12.31.2023

My Top Ten Favorite Books of 2023 - Reading List & Links

Remember that time I read 132 books in one year? This. Is. Not. That. Year.

I started a new job. Co-founded a non-profit. Became an elected official. Way too many things at once really. And my reading took a dive. But, I still managed to read 37 books in 2023 - so far. And there were some good ones in there, so here's a look at my favorites: 

If you're a fan of post-apocalyptic fiction like Station Eleven or Gold Fame Citrus (see below,) you'll love this story of a baby born during a hurricane in Central Florida... and what unfolds across her life as climate change ravages the state (and country.) I hope it doesn't come to that. But it's a good read. 


“She wanted to rip her own beating heart from her chest, to toss it onto the bathroom floor and watch her blood splatter like wet paint. Instead, she took a Xanax.” This one crushed me and then put me back together.


I was as in love with the behind-the-scenes look at Saturady Night Live (TNO) as I was with the potential love story. Mix that up with 2020 time stamp and very accurately capturing COVID lockdown love, fear, isolation - and joy.

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin
“Every person you knew, every person you loved even, did not have to consume you for the time to have been worthwhile. She expressed some of this to Marx at the office, and he laughed at her. “I’m afraid I’ve given you the wrong impression, Sadie,” he said. “I rather like to be consumed.” My God, I loved that line.

“But sitting with her now – 30 years earlier, on the other side of the world – watching her drink rosĂ©, like it’s water – I think that maybe they were parts of her I never made an effort to see. Parts of her that just wanted to drink outside in the sunshine on Wednesday. And go back for skirts, just because.” 📚 What would happen if you met your mom when she was roughly your age? One Italian Summer tackles wanderlust, grief and love - set in Positano. A hotel that’s been on my to do list for years. It felt personal. I read it in 24 hours.


Gold Fame Citrus is set in post-apocalyptic Los Angeles, in a world where drinkable water in much of the US has been exhausted. The government evacuates citizens to pockets like Seattle and the East Coast… but some stay behind. This is their story. If you liked Station Eleven, Last of Us, Walking Dead… this one is for you.


“Do it for the plot!” This is the end-of-summer read you need in your life. Poppy is in her anti-hero era… and a twist of fate brings her to the South of France to possibly rewrite her life story.


Set mostly in Florida, where two writers are holed up trying to finish the last book in their contract after an epic rift in their once-close friendship and writing partnership.


The Last Remains (But Make Sure to Read the Series in Order) by Elly Griffiths
I was sad to finish The Last Remains, book number fifteen and the last (for now) in the Ruth Galloway mystery series. Discovering Elly Griffith’s cast of characters in Northern England was one of the joys of the pandemic years. I savored them as palate cleansers between other novels and there always seemed to be one more to put in my queue at the DC Public Library. And, while I wish I had more… I feel good about the last chapter. Thanks for the run, Elly (and to Jasmine Guillory for the original rec in your newsletter.)

A sweet coming-of-age story with a first love, first-generation immigrant family, family business, and mental health issues.


If you've got reading goals for 2024, here are a few of my tips:
  • Replace looking at your phone before bed and when you wake up with reading one chapter of a book. Your sleep, your mental health, and your reading list will all improve.
  • That year I read 132 books got pricey. Don't sleep on your local library. I get almost all of my reads, for free, from the DC Public Library. You can just add books you want to read from their app and they will email you when they are available to pick up from your closest branch. You can do print books, audio or ebooks (that work seamlessly with my Kindle, which is how I like to read when I travel.)
  • I set a goal of one book per week (overal 52 per year,) but I don't sweat it if I miss it. Sometimes, life is overcome by events. Just give yourself grace and pick up the next chapter.
  • Save this list that I'm working on keeping up this list contains my favorite reads over the year. Good inspiration if you're looking for your next book.
I'm also a member of the DC Public Library Foundation board of directors. And, we've got a generous donor matching contributions up to $25,000. If you have a little year-end donation left in your budget, I'd really appreciate it if you'd continue to help fund our community programs that support the DC Public Libraries.

2.08.2022

My Favorite Bites in Tampa Right Now: 2022

I've spent a bit more time in my hometown of Tampa, Florida over the past few years, and I've started to have some favorite restaurants. Sometimes I love a place for the moment - a solo dinner at the bar, a girl's night out, a great date nook. I can fall in love with a place for their talent, their service, their view, their ambiance... but today, we're going to explore my single favorite bites in town. 

There are plenty of good things to try on each of these menus... but here are my favorites. Make a scavenger hunt out of it. Use it to help you pick when you're torn. And report back to me if I'm missing something or you want to fight with me over what's best. (Hint: It's personal preference, so there's not a single right answer.)

In alphabetical order, by restaurant name: 

Bern's Steakhouse - The Wine List: Yeah yeah, it's one of the best steakhouses in the world. I love the sides and the soups. But for me, Bern's is all about the wine. Ask for the somm to help direct you around (if it's Brad, tell him hi for me.) Give them a price range and tell them what you dig... and watch the magic happen. 

