Cuzco Punch Royale
And we’re back! Joe and I are certainly helping to stimulate the local economy a
nd our waistlines with all the pop-up restaurants we frequent at 918 F Street.
This time around it was exclusive pop-up menu at 918 F Street featuring tastes of the new Spring & Summer offerings at one of my favorite DC restaurants, Founding Farmers. If you’re keeping any track (as an assumed super fan of the Adventure, of course) you’ll remember that I’ve been to Founding Farmers twice for firstdrinks so far; once for my first mimosa and again at brunch for my first pimms cup.
“Sustainable”, “green”, “farm-to-table”, “creative”, “delicious”, all words you’d quickly use to describe Founding Farmers. And let me tell you—now having been to 4 pop-up restaurants at 918 F Street—a new word to throw in there would be “game-changer”.
So LivingSocial’s building concept at 918 F is pretty genius. Are you a yoga instructor who wants to try a rock&roll yoga concept, complete with wine, and you don’t have the space or liquor license? Are you a restauranteur who wants to try a new menu without shaking up your existing space? Are you an artist who’d love to pair watercolor landscapes with a beer tasting event in a classroom setting? Or maybe you’re a skilled Indian/Mediterranean fusion chef but don’t have the space to hold classes.
They have you covered.
And every pop-up concept is encouraged to bring in their own decor, their own ambiance that will encourage or enhance the concept and their own staff and bright ideas.
Each pop-up we’ve been to has been pretty smart about the decor, artwork, ambiance of it all. But Founding Farmers raised the bar pretty damn high.
Since it was their Spring/Summer menu teasings, as soon as you peeked in the space they had strung bulb lights throughout, casting a summer evening’s glow around the room. The room was filled with 3 long family style tables for 20 diners each, draped in picnic fabrics, summery flowers and clusters of mason jars with tea lights.
And the moment you walked in they handed you a cold mason jar cocktail with a smile as they walked you to the table. Woah, nice touch. The drink was an original called a beesknees.
It was summer in a glass. It was a lemonade variation that snuck up in my nose with its sting of alcohol and lingered there nicely. It was made from lemons, honey, and gin. It was crisp, sweet, refreshing. More sweet than tangy, more lemon than honey. It made me want to write a Dear John letter to Tom Collins.
“Dear Tom, you’ve been bested at your own game. Go invest in a bee hive and we’ll talk. Love Ben.”
The drink finished nicely, the gin was Founding Farmers own, with a solid pine finish, a touch grassy, beautifully silky and smooth. Even a blind man would now be able to see what Founding Farmers was going for tonight. Nailed it out the gate.
The menu concept was also smart. There were two delicious starters and they came out family style, meant to share with your string of nearby tablemates. Deviled eggs with ham&pickles and a medium cast iron skillet of moist cornbread with spread.
Served up next to drink was an original called a Cuzco Punch Royale. It’s a spiced cherry punch that punches back. It was made with pisco, aperol (an Italian spirit), cherry brandy and sparkling wine. I didn’t test my theory, but I bet it would burn nicely if set on fire.
Much like it did nicely to my throat.
The drink was strong, fruity, sweet, mild in it’s tang, but wild in it’s alcohol flavors. The slight spices made it a bit more late summer’ish, reminding you fall was coming rather than the bloom of spring, but I wasn’t complaining. There were slight caramel notes and it had this nice Cherry 7Up finish with a brandy smack.
This was followed up with a summery salad of large leaf greens, beets, dilled buttermilk and Old Bay potato chip crumbles. Yep, its like they were building a salad for me, personally. Only thing missing was goat cheese. I’d actually pay for that salad again, and if you know me, that’s saying something.
At the beginning of the event they actually took orders for everyone’s main course from 4 different options. 4 different and difficult to choose options. I had already been playfully told “No.” when I asked if I could get a bucket of those deviled eggs for the table, so I knew asking for all 4 entrees would be laughed at. Damn.
I ordered the Spring Chicken Pie—chicken sausage, swiss chard, cauliflower and a honey mustard sauce—and Joe had their Potted Shrimp & Scallops with spring vegetables, grits and rustic toast sticks.
There was also a vegetarian pie and a spiced strip steak to choose from. They didn’t make it easy on anyone but the vegetarian. And even they had to be lusting mentally.
With dinner came quite the drink surprise: a low bar glass overfilled with mounds of chopped ice and a cherry-red drink below. It looked like an upscale version of boardwalk shaved ice. It screamed summer. It was called a 1924 Julep.
Sadly, it was oddly similar to the last drink in that it was cherry-based. And since it was simply made with Rye, Sour Cherry syrup and mint, it tasted less strong than the last drink, so the ice started to feel like overkill instead of whimsy.
It was tasty, but it was hard not comparing it with the might and force of the impressive Punch Royale. It had a nice cherry slap, but the sour elements dulled it slightly. The rye made for a dryer drink, less sweet, yet really tangy and slightly musky.
If anyone cared, I’d suggest making this drink again with something orange or tangerine. A lemon/cherry/orange variety would provide an even more summery effect and would be a nice compliment to one another.
but look, I enjoyed it, both it’s look and it’s taste, but as the ending drink, I wanted to be wowed in both look and flavor. Damn.
But fear not… then the desert came. A really summery, playful variation on strawberry shortcake.
“But Ben, isn’t strawberry shortcake already summery?!”
Oh sure, but this was made with 3 small scoops of crumbly, creamy buttermilk sherbert, macerated strawberries, toasted meringue and a few smart pieces of almond biscotti.
The entire meal was a success, but that dessert stole the show.
AND THEN… because Founding Farmers is also famous for their food but also their style and service, they brought a gift to the table—a “jump ahead of the line card” for a future visit to Founding Farmers—and a tiny gift bag on the walk out. Again, game-changer.
Plus, their servers are swift, polite and some of the best in the city. They changed out silverware, served meals, placed drinks and answered questions with such a smiling breezy attitude, they were literally becoming part of the whole bright, beautiful summer vibe as any other portion of the meal.
If this was someone’s first time to 918 F Street, they were wowed x2. If it was someone’s first time meeting Founding Farmers, they will be making their way there for another meal quickly. Which is a double-edged sword for us already existing fans: while great to share the love, only means longer waits at brunch.
Thank god for that “jump ahead of the line” card.
So, take note future pop-up restauranteurs, unless your concept is intentionally minimalist, you might want to really invest some extra creative thought in the look&feel of your concept. Founding Farmers were trying to invoke “summer” and they were not kidding around.
And hey Founding Farmers, you keep making damn great cocktails and I’ll keep coming back to drink and write about them. Deal?
PS: I’m super slacking on my wine drinking, so I’m thinking about have a solid wine week coming up pretty soon. Any suggestions of must-tries? Let me know.