Borderstan certainly has options when it comes to an expensive night out. From wining and dining at the latest restaurants, to evenings filled with theatre and live music, Borderstan offers a little bit of everything for a top-shelf experience. Hell, even parking (or a parking ticket) will cost you a chunk of your wallet.
However, just because the price tags on some of the neighborhood’s items are higher than you’d like to pay, it doesn’t mean you can’t have a great night out at a moderate price.
Often, I put myself on a budget of $20 – but that doesn’t stop me from going to some of the area’s best spots. Here’s what $20 will get you in Borderstan.
- Floriana: Crepes with Meyer lemon, housemade ricotta and mission fig glaze AND a glass of pinot noir. Nothing beats Floriana (1602 17th Street NW) for fantastic Italian food in an intimate setting. And the best news: You don’t need a Benjamin to experience it all. My secret is to order a starter and a good glass of wine. That way, you can enjoy a delicious and seasonal taste (and wine!) for under $20.
- 9:30 Club: An evening with Best Coast. The 9:30 Club (815 V Street NW) is one of the best venues on the East Coast to see the nation’s best bands. And thankfully, most tickets are right around (or less than) $20. On June 4, California-based indie band Best Coast is bringing its Los Angeles-inspried rock to (what I like to call) the best coast. Tickets are $20 and include two opening bands.
- Local 16: One personal pizza and three drinks. Local 16 (1602 U Street NW) has one of the best happy hours in the neighborhood – and it lasts until 8 pm, which is arguably the best part. For $20, you can get a pizza (tomato, mozzarella and basil) for $5 and three glasses of wine or three featured cocktails ($5 each), like the mojito.
- Local galleries and The Pig: An evening of art, plus lentil and bacon stew and a cocktail. Exposing yourself to culture doesn’t mean you need to expose your bank account to the negative sign. The best thing about having so many art galleries around is that you can browse various exhibits for free. Check out Contemporary Wing (1412 14th Street NW), Gallery plan b (1530 14th Street NW) and Hamiltonian Gallery (1353 U Street NW) for their latest exhibits. Then, head over to The Pig (1320 14th Street NW) for a Lentil and bacon stew with pomegranate reduction and herbed crème fraiche ($10) and the Wilbur cocktail (redemption rye and pineapple-rosemary syrup for $9.50).
- Black Cat: Titus Andronicus and a beer. On Sunday, May 19, catch favorite band Titus Andronicus at the Black Cat (1811 14th Street NW) for $15 and score a beer before the show for $5. Opening band is So So Glos. Enjoy your night!
- Masa 14: Two appetizers and two cocktails. The happy hour at Masa 14 (1825 14th Street NW) is very friendly toward the $20 budget. For less than $20, you can score two mojitos (or margaritas) and two appetizers (like a crunchy shrimp handroll or marinated portobello pao buns). Everything on the happy hour menu is $4 each.
Of course there are many other $20 combinations in and around the neighborhood. What are some of your favorites?
“What do you mean it’s inside a gas station? You mean it’s next to the gas station?”
“No, dude, that’s the convenience store. Are you sure this is the right place?”
“Are we really going to eat a sandwich from here?”
These questions form the popular refrain around Fast Gourmet, the now not-so-secret sandwich shop tucked into the otherwise unremarkable gas station at 14th and W Streets; it says something that even the station’s signage doesn’t reveal a discernible name, just a list of words you might use to describe the establishment (Lowest Price, W, Express). At the very least, the queries above were my then-roommate’s incredulous thoughts as we walked past the pumps and through the shop to arrive at the eatery.
If you’ve never been, then put aside any preconceived notions you might have, and, as Barney Stinson might say, “Open up your brain-tank, brah, for some premium octane knowledge.” Fast Gourmet isn’t some rundown taquitos-on-rollers operation; quite the contrary.
For one, it’s cleaned up, with black and electric green accents and a surprising amount of seating options. For another, it has a chalkboard menu with about 25 different options.
And perhaps most importantly, the meals are absolutely stellar. The shop’s signature sandwich, the Chivito, a pressed sandwich of pork tenderloin, mozzarella, black forest ham, bacon, green olives, egg, and escabeche marinade, is a high-speed collision of flavor packed inside a roll. It bursts with pleasant levels of salt, and is the kind of meat gluttony that makes you feel like you’re stealing the restaurant blind for the $13 you’ve paid them.
Even better, despite the hype surrounding the sandwiches, the shoestring fries are for me the real treat, crispy and salted well. For the vegetarians among us, a falafel sandwich eaten on a recent trip stands up well to its Amsterdam contemporary.
So, even when it doesn’t necessarily live up to its moniker, the sandwiches are well worth the wait and the adventure.
Borderstan readers, I want you to know that this review is completely biased. I love Taylor Gourmet sandwiches so much so that I spent my anniversary at their new restaurant, enjoying orange Pellagrino with my significant other. That being said, here are a bunch of reasons why the sandwiches at Taylor Gourmet are worth the $7.10 for the 6-inch or $9.50 for the 12-inch.