The Wine Cellar at Bern's

Big Ray's Fish Camp - Blackened grouper sandwich ONLY at the original location in Ballast Point... don't come at me if you only have tried it at Riverwalk (that's managed by the convention center.) 

The Blackened Grouper Sandwich with Onion Rings at Big Ray's

Counter Culture - Burrata toasts with pink grapefruit marmalade, wood-fired tangerine, burnt rosemary, and smoked Maldon, ideally with a great glass of wine and a sunset view of the bay

Burrata Toasts with Pink Grapefruit Marmalade at Counter Culture

Empamamas - Tampa Girl: It's like a Cuban sandwich and an empanada had a warm delicious baby.

Flames Indian Cuisine - Samosas: Pair em with whatever entree you get, but never leave them off of your order.

Forbici - Cup and Char Pizza: I don't know why, but these crispy pepperoni cups are probably the thing I order most often when I'm in Tampa. Never disappoints.
The Cup and Char at Forbici

Interbay Meat Market - Cuban sandwich (it killed me to have to pick it over the killer cheeseburger): You can get great Cuban sandwiches at double handful of places in the Tampa area, but this one tucked in a grocery store has become my go-to for pick up picnics and delivery at home.

Oak & Ola - Monte Cristo at brunch... it's the Bennigan's classic, elevated, by one of my favorite chefs in town
Monte Cristo Sandwich at Oak & Ola for brunc
 
Psomi - Pan Spanakopita (everything I've ever ordered at Psomi has been great, but this is next level.)

Pan Spanakopita at Psomi

Publix - Key Lime Pie: If it ain't broke, don't fix it... and this is perfect.

Mini Key Lime Pie from Publix

Restaurant BT - Peking Duck Burritos: They're almost too gorgeous to eat, but do it anyway.

Peking Duck Burritos at Restaurant BT

Rocca - The Mozzarella Cart: Here's another spot where everything on the menu is delicious, but the experience that ya gotta try at least once is the mozza cart.

Rooster & Till - Short Rib Gnocchi: I'll try anything and everything on Chef Ferrell Alvarez's menu (and can't wait for the bar update that's coming,) but the gnocchi is my comfort food go-to. 

Runner Ups: The schnitzel at Willa's, the kale salad at On Swann, a latte and Cuban toast at DI Coffee Bar, the PB & Banana Toast at Buddy Brew, meatballs at Piccolo, lemon spaghetti at Cena (it would make the list, but it's a seasonal special, not offered right now... so I'll have to revisit to pick a new fave.)


Comment below or message me on Twitter at @tammy to tell me your faves that I need to try.

8.24.2021

Cuban Sandwiches: A DC Food Challenge, Gone Awry

As a born-and-raised daughter of Tampa, FL, it is my birthright to fight about Cuban sandwiches and insist that my town has the best in the world. (Fun fact: Cuban sandwiches were invented in Tampa, not Cuba.)
Today's Cuban Sandwiches, Crosscuts (L to R: Fieri, Colada, Little Red Fox)

I understand that statement alone will raise some folks' blood pressure. 

Don't worry, it won't be the last thing to make you mad today.

I have a couple of friends (ok, it's mostly Jim and me, with Jen also joining today) that are on a constant quest to find any legitimate Cuban food in the District of Columbia. Listen. It's not necessary. Some things are just better at the point of origin. Perhaps Tampa should establish the terroir of the Cuban sandwich. 

Much like trying to get a New York bagel or pizza outside of New York... I just don't think you can find legit Cuban bread north of Carrollwood.

So, imagine #CubanSandwichDay 2021... when we gathered a posse together to do a DC Cuban Sandwich taste test, there were some decisions to make. 

First of all, we agree that Mi Cuba Cafe has the best Cuban food in Washington, DC. I'm willing to be proven wrong, but that's just a baseline. But, I couldn't get it when I needed it today. It was lunchtime in a pandemic. We had less than one hour until we all had to be back on Zoom meetings. Time was of the essence.
Picnic, Style and Quartered after this photo

I knew Colada Shop was one that we'd had before. It's good. I probably eat it most often because it's in easy locations for me and is on delivery apps. 

The others that I researched for consideration: Capo Deli (their delivery and pick up were nearly an hour so that didn't work today,) Duke's Counter (their delivery and pick up was not online by 11am,) and Wagshal's (just too far.) There are also some other great Cuban spots that are closed for lunch or just aren't in DC, including one I found in Maryland that has Elian Gonzalez's portrait, instantly making it more legit in my eyes. 

What was left?


And. 

Wait. For. It. 


*breathes*

I sort of ordered it as a joke. I mean. It's Fieri. I sort of live to hate Fieri. (Except for his incredible philanthropic work.) His DC presence is a ghost kitchen being run out of a Buca di Beppo for chrissakes. And, that hair. So. Annoying.

