Thursday, January 23, 2014

Beyond the Five Boroughs: Union Market in Washington D.C.

On a recent trip to our nation's capital – where I first planted my food-writing roots – I had the pleasure of visiting Union Market, the cavernous recently-revitalized market that has become the foodie destination in DC. Even Attorney General Eric Holder is known to frequent the space.

Opened in late 2012, Union Market is home to some 40 local food shops, crafts stores, and clothing purveyors.  It has become a major attraction, helping to revitalize a once desolate neighborhood of warehouses, near Gallaudet University.

A bit like an indoor Smorgasburg, a New Yorker would feel right at home at Union Market's trendy food stalls, which serve everything from excellent cappuccinos to Korean tacos, to oysters and beer. An afternoon visit gave me the opportunity to sample only a small number of the vendors at Union Market

A selection of Chesapeake oysters alongside a fish sauce-spiked bloody mary
Rappahannock Oyster Bar, a mouthful of a name, occupies a prime location in the center of Union Market's first floor. The oyster bar hawks Chesapeake Bay oysters, raw or grilled, and a concise selection of seafood small plates. Definitely stick with the raw oysters – which were plump and not minerally – as the grilled ones were a far cry from the ones I had in New Orleans.

Craft beers and an outstanding bloody mary made with fish sauce round out the selection. I'm always looking for new takes on the bloody mary and I enjoyed the addition of bold fish sauce to the spicy beverage.

An assortment of tacos from TaKorean
As you approach one end of the the first floor, you'll immediately smell the tangy BBQ flavors emanating from TaKorean, a Korean taco joint. New Yorkers are well-accustomed to Korean tacos, from our local favorite food trucks Kimchi Taco and Korilla. TaKorean seemed to me more pan-Asian than fully Korean, and was less kimchi-focused that Kimchi Taco or Korilla. The best of the tacos was a sweet and spicy soy-marinated bulgogi steak taco. A pan-seared caramelized tofu taco with a tangy hoisin was also delicious, nicely adding some Chinese flavors.

Taking a cue from Attorney General Holder, we next stopped by Red Apron Butchery, a full-service butcher of anything from cold cuts to small-batch charcuterie.

Red Apron's "Cotechino Burger"
We made good use of a small bar/seating area serving sandwiches and craft beer, and ordered a "Cotechino Burger" – pork sausage fashioned into a patty and topped with an overflowing amount of arugula, pickled fennel, and green sauce in between a brioche bun.

The "burger" was a great contrast of flavors: spicy sausage, crisp and bitter greens, and a slightly sweet bun.

Another sandwich of pork meatballs overflowing a housemade baguette and topped with salsa verde was just the kind of decadence I was looking for.

Suddenly in need of an afternoon pick me up, we stopped at Peregrine Espresso for some excellent Counter Culture cappuccinos, with friendly heart and flower-shaped milk-styling (the main branch was recently named one of the best coffee bars in America). I would have preferred, however, if they didn't serve such a creation in a paper cup, as there was ample seating.
Two perfect cappuccinos, unfortunately served in paper cups
An expensive knick-knack store perhaps ironically named "Salt & Sundry" sells fancy condiments, plates and bowls, cocktail accessories, and assorted "artisan" items like Tamr's Tonic and Mike's Hot Honey. A surprising number of offerings referenced Brooklyn. I guess we didn't go far from home!

Union Market
1309 Fifth St. N.E.
Washington, D.C. 20002
Open 11 a.m. - 8 p.m. Weds-Fri; 8 a.m. - 8 p.m. Sat-Sun; closed Mon-Tues.
unionmarketdc.com


Rappahannock Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon TaKorean on Urbanspoon Red Apron Butcher on Urbanspoon Red Apron Butcher on Urbanspoon Peregrine Espresso on Urbanspoon Peregrine Espresso on Urbanspoon

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