A Trend to Squawk About
Tough times call for comfort food, and several restaurateurs satisfied that craving in Montgomery County after the pandemic began with soul-satisfying fried chicken. Among the joints that opened are: Honeymoon Chicken in Ensemble Kitchen Bethesda’s virtual food hall (March 2021); Roaming Rooster in North Bethesda’s Pike & Rose development ( June 2022); and Crown Fried Chicken in Silver Spring ( June 2022). Virginia-based chainlet Hangry Joe’s Hot Chicken opened two outposts (Wheaton in May 2022 and Rockville’s Travilah Square shopping center in August 2022), with two more slated by early 2023, one on Rockville Pike and the other in Gaithersburg. Not enough? Check out Silver Spring Wings, which opened in November, and Fryer’s Roadside, a fried chicken and ice cream stand in Silver Spring that opened in August 2021 but was recently taken over by All Set Restaurant & Bar owners Jennifer Meltzer and Ed Reavis (also the chef).
Ensemble Kitchen, 4856 Cordell Ave., Bethesda, ensemble.co
Roaming Rooster, 11586 Old Georgetown Road, North Bethesda, 240-669-7731 roamingroosterdc.com
Crown Fried Chicken, 1909 Seminary Road, Silver Spring 410-639-5361
Hangry Joe’s Hot Chicken, 10050 Darnestown Road, Rockville, 242-552-6066, 2533 Ennalls Ave., Wheaton, 301-942-0352 hangryjoes.com
Silver Spring Wings, 11335 Elkin St., Silver Spring, 202-876-8000 silverspringwings.com
Fryer’s Roadside, 12830 New Hampshire Ave., Silver Spring, 443-594-3209 fryersroadside.com
Best Thing That Ever Happened to Almonds
As a kid growing up in Brooklyn, New York, Aaron Spencer says he didn’t have access to a lot of healthy food options. “My breakfast every day was a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich from the bodega,” the Silver Spring resident recalls. In 2018, the now-34-year-old job recruiter became a vegan and soon after launched A-Butter, a terrific-tasting almond butter that comes in a variety of flavors (original, maple and apple cinnamon are our three favorites). Until 2021, he lived in Boston and had a successful run selling his almond butters at farmers markets and online. Since moving here and switching his production to a commercial kitchen in Takoma Park, Spencer has continued a brisk online business—including national sales. The subtle flavors and thick, crunchy texture pair well with a whole host of recipes and dishes. Spencer likes his A-Butter in oatmeal, protein shakes, pasta sauces and on pancakes—not to mention his homemade dark chocolate almond butter cups.
A-Butter is available online at abutterbyaaron.com and at the Olney Farmers & Artists Market the first Sunday of every month. abutterbyaaron.com
Best Faux Surfside Getaway
In April, Denver-based Sage Hospitality Group opened Hello Betty on the second level of the Canopy by Hilton hotel in the Pike & Rose development, the second location of the seafood and fish-centric, Baja-meets-surfer-culture restaurant that opened in Oceanside, California, in 2014. The Pacific Ocean is nowhere in sight at the North Bethesda outpost, but we still dig the coastal vibe of the place, which seats 138 inside and 167 on its roomy outdoor patio. A big lure of the restaurant is a 40-foot retired Deltaville Deadrise, a wooden Chesapeake workboat that has been turned into a kitschy 23-seat bar. When the weather is nice, the boat bar, which is closed in the winter, is the perfect place to set out on a three-hour tour of the menu, sipping on charred chili and cilantro margaritas and surfside fizzes (gin, absinthe, lemon, elderflower tonic and egg white foam) and snacking on lobster grilled cheese, fire-roasted oysters Rockefeller, steamed mussels and crinkle-cut fries.
