Ethiopian Restaurant Finds Success In Going ‘American’

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Restaurants around D.C.’s unofficial “Little Ethiopia” have been experimenting lately, hosting everything from rock bands and comedy nights, to serving macaroni and cheese instead of injera and tibs. It’s all been part of an effort to stay competitive and alive in the midst of a struggling economy.

So, is it working? Maybe so, at least for Queen Makeda. The restaurant switched over to American fare and has been holding hip hop nights and hosting bands. It’s been so successful that the restaurant now needs more space. This weekend will be Queen Makeda’s last night at 1917 9th St. NW. The restaurant is closing with plans to reopen in a bigger space in the neighborhood.

“There’s definitely a niche in D.C. for what we do,” said Queen Makeda bartender Jeremy Quarless-Cole. “You have to [change] in that area, simply because there are so many Habesha restaurants serving the same food.”

Perhaps there’s still a healthy market for Ethiopian food in D.C. Just not when it’s all concentrated within a few blocks.

DCentric Picks: ‘Trouble in Mind’ and Food Day

Richard Anderson / Courtesy of Arena Stage

Brandon J. Dirden as John Nevins, Thomas Jefferson Byrd as Sheldon Forrester, E. Faye Butler as Wiletta Mayer and Marty Lodge as Al Manners in "Trouble in Mind."

What: Trouble in Mind,” a play about a 1955 racially integrated theater company that wants to present a race play.

Where: Arena Stage, 1101 6th St. SW.

When: The play runs through Sunday.

Cost: Prices vary depending on seats and showtimes. You can find ticket prices here.

Why you should go: The play-within-a-play, set more than 50 years ago, still has relevance today. The black characters are seen confronting racial stereotypes as they work to make it to Broadway. A black and white cast is shown producing a play about a young, southern black man who becomes the target of a lynch mob.

Other events to consider: Monday is Food Day, which seeks to promote healthy, affordable and sustainable food. D.C. is home to a number of events, including the Food Day Extravaganza on Woodrow Wilson Plaza. There will be chef demonstrations, entertainment, educational activities and, yes, free food. The event starts at 11 a.m.

Gentrification Making Food Cheaper?

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On the positive side of gentrification, the process of wealthier folks moving into low-income neighborhoods could mean reduced prices for organic and locally-grown produce. Racialicious digs into how this phenomena may be occurring in Brooklyn:

After leaving Bar Sepia one night, we passed by one of the mister’s old standard bodegas (basically, a convenient store), but he did a double take… and eventually, a full stop.

“Wow, man,” was all I heard. “Gentrification is real.”

The bodega wasn’t simply a “bodega” anymore. It was, apparently, an organic produce store… with respectable prices.

… If increased presence of money means increased produce… then increased produce – by nature of trying to one-up their competitors – means increased presence of organics, which means increased presence of local produce… which eventually means decreased price. Competitors are constantly trying to one-up each other, and they do that by decreasing the price of the necessities while offering special and unique products at a premium.

This is a strange situation. Gentrification, that which has been cast off as such a dirty word (and has people, like the above, ashamed to no longer be poverty-status poor?), is actually making food cheaper. I mean, damn – never in my life have I seen an organic red pepper go for $0.99.

But as neighborhoods gentrify, will low-income residents be able to afford rents to remain? Cheaper groceries are good, particularly for folks with less money, but will they be around to enjoy 99-cent peppers?

Getting Fast Food Restaurants to Serve Better Veggies

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Living near a grocery store doesn’t mean you’ll have a healthier diet. On the flip side, proximity to fast food joints does affect your eating habits, particularly if you’re low income. So is the fix for unhealthy diets to get rid of fast food restaurants altogether?

Owners of one D.C. restaurant — Amsterdam Falafel, which sells $5.50 falafels — say not necessarily. Instead, they’re organizing a veggie flash mob to encourage fast food restaurants to serve higher quality vegetables. Eater DC reports:

As owner and organizer Arianne Bennett explains, “We walk into a hot dog place or a hamburger place and you smell everything and it smells so good. You should walk into a place where vegetables are being carried and where the place smells absolutely delicious.”

Some fast food restaurants, such as McDonald’s, have answered calls for healthier options by placing salads and other items on menus. Perhaps more people would opt for salads instead of burgers if the vegetables were fresher, locally-grown and still inexpensive.

Home Cooking: Middle Eastern Italian Food

Josh / Flickr

Does it matter if the tomato sauce recipe was developed by an Italian?

Friday’s post “What Makes a Restaurant Authentic?“, in which I interviewed chefs hailing from countries other than the cuisine they prepare, held a particular resonance with me. I’m Iranian-American, and my family owns an Italian restaurant.

How in the world did that happen? Not much differently than it happened for the other restaurant proprietors I profiled: my father arrived in the U.S., put himself through school by working at Italian-owned restaurants and he paid attention to what worked and what didn’t. He developed his own sauce recipe and, taking a risk, opened his own restaurant.