I met my friends in the park and unwrapped the bounty. I cut them into shareable pieces to make them easy to taste. 

And then, it happened. 

Fieri's was the most legit of the three. 

I know. I'm mad at myself. I shouldn't have included him on principle. But I did. And now, here we are. Total white-girl-bullshit. But look. Fieri was the only one using legit Cuban bread. There was not a drop of Donkey Sauce to be found. Just roast pork, ham, mustard, pickles, and Swiss cheese, pressed within an inch of its life. Crackling and crispy on the outside.

We gaped at each other with the gravity of this realization.

I'm not saying it's the best Cuban sandwich in the world. Gas stations in Tampa would beat it. But, damned if Guy Freaking Fieri doesn't have one of the top three (eesh, maybe top two) Cuban sandwiches in the Nation's Capitol. 

Guy Fieri's Flavortown Kitchen is on Door Dash. I think it's delivery only, and only during certain hours. I'm not sure why he calls it the Crazy Cuban Sandwich. The best thing about it was that it wasn't crazy at all. It's classic. Except for the weird potato sticks it comes with. Those should be swapped with plantain chips. 

PS. All of them were delicious. Just Fieri's was most legit. And I'm still mad I had to publicly admit it.

Got a Cuban sandwich we haven't tried and should? Leave it in the comments below or tweet me @tammy.



7.09.2021

Reveler's Hour: A DC Restaurant Love Story

You know those magical nights where you fall in love with where you live and everything about your life all over again? Reveler's Hour with Julia Coney last night was one of those.

Owner and Beverage Director, Bill Jensen started us off with the Vermouth Panache. We toasted the success of year one and the 'what’s next' of Black Wine Professionals with Vilmart’s “Grand Cellier” Champagne.


Grilled Octopus with Mustard Aioli, New Potatoes and Pickled Finger Peppers

Our radiant server, Emma (with the coolest eye makeup) got us started with the Grilled Provolone Toasts, Blistered Snap Peas with Ricotta and Lemon, and the Octopus.


Next, Bill brought us a gorgeous Yves Leccia Niellucciu Blend RosĂ© 2016 out of Corsica and gave us a taste of COZs “POP Macerado” Vital 2019 from Portugal. [Side note: The wine list at Reveler's Hour is my favorite list in town. Their team loves helping steer you to fun new regions and producers. Always ask. This is not a pretentious bunch.]

Blistered Snap Peas with Ricotta, Lemon and Pine Nuts


Our unanimous favorite bite was the Arugula Pappardelle with Masala Braised Rabbit. The winner that we almost missed because we didn't order it, but the kitchen sent anyway: Garlic Knots. Swoon.

(Top) Arugula Papparedelle with Marsala Braised Rabbit, (Bottom) Campanelle with Mushy Broccoli, St. Malachi Cheese, Spicy Chili Oil, Lemon, Calabrian Chili Breadcrumbs and (Top Right) Garlic Knots

And finally (because when everything is going your way, you don't skip dessert) the Pecorino Cake with Raspberry Preserves and Toasted Pine Nuts. I declared it “like a cheese plate, but in cake form!”


Last night was a celebration of making it through this year. 


Pecorino Cake with Raspberry Preserves


I was so scared this restaurant, which had barely opened its doors before the pandemic shut everything down, and had already found a place in my heart, wouldn’t make it. I bought t-shirts, wine, and takeout sandwiches. I shared their social media posts and joined their wine Zooms. I spent a memorable night eating takeout dinner in an alley with Jenna just to cheer them on. If I could have willed them through to the other side, I would have.


They made it. Through grit, hard decisions, ingenuity, and hopefully some PPP money. 


All I know is that I was so grateful to get to experience it again… and it was even better last night, after all we have all been through together as a community.


Thank you to owners Jill Tyler, Bill Jensen & Jon Sybert for this life-affirming meal, which they generously comped way too much of. Love you all, and will be back soon to spend gobs of money on your glorious menu.




9.26.2020

Dining During COVID-19: My Favorite Tampa Takeout and Delivery Restaurants, Fall 2020

I'm back in Florida and, despite the highest COVID-19 rate in the country, the governor has decided to let restaurants move back to 100% capacity. 

Responsible restauranteurs quickly took to social media to reassure guests that they would indeed be following recommendations from scientists and the medical community to keep their team and customers safe. 