Hello Betty, 940 Rose Ave., North Bethesda, 301-389-5840, hellobettybethesda.com
Craziest New Way to Eat a Hot Dog
Funkier than their carnival cousins, Korean corn dogs offer far more than meat on a stick. Think deep-fried hot dogs drizzled with spicy mayonnaise and sprinkled with hot red Cheetos crumbs. Or how about fried franks coated in churro-flavored cubed sweet potatoes? A longtime street food in Korea, the social media star has gained popularity in the U.S. in recent years, with franchise locations cropping up in many cities, including our area. While American corn dogs are typically dredged in cornmeal batter before deep-frying, the Korean variety is coated with a thick batter of wheat and rice flours, then rolled in panko breadcrumbs and other toppings. But humdrum hot dogs aren’t the only things that get battered up; filling options include spicy, chicken or plant-based sausages; mozzarella or cheddar cheeses; half meat/half cheese; or even, at one location, spicy glass noodles wrapped in seaweed. The toppings and seasonings run the gamut from rice puffs to ramen. And the whole shebang comes with a dip or two, like spicy mayonnaise or ranch dressing. As for the taste, we can’t speak for every combo. But several we tried, Cheetos-coated included, were inexplicably good.
Kong Dog, 12335-H Georgia Ave. (Glenmont Shopping Center), Silver Spring, 301-933-0614 kongdog.us
Ssong’s Hotdog, 7101 Democracy Blvd. (Westfield Montgomery mall), Bethesda, 240-743-4311 ssongshotdogus.com
Two Hands Fresh Corn Dogs, 11160 Veirs Mill Road (Westfield Wheaton mall), Wheaton, 240-881-0040 twohandsus.com
Best New Room with a View
As downtown Bethesda keeps booming, there’s no better place to survey the situation than Hip Flask Rooftop Bar on the 13th floor of the new Marriott Hotel. Opened last May, the stylish, windowed watering hole offers long-range views of Silver Spring and Tysons Corner, as well as closer-in takes of Bethesda (cranes included). Outfitted in midnight blue, it’s a sophisticated spot to sip a cocktail, watch the sunset and feel transported from life below.
Hip Flask Rooftop Bar (in the Marriott Bethesda Downtown at Marriott HQ)7707 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda, 301-276-7707 hipflaskrooftop.com
Duck Dish Not to Miss
Restaurateur and Clarksville resident Edward Wong, whose Montgomery County businesses include Akira Ramen & Izakaya and Gyuzo Japanese BBQ, both in Rockville, partnered with Chicago-based chain Lao Sze Chuan to open an outlet of that fine-dining Sichuan restaurant in North Bethesda in October 2021. The star of the show there is chef Lin Yong’s delectable Peking duck, which takes three days to prepare. Six- to 7-pound ducks sourced from a Pennsylvania farm are dunked in boiling water, brushed with a secret glaze and refrigerated for a day. On day two, an air compressor is used to separate the birds’ skin from the muscle (this helps the fat render during roasting) before they’re air-dried for another night. The next day, they’re roasted, suspended from hooks in the oven so the fat melts away easily and the skin crisps evenly. Eight squares of the prized skin resting atop a sprinkling of brown sugar crystals are served as an amuse-bouche; then the duck arrives, beautifully sliced and arranged like roof shingles on a special platter with various accompaniments: julienne scallions, slim cucumber batons, cubes of pickled daikon radish and sweet bean sauce. A bamboo steamer holds 20 ultrathin pancakes ready to be filled, rolled and savored. ($88 for a whole duck; $48 for half.)
Lao Sze Chuan 20 Paseo Drive, North Bethesda, 301-968-2096 laoszechuandmv.com
A Toast to Three Great Toasts
Topped toasts (tartines in French; bruschetta in Italian)—basically open-faced sandwiches—are so hot as a trend that they are just as likely to be found at a fine-dining restaurant as they are at a diner or cafe. We adore smoked salmon or avocado toast as much as anyone, but we’ve found three others worthy of attention.
At Bethesda’s Tatte Bakery & Cafe, a thick oblong slice of toasted sourdough bread is slathered with whipped ricotta and goat cheese, draped with several thin slices of prosciutto and topped with basil pesto, a sunny-side-up egg and a cloud of finely shredded Parmesan cheese. The richness of the yolk, the pesto’s olive oil and the whipped cheeses blend with the saltiness of the ham and Parmesan cheese in a conspiracy of deliciousness. ($12.50).