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What Makes a Restaurant Authentic?

Hungarians preparing Japanese dishes; Koreans serving Eastern European fare; Salvadorans making kabobs –a number of D.C. chefs and restaurant owners serve cuisine from countries far from their motherlands. Some to great acclaim.

But is the food authentic? Does it even matter?

“There are two kinds of music: Good music, and the other kind.” – Duke Ellington
Washingtonian food critic Todd Kliman answers with a Duke Ellington quote: “There are two kinds of music: good music, and the other kind.”

“Is it desirable [for food] to be authentic? It depends on who you ask,” Kliman says. “Some people say ‘Yes.’ Others say, ‘It doesn’t matter as long as the food is delicious.’”

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The Unemployed Cutting Corners in their Diets

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Higher calorie foods tend to be cheaper, experts say.

Eating healthy can be a matter of having access to stores, but it’s also about having enough money to buy healthy food and having the time to cook it. And as the economy has worsened, more people are eating unhealthy foods this year than last.

Given those factors comes this article from Huffington Post’s Janell Ross about unhealthy eating and the disproportionately high rate of black unemployment. She writes that since housing costs tend to be fixed, many underemployed and unemployed people save money by eating cheaper and unhealthy foods. She speaks to a Michele Washington, a college-educated single mom originally from Atlanta, who moved into her sister’s Harlem apartment and holds a part-time job. Washington used to cook dinners for her son, Monty. Now, they frequent McDonald’s:

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Meal Service for D.C.’s Seniors Resumes Full Operations

Flickr: Rich Moffitt

Nutrition Inc., the food service company that delivers meals to D.C.’s home-bound seniors, shut down last week, leaving District officials scrambling to fill the void.

The company, which may have to file for bankruptcy, notified the D.C. Office on Aging of its impending closure a few days before the service stopped. The District is now relying on temporary vendors to fill in and has started looking for a new, permanent one. Initially, about 300 seniors who were the most vulnerable were given priority immediately after Nutrition, Inc.’s closure. The Washington Post reports that there was some disruption in services.

Now John Thompson, the Office of Aging’s acting executive director, tells DCentric that as of this week, everyone should be receiving their meals as normal. Service centers and new vendors have been running spot checks to ensure everyone who should be receiving a meal is getting one.

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Buying Organic on a Budget: New Shopping Guides Rank Produce by Pesticide Levels

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Need strawberries? Try to buy organic if you can.

Buying organic may be better for your health, but it’s not always feasible for those on a budget. Months ago, we posted advice on how to prioritize buying organic. Now, a new list is out detailing which non-organic foods to avoid and which are OK to eat.

The list is based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s May report [PDF], rounding up all of the pesticides found in produce. Advocacy organization Environmental Working Group took the data, and created its “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean 15″ lists. The alliteration and rhyming should make the foods easier to remember, right? If not, you can print the EWG’s brochure, posted below.

NPR reports:

The EWG suggests that people buy organically grown fruits and vegetables for the varieties on its list of the most likely to carry pesticide residues. But the group also says the health benefits from produce mean that “eating conventionally-grown produce is far better than not eating fruits and vegetables at all.”

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Addressing Food Deserts Without Chain Stores

Flickr: Marie In Shaw

Formerly known as Timor Bodega, Field to City market in Bloomingdale offers organic produce, dairy and meat.

Community-owned assets, not big-box stores, will solve the ‘food desert’ problem” according to Grist, an environmental blog.

A USDA report [PDF] to Congress in 2009 suggested that the average food in such big-box grocery stores (as Safeway, Alberston’s, Winn-Dixie, or Walmart) is priced 10 percent lower than its counterparts in independently owned corner stores, roadside stands, or farmers markets. What’s more, the USDA claimed that “full service” big-box stores offer more affordable access to food diversity than do other venues…

The fatal flaw of the Obama strategy to reduce hunger, food insecurity, and obesity in America is that it risks bringing more big-box stores both to poor urban neighborhoods and to rural communities. It categorically ignores the fact that independently owned groceries, corner markets in ethnic neighborhoods, farmers markets, CSAs, and roadside stands are the real sources of affordable food diversity in America. But in its 2009 report to Congress, the USDA conceded that “a complete assessment of these diverse food environments would be such an enormous task” that it decided not to survey independently owned food purveyors. Therefore, it decided to ignore their beneficial roles and focus on the grocery-store chains that now capture three-quarters of all current foods sales in the U.S.

In today’s Washington Post, food writer Tim Carman notes that an innovative concept is coming to D.C.’s food deserts: a mobile farmers market, housed in a converted bus. According to its successful Kickstarter fundraising page, the Arcadia Mobile Market could be “the most visible and direct way to navigate a number of urban spaces to get much-needed fresh food to people in the nation’s capital.”