For me, that means an update to my protocol. I'll still only be doing takeout or outdoor dining, but I'm leaning takeout since I can't really account for the other customers and how lax they will be. Tampa's restaurants are split across tons of delivery apps which makes it kind of hard to find and decide where to order from. Here's a list of my favorites and what takeout/delivery platform they use to simplify it: 

  • Ava: One of my favorite classic Italian and brunch spots in South Tampa offers pickup, curbside and delivery via ChowNow. My faves: eggplant parmesan, chicken parmesan, and the brunch pizza. Portion sizes are huge, so I usually get three meals out of one order.
  • BT To Go: In "The Before," BT is my favorite spot in Tampa for Vietnamese food. I love that they quickly evaluated their menu and pivoted early on during the pandemic to "BT To Go." Everything is well thought out - from what menu items travel well to the packaging and delivery. I was craving something healthy-ish, so I ordered their famous Chili Chicken Cabbage Salad and a side of Fresh Rolls with Shrimp. Delicious - and enough to make two meals out of it. Order delivery via Uber Eats.
    BT To Go's Chili Chicken Cabbage Salad and Fresh Rolls

  • Ella's Folk Americana Cafe: Ella's immediately went to their social communities to let their fans know that they will be following science and keeping mask and distancing in place. This spot has awesome outdoor space, but also do easy pickup or delivery via ChowNow. I'm normally a fan of their burgers and brunch, but looking forward to exploring more on their fall menu.

  • Forbici: I love that one of my favorite IRL (in real life) experiences is also one of my fave takeout and delivery spots. Get that pepperoni cups pizza or the parmesan farro bowl easily on ToastTab

  • Interbay Meat Market: I'm not sure how this spot eluded me for so long, but now that I discovered it, I'm going to be a regular. You can go in and order takeout, but they are also on DoorDash and UberEats. Highly recommend the burger and killer crinkle cut fries, Cuban sandwiches, the hot Cuban food bar and breakfast. 

Cheeseburger and Fries from Interbay Meat Market 

  • King of the Coop: This Nashville hot chicken joint is open for delivery via Uber Eats and pickup via ToastTab. Don't order it Nashville hot unless you are serious about your heat. I like to think I am and I was sweating, nose running for an hour after just one chicken tender. LOL. Portions are pretty huge though, and I made several meals out of one chicken tender meal plus a side of cole slaw.

    King of the Coop's Nashville Hot Chicken Tenders Meal + Cole Slaw

  • Psomi: This is my reigning favorite Greek spot for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Their online order system for pre-order and pick up is the Toast Tab app. They have convenient curbside pickup parking spots designated, making it easy to zip in and zip out

I'll keep updating this list as I go, but definitely tell me your favorites and what I should not miss when it comes to delivery experiences in Tampa. Especially interested in finding new spots, pop-ups, and supporting restaurant talent who aren't brick-and-mortars also. 

NOTE: I'm home in Tampa til Joe Biden wins this election. Go to iwillvote.com/florida to find out more information about how to easily and safely vote this year.


7.18.2020

Dining During COVID19: Best Restaurants in Washington, DC

As we have all come to terms with how COVID19 impacts our lives, we adjust the way we live. And for me, one of the biggest adjustments has come with how I interact with and choose how I eat.

If you've been following me for a minute, you know that I love restaurants. I love the creativity. The taste. The vibe. I love chatting up a bartender. Meeting randoms. Sitting elbow to elbow and drinking too much wine and becoming friends with my table neighbors.

Well, things have changed.

I've been trying to support my favorite restaurants in the best ways I know how, by ordering from them, promoting them on social media and advocating for them. (PS. Go to SaveRestaurants.com and sign up to help.)

I've learned over the past few months that takeout is a different game than in-house. The things that make an experience great, for me, are:

  1. Timing: Only so many dishes can get from the restaurant kitchen to my house without deflating. I want experiences that are going to be as good as possible, so I make menu choices and restaurant choices based on what will travel well. And I generally only order from places that can get from the kitchen to my house in 20 minutes.
  2. Packaging: Before all of this, I never really considered how packaging affected the food quality and taste of takeout. I was talking to Chef Scott Drewno (ChiKo, Anju) about this last week and he mentioned that they test each menu item by letting it sit in packaging or 20 minutes and then eating it. Do they need to change the containers? How does that affect the experience? And the food cost? Not surprisingly, this thoughtful approach produces two of my favorite takeout experiences of the whole quarantine.
  3. Easy Pick Up or Delivery: I want to reduce my interactions as much as possible, so that means I want to get in and out (preferably not even getting in) as quick as possible with the least amount of shared touches. I use Caviar and Uber Eats quite a bit for delivery. Tock and Toast have also produced great pick ups. But, the easiest experience I've had so far was Sushi Taro. They've redesigned their entire restaurant to optimize for takeout. You can pull your car up (or walk up) and someone comes outside to get your name and bring your bag directly out to you. All that, plus incredible, fresh and creative sushi. Add it to your list.
  4. Personalization: Can we all just acknowledge that this is hard? I don't need perfection. We shouldn't expect perfection in the middle of the pandemic. One of the things that has made takeout experiences great are when there is a personal touch. A note from the chef. A little extra something. It makes you feel special. Shout out to Coconut Club, Muchas Gracias, Anju and ChiKo for those sweet touches that make me smile. 
ChiKo Dumplings
Ok, so I know what you came here for is the list. I've been keeping this list and adding to it each week on the Notes section of my phone. 