At Melina, a Greek restaurant in North Bethesda, chef Aris Tsekouras elevates toast to the fine-dining stratosphere on his brunch menu. For his tuna and avocado tartine, he grills housemade einkorn wheat sourdough bread and spreads it with tarama (roe) cream, a mayo-less riff on tartar sauce made with cured gray mullet roe, olive oil, onions, lemon juice, shallots, capers and pickled cucumbers. Tsekouras tops the toast with sliced pickled cucumbers, avocado and raw bluefin tuna, then finishes the dish with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt. Baby gem salad with lemon dressing completes the dish. ($24).
Sweet toast lovers would be in heaven at Sweeteria, a dessert shop and cafe on Colesville Road in Silver Spring. It offers various iterations of sliced toast and French toast, but the standout is loft toast, an ultrathick slice of toasted bread (similar to Texas toast) brushed lavishly with honey and served with vari-ous toppings. Our favorite is crowned with slices of fresh mango arranged concentrically to resemble a rose. It’s served with warm sticky rice, a scoop of coconut ice cream and a fluff of mango mousse. ($10.95).
Tatte Bakery & Cafe 7276 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda, 240-534-2115 tattebakery.com
Melina 905 Rose Ave. (Pike & Rose), North Bethesda, 301-818-9090 melinagreek.com
Sweeteria 8646 Colesville Road, Silver Spring, 301-328-5877 sweeteria.edan.io
Making an Instagram-worthy, mouthwatering charcuterie grazing board is an art form, and if you do not have that artistic talent or the time to try it out, rest assured that CheezMD has you covered. Owner Melissa Shear styles her picture-perfect charcuterie boards at a commercial kitchen in Silver Spring, filling platters with curated gourmet meats, fruit, cheeses, nuts, jam—even chocolate and cookies (why not?). Crackers are thoughtfully kept separate to ensure that they remain crisp, and there is no shortage of creativity when it comes to the designs. (What’s better than Brie? Brie cut into the shape of a tree!) The boards are meticulously wrapped and packaged for easy transportation, and they come with a note that says what your board contains and provides serving instructions. Each board is unique, and you can specify dietary preferences or allergy restrictions. Sizes range from large trays for holiday gatherings and work parties, to mini boxes and individual snack packs for picnics and smaller meetings. Delivery is available for a fee, and gift notes can be added. Shear also offers classes—virtual and in-person—if you are inspired to hone your own charcuterie board skills.
cheezmd.com | email@example.com | Instagram, @CheezMD
Best New Place for Vino with a View
Savor the sunny side of life—and a field filled with sunflowers—amid 61 Vineyard’s peaceful vistas of vines and hillsides in Damascus, which was a dry town until 2013. That fact inspired the vintners’ “Drytown” sparkling white. Owners Mark and Pam Giganti began planting a test vineyard of cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon in 2013 and 2014. Two years later they had four generations of family working the first harvest. The “61” in the name is a nod to the year in which the Gigantis were both born. Today, the winery serves an assortment of reds and whites that can be paired with their delicious hummus, pretzel bread, charcuterie and more. The cozy winery offers seating inside, or out on the patio. A wine flight is $15; tasting of five varietals: $20. In autumn, be sure to borrow a pair of snippers to take home a bouquet of sunflowers. Leashed dogs are allowed on the patio.
61 Vineyard, 28712 Kemptown Road, Damascus 61vineyard.com
6 Heavenly $6 Happy Hours
Shaking off the workday cares and worries at happy hour requires a welcoming ambience, quality beverages and memorable fare, all for a negligible sum. We found six recommendation-worthy happy hours with excellent food and drink options, each for $6 or less. Cheers!
