Vegan cakes, crawfish season, traveling pies and a Bolivian food truck that's worth the wait.
Not So Guilty Pleasures
Sunday morning is a busy time for the staff of Dama Pastry & Café, a family-run Ethiopian bakery and coffee bar in Foxcroft Heights, a short walk from the U.S. Air Force Memorial in Arlington.
As I fork into a typical breakfast—a trio of scrambled eggs with jalapeño peppers and tomato; creamy cracked wheat; and flatbread fried in spicy butter—a steady stream of customers pops in to pick up specialty cake orders.
That’s when I ask co-owner and manager Amsale Saife Selassie if business is always this brisk. Her answer: “Yes.”
“On weekends, families visit and they would never arrive at a home empty-handed. You may take wine; a cake is enjoyed by young and old,” she says, delivering to my table a perfect cappuccino made with fine Yirgacheffe coffee beans from the highlands of her homeland.
The shop’s busiest season is the Christian fasting period of Lent, observed this year in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church from March 3 to April 19. (The denomination has a total of 250 prescribed fasting days throughout the year.) During this period, the faithful abstain from all animal products. That leaves room for a nice slice of vegan cake.
To meet the demand, pastry chef Almaz Dama makes eight varieties of European-style iced cakes (8-inch for $25; 10-inch for $36.50), both with and without dairy products. The most requested are the chocolate cake with raspberry filling, and the vanilla sponge cake topped with assorted fruits. The vegan cakes I sampled had a grainy, pleasing texture, the smooth icing and filling made with soy milk.
The Damas also operate a small Ethiopian market and full-service restaurant in adjoining buildings.
Dama Pastry & Café, 1505 Columbia Pike, Arlington, 703-920-5620, damapastry.com
Pies on Wheels
Sol Schott has found a way to successfully mingle two of his passions: baking and bicycles. Last fall, the Douglas Park resident parlayed more than 20 years of experience as a pastry chef into the launch of Acme Pie Co., an Arlington-based wholesale and retail baked-to-order business.
A competitive off-road cyclist, Schott delivers his baked goods to area markets and bicycle shops for customer pickup. “It was a natural association,” says the baker, who rents kitchen space at Twisted Vines on Columbia Pike. “I bake nearly every day and ride my bikes every day and know the shop owners.”
The 10-inch pies ($32 each) are balanced for sweetness and combine complementary ingredients in a terrific flaky crust. I recommend the sour cherry with strudel topping, although the pecan with Belgian chocolate is the top seller. Pie selections change with the season and reflect the harvests of local farms and orchards. Pickup points include Revolution Cycles in Clarendon,
Papillon Cycles in South Arlington and Westover Market. Acme Pie Co., 202-215-3063, www.acmepieco.com
Every Sunday (and only on that day), you can find three or more Bolivian food trucks parked on Arlington Boulevard, near the intersection of Annandale Road in Falls Church. One, in particular, draws crowds at midday and into the afternoon, with customers waiting in a line that sometimes stretches 30 or more deep. That’s why I stop for lunch at La Cochabambina. Lines seldom lie.
“For the quality, it’s a good price and you get a lot of food,” says Marco “A,” a native of the city of Cochabamba in Central Bolivia, who is one step ahead of me in the queue. (On weekdays, he says, he frequents the owner’s like-named restaurant on Little River Turnpike in Annandale.) “It brings back memories from home.”
As we inch closer to the front, he is kind enough to assist me with a translation of the hand-printed, all-Spanish menu on the side of the truck. At his suggestion, I try the chicharron—delicious, chewy, Andean-rustic chunks of boneless pork ribs, flavored with oregano, garlic and lemon.
All meals are $10 and come with a choice (or combination) of white rice, boiled or fried potatoes and enormous mote corn kernels, as well as a salad of shaved and lightly pickled radish, carrot and red onion. Don’t leave without picking up several little plastic tubs of the spicy green chili salsa. Here are some other options worth sampling:
Enrrollado: A “paté” of pork loin and skin
Charque: Dried and salted beef
Silpancho: Breaded fried beef
Pique: Chunks of beef and sausage
Puchero: Beef brisket with chickpeas and cabbage
Picante de pollo: Spicy chicken
Pato: Duck stew
La Cochabambina Lunch Truck, 6528 Arlington Blvd., Falls Church, 703-582-1781, lacochabambina.weebly.com. Hours: Sundays, 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The Crawfish Are Coming!
Mid-March signals the kickoff of crawfish season, and the frenzy over this sweet, succulent Louisiana staple isn’t limited to the throngs who visit New Orleans for Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest.
These bite-size freshwater crustaceans, which resemble tiny lobsters, are in their prime through May.
“In spring, the crawfish are in perfect balance, large in size and easy to peel,” says Au Dang, co-owner of Chasin’ Tails, a two-year-old Cajun seafood restaurant and bar in the Westlee area of Arlington near the Falls Church border. In Big Easy-style, the boiled and spiced critters ($11 per pound) are brought to butcher-paper-covered tables in galvanized metal buckets, which also serve as refuse containers for the shells.
Dipping sauces at Chasin’ Tails include spicy Cajun, garlic butter and lemon pepper, as well as the restaurateur’s signature “Au Dang Sauce”—a mixture of all three.
“For me, it packs in the flavor,” says Dang, a graduate of the University of Virginia. “It’s at the same time tangy, sweet and salty.” Boiled red-skinned potatoes and ears of corn are served alongside.
Dang’s partners include his two older brothers, Di and Hac, both of whom are fellow UVA grads and professional poker players, who over several years together won more than $15 million playing online games. When computer gambling was banned in the U.S. in spring 2011, the pair switched to high stakes poker in casinos.
More locations for their Cajun venture, as well as an additional dining concept in the Washington, D.C., area, are in the works.
Photo courtesy of Chasin’ Tails | Chasin’ Tails, 2200 North Westmoreland St., Arlington, 703-538-2565, www.chasintailscrawfish.com