Here's how I've broken it down. First, my absolute favorite experiences. Second, all of the places I've ordered takeout and enjoyed. Third, all of the places on my to-do list. 

I think we can all agree, DC has a wealth of food talent and creativity. With each meal choice, you have the power to help keep someone in business. I make each order with an eye towards who I want to see on the other side of this. I hope you will do the same. Support your local restaurants. Try for a cadence of at least twice a week. Here goes: 

Top Takeout Experiences of Quarantine (in no particular order:) 
  • Coconut Club: When I tell you that Chef Adam Greenberg has been an absolute rock star, believe me. As quarantine began mid-March, I was down in Florida. On the drive back, I worried about groceries in DC. Chef messaged me, "I got you. Come by." The day after I got back to DC, he stocked my car with five boxes of groceries from his kitchen, allowing me to avoid in-person shopping for at least a month. All that and his delivery of Kahlua Pork Sliders and Spam Fried Rice set the bar for takeout experiences. It came well packaged, with a personal note and instructions to reheat perfectly. And the volume was great - I think I ended up making three meals out of that first order. All that and he's been a community and industry advocate that inspires me to do more. 
  • Anju: Once I settled in to DC again, I started thinking about the best meals I had before quarantine started. (Those were Anju, Reveler's Hour and Cane.) I just love the whole team at Anju. Chefs Danny Lee, Scott Drewno and Angel Barreto are not just talented - they are so damned nice. With every fiber of my being, I wanted to see them on the other side, so order in. I mean, when I say you can't go wrong on this menu, you can't go wrong. They added in a sweet note and a little something extra. The volume was great and I ate it for days. I've since been back and had brunch on their little four-seat spaced out patio. I felt safe and the food was some of the best I've had all year, takeout or not. 
  • ChiKo: While we're talking about the nicest, talented chefs in DC... the team behind Anju also owns ChiKo. And ChiKo was designed to deliver a great takeout even before all of this madness. I ordered their Spicy Lamb Dumplings as soon as I saw them on Instagram... even though I had already made dinner at home. You can't go wrong on that menu. But, in case you want direction, I love love the Half-a-Cado Salad, Crispy Chicken Springrolls, Orange-ish Chicken, and Wagshal's Chopped Brisket.
  • Le Diplomate: Once Le Diplomate re-opened for takeout service, I almost didn't want to order from there. Part of Le Diplomate's greatness is the energy of being there. And, I didn't want to diminish the quality of the french fries by letting them wilt in the backseat of a delivery driver's car. But, I had a bad day. Not just an average bad day of quarantine, but a really really bad day. And so did my neighbors. So, how did I attempt to make it better? Cheeseburgers delivered from Le Diplomate. And, my God, they were so goddamned great. It was like a giant hug being delivered. Since then, they've added a burger box option so that you can get all of the ingredients and instructions and grill your own at home. Either way, so worth it. (I'm actually planning takeout brunch from there on Sunday.)
  • San Lorenzo: On the first day restaurants (with patios) were allowed to open, Jenna and I met early to go support Maxwell Park and have a bottle of wine on our favorite patio. As things started getting a little more busy, we got skittish and left... but not before placing a takeout order from San Lorenzo. It was perfect. I got a soft-shell crab over polenta and ate it in the park. It was a brings-tears-to-your-eyes great moment. The combination of great food, great friends and a remembrance of what it felt like to enjoy great restaurants was a highlight. And, I will put in a plug. San Lorenzo doesn't have outdoor space and can't expand into the street or alley. They have a small space and are in a tough position. I'm not ok eating indoors yet, and you may not be either. But, if you can, support them by getting takeout.
  • Cane: Remember up there where I talked about the best restaurants of 2020, pre-quarantine? Cane may have been my favorite experience (despite the line!) The sheer joy of getting a table, being taken care of by the Prime fam, and getting to experience something so new to my palate was just the greatest feeling. They also have a small indoor space, even pre-quarantine, so I was worried about them. I'm not sure I'm worried as much anymore. Their takeout was fantastic. I got the jerk wings and doubles, but I'll be back for more. And my neighborhood crew has decided we want to do a night where we all order from there because half of us love it, and half of us are dying to try it.
  • Sushi Taro: I had this last night and it may have spurred me to write this entire post. Sushi Taro closed down their entire Michelin-starred restaurant operation because they knew it wouldn't work until we get a vaccine. And they did it fast. I have to respect that kind of vision and commitment. When it's not gonna work, you gotta pivot. They have now reopened and redesigned the entire experience for takeout. The menu is vast, but everything works to-go. When you pick it up, you don't even have to get out of your car. You can just pull up (or walk up), give them your name and they bring it out to you. And it was fantastic. I got the soft shell crab roll and the spicy scallop. But, I suspect you can choose damn near anything and it'll be great. Follow them on social also because they are doing neat things, like giving you a bottle of wine for free with a $100 order. 