- MoCo’s Founding Farmers will satisfy any happy hour appetite with a whopping 15 small bites from $3 to $6. Dig into two hot dog options, ahi tuna bites, glazed bacon lollies, avocado toast, “devil-ish” eggs and much more. Five-dollar beers will seal the deal, or choose wine and cocktails for $7 at this welcoming destination.Weekdays, 3:30-6 p.m., available at the bar only; 12505 Park Potomac Ave., Potomac, 301-340-8783 wearefoundingfarmers.com/location/moco/
- Gringos & Mariachis offers delicioso $6 happy hour dining options. Feast on spicy Mexican meatballs, elote loco street corn, roasted vegetable nachos, multiple types of tacos, and assorted sopes. All that and a basket of warm, salty tortilla chips with fresh salsa for every table. Wash it down with $6 classic house margaritas, red or white sangria, or red or white house wines, or get $2 off all draft beers. Monday-Tuesday, 4-6 p.m., Wednesday-Friday, 3-6 p.m., 4928 Cordell Ave., Bethesda, 240-800-4266; 12435 Park Potomac Ave, Potomac, 301-339-8855 gringosandmariachis.com
- You definitely won’t strike out during happy hour at The Eleanor Bowling Lounge, Bar & Grille. For $6 or less, this upscale bowling alley offers “fancy” nachos, four intriguing flavors of wings and elote loco-style hush puppies, as well as wines, house margaritas, single-mix rail drinks, house mules, lagers and draft beers. Weekdays, 4-7 p.m., 931 Ellsworth Drive, Silver Spring, 240-641-4955 eleanormd.com
- Three cheers for Barrel + Crow’s expansive happy hour array. Hungry diners can munch on nine skillfully prepared dishes, including smoked beef brisket sliders, blackened salmon sliders, wings seasoned three ways, “Parisienne” gnocchi, fried calamari and sweet beignets, all for $6. To top it off, wine, draft beer and an eye-popping variety of rail drinks run just $5 in this attractive, locally sourced spot. Tuesday-Friday, 3-6 p.m., 4867 Cordell Ave., Bethesda, 240-800-3253
- Silver’s happy hour earns a gold medal for inventive bites and beverages. Diners at the “New American” brasserie can order $6-and-under chimichurri chicken wings, goat cheese bruschetta, hummus, crispy Brussels sprouts, and ciabatta and ricotta. For $6 (or less), enjoy spiked sodas, wines, draft beers, sangria and house spirits. Monday-Friday, 3-6:30 p.m., Daily, 9:30 p.m.-close, 7150 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda, 301-652-9780; 3404 Wisconsin Ave. NW, Washington, D.C., 202-851-3199 eatatsilver.com/happy-hours
- Yard House at Gaithersburg’s rio Lakefront touts great food, classic rock and the world’s largest draft beer selection. Rock out with $6-or-under treats like Wisconsin fried cheese curds, Parmesan truffle fries, and mini-cheesecake brulee. Pints of draft beer options are $2 off during happy hour, with popular brews like Bud Light, Coors Light, Miller Lite and Michelob Ultra coming in at $6 or under. Weekdays, 3-6 p.m., Sunday-Wednesday, 10 p.m.-close, 211 Rio Blvd., Gaithersburg, 240-683-8790 yardhouse.com
Best Customer-Fueled Comeback
After Mandalay Restaurant’s lease was up at the end of October 2021, owner Kyaw “Joe” Myint closed the Silver Spring restaurant his fam-ily had operated for two decades. The plan was to open a new location of the Burmese eatery on Georgia Avenue. That fell through, and as it turned out, so did the deal for a new tenant to take over Mandalay’s old home on Bonifant Street. So Myint posted a note on the restaurant’s Facebook page on Feb. 19, 2022: “To all Mandalay customers: We would like to know how many people want us to reopen…” He included his email address. Hundreds of customers liked, loved and shared the posting, and wrote heartwarming comments. Myint received close to 700 personal emails, he says. These loyal customers “helped me decide to reopen again,” he says. “One customer said her daughter cried when she heard we were closing, then cried when she heard we were reopen-ing.” In July, Mandalay reopened for carryout and delivery only—and in August, at a grand reopening ceremony, the family was presented with a plaque from the Montgomery County Council, several of its members in attendance. “May Mandalay always be flavorful and spice up each of our days. Welcome back!” it says in part. And on Facebook, the so-happy-you-are-back comments keep coming.