The new Taylor Gourmet opened on 14th street on Tuesday and if there was a seeming lack of line, it wasn’t for a lacking of buzz. Owners Casey Patten and David Mazza opened their fourth store of gourmet hoagies just in time to greet customers coming in from the blustery cold with a hot marinara sauce. The hoagies, named after streets in Philadelphia, are homage to their Pennsylvania roots and work to fill a deep-seated desire in the two best friends for a quality sandwich.
What’s a hoagie, you ask? It’s a sub! Wikipedia: “The sandwich originated in several different Italian American communities in the Northeastern United States from the late 19th to mid 20th centuries.”
“We spent a couple of years trying to find something that filled that void. We invested in some property on H Street and… I said, we’re going to build a hoagie shop,” said Patten.
The hoagies are the star here, but you can also get a solid salad and sides, like risotto balls or fried ravioli. Patten’s favorite cold hoagie is the 9th Street Italian — salami, capicola, prosciutto and provolone — but he also recommends the Pattison Avenue (roasted pork and provolone), particularly for the salted broccoli rabe.
Their vegetarian sandwiches are a welcome step away from the typical grilled vegetables seen at many places. My perennial favorite is the Christian Street — goat cheese, arugula, roasted peppers and beefy strips of portabella. Tip: Pay the extra $2.40 for the 12-inch hoagie, keep half and you’ve got lunch the next day!
Taylor Gourmet is meant to be a neighborhood establishment–a place for people to congregate, to meet for lunch or dinner. “It’s a phenomenal neighborhood,” said Patten, a former Borderstan resident, “14th Street has a lot of energy.”
The interior of the new restaurant exudes the kind of enthusiasm Patten describes. With a light installation made of drywall buckets and reclaimed wood throughout the dining area, the restaurant is well situated among the eclectic and original stores along 14th Street.
“I’m a fan of contemporary furnishings — what we’ve done at all the stores is to make it contemporary, with rustic elements. Reclaimed wood, raw steel, a hundred dry wall buckets. It’s comfortable, we want to make people feel at home to a degree,” says Patten.
Patten is pretty complimentary of his new neighbors too — asked about his favorite places in Borderstan he admitted to spending “one too many late nights at Black Jack,” and regularly enjoys Pearl Dive Oyster Palace, Estadio and Mandu. And outside Borderstan? “My go to place, if I have time, is Pasta Mia (in Adams Morgan). It feels like my mom or my grandma’s cooking to me. Good simple, American-Italian food, there is something very comforting about it.”
Get your fix of Taylor Gourmet. If you’re like me, you’ll know the names of the staff making your sandwich soon enough.
Taylor Gourmet: The Details
- Where Am I Going?1908 14th Street NW, below District Yoga
- When Am I Going? Sunday to Wednesday 11 am to 10 pm; Thursday, 11 am to 2:30 am; Friday and Saturday, 11 am to 3:30 am.
- Delivery? Yes, but delivery lines are still being drawn. $2 surcharge and $18 minimum.
- Paycheck Pain? $7.10 for a 6-inch hoagie, $9.50 for a 12-inch hoagie.
- Say What? A good beat going over the speakers, but my guess is that once people find out about this place, much louder.
- What You’ll Be Eating: Philly-style hoagies with fresh ingredients.
From Alejandra Owens. You can find her on Twitter at @frijolita or at her food blog, One Bite At A Time. Email her at [email protected].
Paula Deen and her love of butter ain’t got nothin’ on Florida Avenue Grill. Tucked away on the corner of Florida Ave and 11th Street, far from the hubub and hipsters on U Street, this shot gun diner has been serving up simple, traditional Southern breakfasts since 1944.
Make no mistakes. This isn’t brunch. This isn’t bottomless mimosas. This isn’t “pan seared pork belly with a berry balsamic reduction.” This is eggs, bacon, biscuits, sausage gravy and grits.
Leave your diet at the door, not only is everything cooked in butter the cook pours on an extra tablespoon or two of melted butter on top of your dish as it makes its way to your table.
Or maybe your seat at the counter. Large parties and ladies who brunch beware. You’ll likely wait for a four top, but if it’s just you and a compadre you can belly up almost immediately at the long counter where you can watch all the butter-ific cooking go down.
For those of you who sleep late… really late… on the weekends, don’t fret. Florida Avenue Grill is one of the few places in town that serves breakfast until 4:30 p.m. Whether you’ve lived in D.C. for 10 years or 10 days, if you haven’t been to this greasy spoon, hustle down there this weekend and get in line for a breakfast that you won’t regret!
- Where Am I Going? 1100 Florida Avenue NW (corner of Florida Avenue and 11th Street NW)
- When Am I Going? Breakfast served until 1:30 pm, Tuesday through Thursday; until 3:30 pm Friday; and until 4:30 pm on weekends. They also serve lunch and supper and Florida Avenue Grill is open until 9 pm Tuesday through Saturday (closing time is 4:30 pm on Sunday). Closed Mondays.
- Paycheck Pain? Pain? There’s no pain. This place is cheaper than Washingtonian’s Cheap Eats edition.
- Say What? Everyone can talk to each other just fine… just expect someone from the kitchen to yell occasionally about fresh biscuits or to hustle on that diet coke.
- What You’ll Be Eating: Pancakes, biscuits, sausage gravy, eggs, bacon, sausage… breakfast fare… in butter.