  • Happy Gyro @ Komi: I think I put off Happy Gyro until six months into quarantine because I ate there in The Before and had such a perfect experience and I didn't want takeout to disappoint. Well, no chance there. It was probably my favorite that I've had all year as take out. They do curbside pickup, so even during a tornado warning the friendly, fun team ran it out to me. (They also do delivery.) The packaging for each item was so thoughtful. Kept the hot stuff hot and the cold stuff cold! I got the fig and tomato salad (below) with whipped feta, the Greek zucchini and cheese fritters and the Gyro (which is vegetarian and freaking delicious.) Paired it with sommelier Kyle Wilson's rec, a raw skin-contact wine from Macedonia (by Domaine Ligas) that was perfect with the Gyro, as promised. All that and they wished me well on the campaign trail. Given everything going on in the restaurant industry, that they even paid half attention to what is happening in my life... just so damned nice. Love y'all. Means a lot.
Ok, the ones below were still awesome, so don't discount this list separation. Here is a cumulative list (alphabatized for ease) of all of the restaurants in DC that I've ordered takeout (or eaten on the patio outside once that re-opened) from and enjoyed. I've tried to mention key things to order if there were particular items that were must-tries. 
  • Bluestone Lane: Ok, so normally I eschew chains, but I feel like Bluestone Lane gets a pass because I kind of love it. (Not in the same way I love Chili's.) So many healthy lunch and breakfast options. Incredible socially distanced space to hang with friends or just work solo. And the app makes pre-ordering and paying as contactless as possible. Highly recommend the one on R Street near Logan Circle - and the Rainbow Bowl for a colorful lunch.
  • Butter Me Up: All day breakfast sandwiches, delivered via this pop up inside Half Smoke on U Street
  • Buttercream Bakeshop: These star bakers are doing two cakes (or pies or baked goods) per week that you can pre-order and pick up on Saturdays. I got the Thin Mint Cake and a Tropical Strawberry Pie for a celebration dinner for soon-to-be-married friends. They are also doing custom cakes for birthdays, weddings and any celebration you can come up with. Hard hit as the event and wedding industry has halted, we would really appreciate you supporting this great woman-owned small business through the pandemic. They are so talented and nice. Order up.
  • Call Your Mother Deli: Certain businesses are well positioned to thrive during quarantine and Call Your Mother is one. They quickly pivoted to take out -- and have even opened new locations and a trolley car! I'm a big fan of their everything bagel with whitefish and bacon for lunch.
  • Cracked Eggery: Saturdays in my Cleveland Park neighborhood are for Cracked. Before quarantine, during quarantine and hopefully after. This breakfast based food truck has expanded their menu, with killer burgers, tots and more. Follow them on Instagram to get their weekly schedule. And, don't miss The Mayor for breakfast.
  • Colada Shop: This woman-owned Cuban cafe has the best Cuban sandwiches, empanadas and guava pastries in town - plus a roofdeck cocktail bar and easy pickup or delivery. I ordered the Tampa-style Cuban for Cuban Sandwich Day and day four of the Democratic Convention. Colada Shop now has it's original 14th Street shop, and also an outpost at The Wharf. Delivery via ToastTab.
  • Comet Ping Pong: Fun date on the patio with drinks and custom pizzas, ordered via the Tock app. Also, there's a walk up bar and some benches/tables in the back parking lot. 
  • Crush Subbies: Chef Adam Greenberg and team bring you shore-style subs, delivered. I loved the spicy chicken and the avocado turkey.
  • Delikatessen: Loved getting takeout brunch from this new Jewish deli pop-up from the All Purpose Shaw team. Highlights: the whitefish with bagel chips, celery shrub and a black and white cookie. They also have catering options if you want a spread for a family occasion or a pod/picnic brunch day.
  • Domestique: This is my favorite wine store in DC, they have such a unique selection. I'm a member of the wine club and I get four bottles from them each month. But their thoughtful selection and emails almost always make me want to add more. Easy contactless pickup and delivery + a collab with Izakaya Seki, which is still on my to do list.
  • Dona Dona by Sereneta: In a crisis, leaders emerge. One of those has been tiny juggernaut, Chef Paola Velez. When Kith/Kin, where she was head pastry chef, closed, Paola organized Bakers Against Racism which raised more than $2 million for local anti-racist organizations. And, she started this great little donut pop up to showcase flavors of the Dominican Republic. Keep your eyes on her as she just accepted a new role working with Rose Previte at Maydan and Compass Rose.
  • EllĂ©: takeout coffee and pastries
  • Federalist Pig: FedPig was one of my first takeout experiences and it was so buttoned up and smart that it gave me confidence to order out more often. All that and the brisket is to die for.
  • FishScale: I love the taste of these fish sandwiches almost as much as the sustainable seafood mission. Absolutely check this one out. 
  • Get a Hero, Be a Hero: fun sandwich collab from Paul Taylor that gives a sandwich to someone in need each time you order one
  • La Tejana's Tuesday Texas Takeover: Pop-up breakfast tacos, gorditas and brisket at EllĂ© last week (also at Thamee on Sundays.)
  • Lei Musabi: Cute takeaway musabi kits that you pick up at the Brookland Farmers Market.
