Carnival Classics: 11 Indulgences Inspired by the Midway

Riding the Ferris wheel, shooting baskets for oversized stuffed animals and looking at a wiggly wobbly reflection of yourself in the fun house mirror is only part of the simple pleasures to be found at a carnival. The other part comes courtesy of the heart-clogging, high-sugar foods you’ll find for sale on the midway. This is not cutting-edge cuisine – most of it is quickly cooked in a deep fryer – nor does it pretend to be. It’s just really good food, even if it doesn’t happen to be good for you. Chefs are having fun with these lowbrow, high-calorie treats via refined riffs on carnival classics. Here are 11 indulgences inspired by the midway.

Landmarc at the Time Warner Center, New York, New York
Perhaps no treat is associated with the midway more than cotton candy. Every table at Landmarc gets a free order of the airy spun sugar confection, which comes in a revolving array of poppy colors. For once, it’s acceptable to lick your fingers in between bites.

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Provision No. 14, Washington D.C.
Usually, funnel cake arrives on a grease-dotted paper plate with nothing more than a deluge of powdered sugar. Here it is served as an accompaniment to a whole fried chicken with maple-infused gravy on the brunch menu. Any day that begins with funnel cake is bound to be a good day in our book.

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Fleur by Hubert Keller, Las Vegas, Nevada
There are the unnaturally pink hot dogs of unknown provenance cooked in dirty water at the carnival, and then there’s the one Hubert Keller makes. Forged out of Wagyu beef, it arrives in a pretzel bun with sauerkraut and a zigzag of mustard. Warning: It may spoil all other hot dogs for you, so proceed with caution.

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Anthem Kitchen & Bar, Boston, Massachusetts
Deep-frying is an art and a sport for carnival culinarians. The unhealthier the item you’re dropping in the hot oil, the better. This deep-fried Twinkie is a perfect example. Don’t worry; it comes topped with fresh berries, so you can rationalize that it’s actually good for you.

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Tico, Washington, D.C.
Chef Michael Schlow takes pillows of Manchego cheese and crusts them with thyme-accented panko to create a Latin-ish play on mozzarella sticks. The savory squares arrive with a sweet ‘n’ tangy pomegranate honey sauce for dipping. We recommend getting two orders because just one won’t do.

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Alder, New York, New York
Corndogs are a favorite at the fair. But, of course, Wylie Dufresne wasn’t going to put an ordinary version on his menu. The sausages are made with pork shoulder, chicken liver, poblano, and parsley, speared on sticks, dipped in batter, fried, and served with Meyer lemon mustard and poblano relish.

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Family Meal, Ashburn, Virginia
The joy of the jalapeño popper is biting through the crackly crust and the softened skin of the pepper to reveal the melted cheese core. Chef-owner Bryan Voltaggio has recreated that experience while putting a Southern accent on the flavors by using smoked peppadew peppers and piquant pimento cheese. Y’all will love ‘em.

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Sage, Las Vegas, Nevada
The Pink Cashmere was born when mixologist Craig Schoettler was trying to come up with a fun twist on the Cosmo. He starts by putting a puff of pink cotton candy in a Nick & Nora glass, then pours over it a mixture of Grey Goose Cherry Noir, lime juice, white cranberry juice, and simple syrup. Don’t forget to extend your pinky while sipping it.

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Rosa Mexicana, Oxon Hill, Maryland
This is a heart stopper — though perhaps corazón stopper would be more appropriate. Cinnamon-dusted buñuelos (flour tortillas) are ground up and used as a crusting for deep-fried vanilla-chocolate mole swirl ice cream, which is complemented with guajillo-raspberry sauce and whipped cream. The dessert is finished off with freshly fried churros, a staple of state fairs everywhere.Continue Reading

Daytrip Dining: 9 Top Restaurants Outside Washington, D.C. Worth the Drive #savortheroad

We didn’t tackle every delicious corner of the country in our 2015 Summer Road Trip Restaurant Guide, so we are pleased to highlight top restaurants outside Washington, D.C., that are perfect for daytrip dining — or worthy of a stop on your mid-Atlantic road trip. 

Sometimes you need to get out of the city for a little while to leave the noise and haste behind. What better reason to escape than a memorable meal? Luckily for DCists, the countryside surrounding the nation’s capital is home to a bounty of road-trip-worthy restaurants. Whether you’re in the mood for a white tablecloth treat or more casual fare, there are plenty of options. We’ve picked our nine favorite reasons to drive outside Washington, D.C., for dinner.

Smokehouse Live, Leesburg, Virginia
A 16,000 square-foot sprawl encompasses three concepts: a dining room/marketplace (Smoke), a bar (House), and a concert venue (Live). Pitmaster Jim Foss, a veteran of Hill Country Barbecue Market and Old Glory, both in D.C., oversees a pair of Ole Hickory smokers. You’d best arrive hungry. Choices include brisket, beef short ribs, pulled pork, buttermilk-brined turkey breast, chicken, Shiner Bock brats, and jalapeno-cheddar sausage, as well as sides such as succotash, deviled eggs, and mac ‘n’ cheese.

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The Ashby Inn, Paris, Virginia
You’ll find a slice of Norman Rockwell America nestled in Fauquier County. The Blue Ridge Mountains provide a stunning backdrop for this 19th-century house-turned-hotel. Expect big things from freshly appointed executive chef Patrick Robinson, an alum of the well-loved Table and Michel Richard’s now shuttered gastro palace Citronelle.

