed, melted blue cheese-topped Frankenbutter batches were quickly devoured. Others squealed with delight at sight of gravy and shaved cheddar fueled potatoes bolstered by blocks of salty Tasso ham.
Agua 301: 301 Water St. SE; 202-484-0301; agua301.com
Average entree: $13 to $20 ($$). Open for lunch Monday through Friday, dinner daily, brunch Saturday and Sunday.
The kitchen remains in transition following the lightning fast departure of its opening chef, so steer clear of the comestibles — especially the greasy tacos and disappointingly dry grilled oysters — for now.
Luckily, the vintage tequilas and mezcals management wisely assembled work just fine.
Their classic margarita is rock solid. Each tailor-made tipple features a generously salted rim, a stiff pour of tequila and just enough face-puckering sour to make you want to do it all over again. And again.
Those seeking more rapid delivery of liquid courage should belly up to the bar for lessons in shooting mezcal. Tequila’s much more interesting cousin runs the gamut in terms of appearance (crystal clear to deep amber), flavor profiles (Fruity! Smoky! Fiery!) and pricing ($8 to $16 a pop). Our current favorite is Fidencio Pechuga, which tastes smooth yet still lights a (controlled) fire in the belly.
Park Tavern: 200 M St. SE; 202-554-0005; parktaverndc.com
Average entree: $13 to $20 ($$). Open for lunch Monday through Friday, dinner daily, late-night dining Friday and Saturday, brunch Saturday and Sunday.
Is this place perpetually dead because of the swirling bankruptcy rumors or vice versa?
I’d hazard to say there’s much more to it than that.
Like showing up and hoping to unwind after work only to find one of the giant TVs inexplicably tuned to C-SPAN. (Strike one!)
Or plopping down at the near empty bar, somehow finding a spot that’s all tacky from a previous customer’s mess (check swing) AND then having to wait 20-odd minutes for terribly over-sauced, dreadfully lackluster chicken wings (strike two!).
Perhaps a stiff drink will help take the edge off.
The spiked lemonade turned out to not be the right medicine, yielding a highball glass devoid of any alcohol and filled to the brim with a citrus mix that plowed right through tart and barreled deep into astringent territory (We’re outta here!).
The current Nationals’ homestead starts Tuesday with a game at 7:05 p.m. against the Houston Astros and concludes Sunday against the Braves.