  • Little Pearl: I did easy curbside pick up of one of their Tex Mex themed dinners and loved it. Everything was well packaged and came with instructions, meaning once it hit my plate it was pretty close to restaurant expereince. 
  • Little Red Fox: I ran out of coffee one day and panicked. Little Red Fox to the rescue with the first latte of quarantine, which tasted so great I wanted to cry. Paired it with a croissant. And, have been back recently for the meatloaf Banh Mi sandwich. Great selection of wines also and seamless pick up protocols.
  • Little Serow: Two friends and I pretty much ran the menu here and picnicked outside to enjoy it all with some killer wine. One of the great nights of quarantine. Don't miss the short ribs + all the veggie dishes + ice cream.
  • Lucky Buns: burger and fries, obvi (I'm also looking forward to Chef Alex McCoy's Crabs & Crushies this month)
  • Mandu: On Saturdays, I've been doing patio dinners with my family. Mandu's Korean BBQ Kit caught my eye to shake up our routine and it was so much fun, such great flavor. Highly recommend, but also add the Korean Chicken Wings to your order. And probably some dumplings.
  • Mercy Me: Love this "sorta South American" bakery and cafe that opened during quarantine downtown near West End. Don't miss the guava vigilante (a sugary croissant-like situation) and the sweet corn breakfast taco. Easy pick up and delivery options.
  • Mola - takeout mezze, Spanish tortilla on Sundays, groceries from Path Farms, and a killer wine and spirits selection focused on women makers
  • Muchas Gracias: I've ordered a few times from this Mexican takeout (that just added one patio table!) in Van Ness. Love their fish tacos, Caesar kale salad and chilaquiles. My neighbors are intrigued and we're planning a big group order to picnic outside.
  • Old Westminster Winery: It's a beautiful drive out to this fantastic new entry into the DC area vineyard road trip list. Picnic tables with umbrellas are evenly spaced out for easy distancing. Servers (wearing masks) come to your table to take orders by the glass or bottle. Patrons are asked to wear a mask when they go inside. Coming soon: a pizza oven (the oven's there already, but they are staffing up the team) to deliver fresh hot pies to this lovely experience. 
  • Republic Cantina: Look, I can admit when I make a mistake. I ordered from Republic Cantina on Cinco de Mayo. Apparently, so did everyone else in town. And, pick up was a shit show. But the food was good. And the margaritas and mezcal made for one of the most fun nights of quarantine.
  • Reveler's Hour: This was my favorite new spot to meet friends, eat til I popped and taste everything on the thoughtful wine list before quarantine. Afterwards, they closed for a bit and continue to thoughtfully pivot. I enjoyed the Chicken Parmesan Lasagna for takeout. They've also opened a wine shop inside, and limited seatings.
  • Roaming Rooster: This one makes me super torn. Maybe it should be in my top takeout experiences? Becuase, holy hell, their Nashville Hot Chicken Sandwich is definitely one of the best bites of quarantine. They are expanding and coming to more places in the city, so watch for the openings - or drive over and pick up a sandwich. They are very organized in the lines and move folks through quickly.
  • Room 11: Chef Matt Crowley (Spoken English) is doing a sandwich pop up at Room 11 that is worth your time. I got the Broccoli Caesar, which was delicious, but I want to try so much more. They also have a patio if you want to eat it outside. 
  • Sababa: Chef Ryan Moore is serving up delicious Israeli small plates like halloumi, hummus, fried cauliflower and kabobs. Owner Ashok Bajaj was on-site, overseeing a beautiful patio experience (tents, plants, spacing, nice tables) and safety procedures (contact tracing, hand sanitizer, all the masks) in a full suit that gives you feelings of The Before. All that and we also got a bit of a celebrity sighting of one of our favorite political writers at another table. Put this one on your to-do list for take out or patio dining. Have some fun with the wine list that has a lot of interesting bottles from Israel, Greece, Georgia, and Lebanon. Bonus: roof deck
  • Salt Line: I got lobster rolls to go for a family dinner and they were a big hit. This waterfront fave of mine also has very well distanced outdoor tables, so I'd also go back to enjoy drinks and dinner on their spacious patio. 
  • Seco Wine: Carlie Steiner is one of my favorite talents in DC. I've followed from Himitsu to Pom Pom to Dos Mamis. And, while those concepts won't survive this pandemic, I hope Carlie's delivery wine business, Seco does. It's well-curated, always introduces me to new regions/winemakers, and it's just fun.
  • Southwest Soda Pop Shop: On hot summer quarantine days and nights, you need ice cream. This Black-woman run ice cream and dessert shop opened during quarantine, y'all. And, the well-spaced lines at The Wharf tell you that it's going to make it through to the other side. Such a treat.
  • Stellina: Loved the Paccheri and Caesar salad. Still want to try that Cacio e Pepe!
  • Tail Up Goat: This perennial fave of mine transitioned into a decent takeout game and also just reopened their patio. But, their Sunday wine class has become a staple of my quarantine Zoom game.
  • Timber Pizza: I got the Pretty in Pepperoni from this woman-owned pizza shop in Petworth to pair with Kamala Harris accepting the VP nomination, officially. Delicious, as always.
Little Serow Picnic Party
So much talent, so little time (and money.) Here are the ones I want to try next: 
Got a spot I should add? Add it in the comments section or tweet me, @tammy.