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Volt, Frederick, Maryland
One of the quintessential destination restaurants outside D.C., this bastion of modern-minded New American is the brainchild of Top Chef favorite Bryan Voltaggio. Under the watchful eye of chef de cuisine Scott Muns, who returned to the restaurant after a year at Rose’s Luxury, the restaurant continues to flourish. Dishes are equal parts innovation and tradition with plenty of flair, so expect to overpost on Instagram during dinner.

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Mokomandy, Sterling, Virginia
Cajun and Korean traditions live side-by-side, so starters might include gator croquettes and jambalaya alongside dumplings and kimchi pancakes. These contrasting culinary customs are well served by executive chef Daniel Wilcox Stevens, who has mastered both. Equal attention is given to handcrafted cocktails forged with housemade components and plenty of fresh fruits and herbs.

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Maple Ave., Vienna, Virginia
The charismatic Fairfax County outpost brings together a panoply of global influences to create singularly enticing results. Shrimp and grits get an assist from blueberry venison sausage, seared scallops come with basil ice cream and coconut risotto, and wings are doused in a mixture of crème fraîche, gochujang (Korean red pepper paste), and oyster sauce.

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Testing, Testing: Online Ordering Arrives in Select Cities

At OpenTable, we’re always searching for ways to connect you with great dining experiences. We recognize, however, that there are times when that great dining experience must come to you. Perhaps you can’t find a babysitter. Maybe sweat pants are the only item of clean clothing in your apartment. Or, more likely, Sharknado 3 is on and you just can’t pull yourself away. We get it.

For those times when you just can’t make it to a restaurant, OpenTable is here to help. In keeping with our tradition of investigating different ways to make your life delicious, online ordering is now being tested in select cities to save you from totally lame takeout or, even worse, frozen pizza. During this test period, diners in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, and San Francisco can get connected to order delicious delivery or takeout from a restaurant’s profile page when you’re on OpenTable.com. There are more than 2,000 restaurants from which to choose.

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The next time you’re stuck on your sofa, let OpenTable help you connect with a delicious restaurant meal in the comfort of your home. Join us in this test and be sure to share your experiences with us at onlineordering@opentable.com. And, let us know what else we can do to make your life more delicious anytime.

Scott Jampol is Senior Vice President, Marketing, at OpenTable and a runner up in the 36th annual Sausalito Chili Cook-Off. 

‘Rhode’ Trip: Rhode Island Oysters + Where to Order Them This Summer #savortheroad

In our 2015 Summer Road Trip Restaurant Guide, we happily highlighted must-stop restaurants in Newport and Providence, Rhode Island. Today, we’re happy to return to the region as Michelle Seekamp looks at how local aquaculture is changing the culinary landscape there with this deep dive into Rhode Island oysters and where to order them, in honor of National Oyster Day!

Oyster panorama

Summer in New England brings to mind warm days, cool ocean breezes, and fresh seafood served dockside. And nothing is fresher than an oyster shucked with a shandy in hand and served on a bed of crushed ice, feet from the salt pond where it was harvested.

The Ocean State, with its more than 400 miles of rocky coastline, has a long history of oyster cultivation dating back to the native tribes that first inhabited the area. Known for fine briney selections that grow in calm shallow waters, the state’s oyster bounty can be found in restaurants coast to coast. If you’re an oyster connoisseur, chances are you’ve tasted a Rhode Island oyster.

In recent years, there has been a boom in local aquaculture. The acreage of oyster farms along Rhode Island’s coasts and its great salt ponds have nearly doubled in the last five years. This is thanks, in large part, to the upcrop of small independent farmers cultivating just a few acres and delivering extra special varieties with unique flavors and notes. From the crisp and bright Matunucks of Potters Pond, to the full-bodied Moonstones of Point Judith, and the Watch Hills of Winnipaug Pond in Westerly at the southernmost tip of the Ocean State, there is a wide variety of unique oyster offerings being cultivated by modest teams of dedicated oystermen.

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Walrus and Carpenter Oysters on Ninigret Pond in Rhode Island is one of these small, low-impact farms that have sprung up. Known for producing eastern oysters that are sweet and briney with a buttery finish,  they have been described by some as “diving into the ocean and coming up for a breath of fresh air.” Count us in!

Jules Opton-Himmel is a trained marine biologist who started Walrus and Carpenter Oysters six years ago and has since seen his farm prosper, a happy by-product of the close relationships he’s built with local restaurateurs. “We are able to sell 100% of our oysters locally during the summer,” he says. “In fact, we can’t even keep up with the demand.” All of his oysters are harvested and delivered to restaurants on the same day and usually end up being served fresh that evening, giving his business and the restaurants he supplies an advantage.

a group wades through the salt pond at Walrus and Carpenter

“We have a very close relationship with chefs. We want them to come here, bring their staff, and taste the oysters,” says Opton-Himmel. “We want them to be able to talk more knowledgeably about the product.” That’s why Walrus and Carpenter hosts an educational dinner series at which local culinary professionals, as well as the public, can come to learn about raising and harvesting oysters.

The Dorrance, a popular Rhode Island restaurant nestled in a historic building in the heart of Providence’s Downcity District, is taking advantage of this series and the local aquaculture boom to provide an extra special fresh seafood experience to their guests. Working closely with Opton-Himmel, the staff of The Dorrance went to the salt pond to learn about the cultivation of these special oysters and the wide spectrum of spectacular wine pairings available to enhance their flavor. The Dorrance staff shucked oysters fresh from the water and slurped them back with a splash of more than a dozen European wines. “It was an incredible opportunity to blur the lines between Jules’s Rhody-fresh oysters and the white and rosé wines of France, Italy, Spain, Germany, and Austria,” says Regina Curran-Lester, co-owner of the Dorrance.Continue Reading