Mandalay Restaurant 930 Bonifant St., Silver Spring, 301-250-4078 mandalayrestaurantcafe.com
Best New Array of Ice Cream Options
If you have trouble finding dessert options that fit your dietary needs, look no further than The Scoop, a creamery that brothers Mitchell and Timothy Ryoo opened last summer in Cabin John Village. Among the dozens of creative, handcrafted ice cream flavors, you’ll find plenty of gluten-free and vegan varieties. The vegan fare includes a couple of ice cream flavors made with coconut milk—vegan chocolate bliss, which has a rich chocolate flavor with a mild coconut finish, and vegan maple walnut—and all five of The Scoop’s fruity sorbets: mango, passion fruit, peach mango, piña colada and strawberry. The ice cream shop offers more than 25 gluten-free options, including those sorbets, a handful of classics (butter pecan, chocolate, mint chip, pistachio, strawberry and vanilla), kid-friendly cotton candy and plenty of contemporary varieties such as Baileys mocha chip, hojicha (a Japanese green tea), pumpkin spice latte, roasted soybean and ube honeycomb. The Ryoo brothers have said they plan to add at least one sugar-free flavor. It (almost) goes without saying that the traditional dairy-rich, sugar-rich glutinous mainstays have been very well received.
The Scoop, 7909 Tuckerman Lane (Cabin John Village), Potomac, 301-296-2159 thescoopicecreams.com
Plane-Free Flights to Margaritaville
For the indecisive among us, Java Nation serves flights of margaritas that rotate with the seasons. Four 5-ounce mason jars sail to your table on a wooden tray, sweating with ice cubes and topped with fresh garnishes. The classic margarita is always included in the mix. Lime-forward and tart, it sparkles with a hint of heat and a touch of salt. Tiny seeds float atop the ruby-colored, floral pomegranate version. The mango margarita, the color of sunshine, is smooth and tropical. In cooler months, look for the ambrosial spiced-apple margaritas, and when the weather warms, guava and watermelon are in the lineup. To prep the drinks, Java Nation’s bartenders infuse rail tequila with fresh fruit and house-made fruit purees. Their signature sour mix combines the juices of lemons and limes, plus agave for sweetness. Available at Java Nation’s North Bethesda and new Kentlands locations, our favorite margarita flights are $20 regularly, $18 at happy hour.
11120 Rockville Pike, North Bethesda, 301-836-6022; 121 Market St. (Kentlands Market Square), Gaithersburg, 240-800-1004 java-nation.com
Best Vegan ‘Milkshake’
Vegan food options are expanding at many grocery stores and restaurants throughout Montgomery County, and we’ve found one fully vegan establishment serving a blended variety of vegan shake flavors. Whether you’re a plain vanilla fan or want something fun like s’mores, PLNT Burger has a frozen sweet treat to suit you. The vegan eatery got its start in Silver Spring in 2019, and the menu includes vegan versions of burgers, nuggets and french fries—all the fast-food favorites that are even better when washed down by a delicious shake. The “Oatasty” shakes are made with oat milk and come in chocolate, vanilla, s’mores, chocolate-and-vanilla swirl and mint chocolate chip. The shakes hold the familiar sweetness and thickness a dairy lover might find at their favorite ice cream shop.
PLNT Burger, 833 Wayne Ave., Silver Spring, 240-266-9500; 11355 Woodglen Drive, Rockville, 202-933-5414; both are inside Whole Foods Markets plntburger.com
Expanding Zone of Fermentation
Since Emily Bruno, Jeff Ramirez and Julie Verratti founded Denizens Brewing Co. in 2014—pioneering craft beer in Montgomery County—Silver Spring has been fermenting goodness. Astro Lab Brewing opened there in 2018, with the aim of being local, inclusive and a part of the neighborhood. Silver Branch Brewing Co. opened in 2019, inspired by European and American beer traditions. But these masters of diverse award-winning brews weren’t the only ones putting yeast to good use. The Urban Winery, stemming from a family tradition, opened in 2015 on Bonifant Street. All four establishments were nestled in downtown Silver Spring before The Urban Winery closed in December of 2020. In search of greater production capacity, owners Damon and Georgia Callis relocated two miles northwest, on Stewart Avenue, and reopened this past fall. The new Urban Winery features a tasting room and patio and offers 30-plus wines vinted on-site, plus a rotating assortment of Maryland-made wine, craft brews and local distillery products.