Guava Vigilante at Mercy Me

6.22.2020

Travel During COVID19: Safely Planning a Beach Weekend

After three months of pandemic quarantine, all I could think about was getting my toes in the sand. The team at Bali Hai Beachfront Resort* on Anna Maria Island offered me a stay and my heart surged. That's my favorite beach near my home town. Could I do that and do it safely? And, if I could... could I have any friends join? Here are the parameters and protocols that made it happen:
Beach Walkway at Bali Hai Beachfront Resort
Open Conversations
If you're planning on travel, have the uncomfortable conversations with the hotel staff - and with any friends or family that are joining you. Everyone needs to be on the same page with their risk threshold. If someone has pre-existing conditions especially, you need to make sure that safety parameters are in place. For instance, Bali Hai staff did not wear masks. I wore my mask in to pick up my keys, but that was my only interaction in an inside space with staff. And that was pretty low risk for me.

Two-Week Quarantine Pre-Arrival
A few weeks before the stay, a few of my friends (we kept it to less than 10 to reduce risk) who knew I was coming down also booked rooms at the Bali Hai. We had a conversation in advance and discussed what the two week period was before we would be together. We set a date and texted everyone to remind them that we were two weeks out and they needed to lock down their own personal and family health protocols in order to not put anyone else at risk. Everyone agreed to masks in public places and sticking to outside dining/beach time. If possible, have everyone coming on the trip get a COVID19 test five days before you arrive so that you can cancel if you test positive.
Lots of open, outdoor space at Bali Hai Beachfront Resort
Open Air
Speaking of outside, I think adequate outside space is crucial to safe travel during COVID-19's reign. One of the things I liked about the Bali Hai was that, like many older Florida motels, the doors all open outside (as opposed to an interior hallway.) That led to both heat and breezes, which reduce risk. I chose a room that was beachfront, and yes the view was gorgeous, but also, that meant that I could air out my room and spend a lot of time sitting outside.

Our group also agreed that any dining would take place outside. Spots like The Sandbar Restaurant, Rod & Reel Pier and Ginny's and Jane E's all had outdoor seating. And favorites like Eat Here and Vinny's Italian Kitchen had great takeout options where we picnic'd on the beach.
Sunset Picnic by Eat Here
Limited Touch
I declined cleaning service for my room to ensure that it had as few points of transmission as possible. When I needed new towels, I just let the office know and piled them outside my door. The cleaning team knocked and brought me new ones stacked outside.

I should also mention that normally, girls weekend looks a bit like all of us crammed into two rooms. I insisted on having my own room. (Partly for pandemic protocol, partly because I just like my own space.) Anyone who joined was on the hook for getting their own room. This drastically limited cross-touching or breathing in an enclosed space. We almost exclusively hung out on the beach, at outdoor tables and on our patios. Because the reality is that while community spread is a risk, it's a very low risk outside in the heat of a small, not-crowded Florida beach town.

Contactless Delivery of Groceries
Another great thing about the Bali Hai was that my room had a full kitchen. This allowed for making most of my meals at home and reducing the risk. I ordered groceries twice during my stay, from Publix via Instacart delivery. Both experiences were seamless (except for the 8 shallots I wanted instead became elephant garlic. NBD... but what do I do with elephant garlic?)
Dinner made at home, ingredients via Publix Instacart
Social Distance Sunbathing
Before I even booked my trip, one of the things that stood out to me was that Bali Hai had reduced the number of pool and beach chairs to ensure there was enough distancing for guests. Had that not been the case, I would have rethought a stay. But the grounds and space had enough room for everyone to feel like they had enough distance between groups and families.
Well-distanced beach chairs and umbrellas at Bali Hai
Get the Balcony
Sunsets on the Gulf of Mexico are amazing, but everyone has the same idea so they can get crowded. Splurging for the beachfront balcony ensures you have a private perch for the show.

Bali Hai Beachfront Resort is located at 6900 Gulf Drive in Holmes Beach, Florida. I drove to get here from DC, but you could fly into Tampa or Sarasota airports if you felt safe doing so.

* In return for a complimentary stay (with additional days/food and beverage discounts,) I provided social media coverage on my accounts and here. As always, I disclose when things are in-kind or paid, and strive to still give you an authentic account of the experience.