Astro Lab Brewing, 8216 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring, 301-273-9684 astrolabbrewing.com
Denizens Brewing Co. 1115 East West Highway, Silver Spring, 301-557-9818 denizensbrewingco.com
Silver Branch Brewing Co. 8401 Colesville Road #150, Silver Spring, 301-264-7111 silverbranchbrewing.com
The Urban Winery, 2315 Stewart Ave., Silver Spring, 301-585-4100 theurbanwinery.com
Most French Bakeries in One ZIP Code
Is Bethesda turning into Paris on the Potomac? Over the past few years, a new bakery or cafe offering French-style treats seems to have popped up around every corner downtown. What’s behind this trend? Bethesda is a cosmopolitan community in which many people are familiar with French cafe food and culture, local business owners note. It’s also home to the Rochambeau French Inter-national School and a sizable French population.“People here are highly educated and open-minded. Many have traveled around the world,” says Fresh Baguette owner Florent de Felcourt, who opened his first store in Bethesda in 2013. Travelers are happy to relive Parisian cafe experiences close to home. Bethesda’s walkability and mix of retail, restaurants and offices is reminiscent of Paris, says Beni Himmich, who opened the cafe Paris in Town with his wife, Diane, in April 2022. “Whether it is a cappuccino and pastry in the morning, a full lunch at 2 p.m., a business meeting or a little glass of wine with escargots,” he writes in an email, “the French bakery/cafe concept is a familiar entity that satisfies diverse needs throughout the day.” All within a few blocks of each other are:
- Fresh Baguette, 4919 Bethesda Ave.: The bakery famous for its baguettes and croissants originated in Bethesda and now has locations in Rockville, Georgetown and Northern Virginia.
- Ladurée Paris, 4808 Bethesda Ave.: The luxury bake shop focuses on macarons, cakes, eclairs and croissants.
- Levain Bakery, 4844 Bethesda Ave.: Best known for its rich, cakelike cookies, the bakery also sells cakes, breads and pastries.
- Maman, 7140 Bethesda Lane: The New York-based cafe famous for its nutty chocolate chip cookies also offers breakfast sandwiches, tartines, soups, salads and sandwiches.
- Paris in Town, 4903 Cordell Ave.: Crepes, salads, sandwiches and pastries are in the spotlight here.
- Paul, 4760 Bethesda Ave.: The French chain prepares an array of breads, crepes, macarons and pastries.
- Tatte Bakery & Cafe, 7276 Wisconsin Ave.: Along with more explicitly Mediterranean fare, the cafe offers fresh breads and pastries, tartines, soups and sandwiches, and a variety of coffee drinks.
- Toute de Sweet Pastry Shop, 7831 Woodmont Ave.: The grandpere of the bunch, specializing in macarons and cakes and other desserts, the pastry shop opened in 2011.
Most Inventive Take on Tacos
There’s no shortage of good taco joints in our area, but if you haven’t checked out Mexicue, which has locations in New York City, Connecticut and Washington, D.C., we recommend you add its Bethesda outpost to your list. We give them credit for their variety, creativity and seamless fusion of Mexican and barbecue flavors. They offer two types of tacos: regular and grilled (which we’d describe as a taco-quesadilla hybrid). Don’t sleep on the pulled pork, burnt ends brisket, jumbo shrimp and lobster tacos, each served on a 5-inch organic corn tortilla (or 6-inch flour tortilla if you opt for a grilled taco). With smoky fried eggplant, charred broccoli and fried avocado, vegetarian options are not lacking. For those watching their carb intake, tacos can be served in romaine boats as a tortilla alternative. The casual atmosphere, lively decor and music, and large patio make this space well suited for social gatherings; the menu caters to larger groups (there’s an entire “sharing” section) with taco platters, “dip foursomes” and margarita pitchers. Save some room for the cornbread; their dessert version is prepared like French toast—the perfect sweet ending.
Mexicue, 4733 Elm St., Bethesda, 240-540-4900, mexicue.com
Correction: This article was updated Jan. 3, 2023, to correct the location where CheezMD products are prepared. It was updated Jan. 18, 2023, to remove a photo that was misidentified and to add Emily Bruno to the list of founders of Denizens Brewing Co.