Capitol Hill (Good Stuff Eatery).

The last meal I consumed in Washington did not consist of lobster, steak or truffled twice-baked potatoes.  Regardless, it was the perfect end to an all-American quarter.

Burger, fries and a shake.

At Top Chef alum Spike Mendelsohn’s Good Stuff Eatery—and neighboring We the Pizza—the food is conceptually simple, and exceptionally executed.  Basics like chili cheese burger, fries and shakes are enhanced and brought up to ridiculously hearty, delicious and yes, junky, levels by the addition of caramelized Vidalia onions, mushrooms and fried eggs.  These improvements attract droves of suited, Capitol Hill workers.  From 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. one can expect a line out the door of pencil stripped, blazer-donning interns and the fully-employed.  But that’s because the fries are not just made to order, but can be tossed with a blend of herbs and sea salt.  And the burgers are encased in buttered buns.  And oh, the shakes.  Riffing on the current administration, Good Stuff offers a Prez Obama Burger and a Michelle counterpart—blue cheese and health-conscious turkey respectively.

But what really is the ultimate win is the handspun shakes.  Forget the Coletti Smokehouse burger—complete with BBQ sauce and bacon—just hand me a milkshake.  With options ranging from Toasted Marshmallow to Dulce de Leche, theses shakes are absolutely divine.  Yes, they’re bad for your health, for your arteries, but when faced with something so delicious, who cares?

I am salivating right now.

Gross, and much to much information, I know.  The image of a body leaking spit ala your favorite canine is never, ever pleasant.  But please, take the time and imagine the most painful addict withdrawal from more a more serious substance—let’s just over exaggerate and go with crack.  Water it down a bit—but by no means a lot—and you’ll be left with the hole in my stomach left by the absence of the Milky Way Malt Milkshake with organic whipped cream.  Pure bliss contained in a caramel and fudge encrusted cup, filled with the best kind of ice cream goodness and topped with a pillow of lush cream and a sprinkle of crushed malt balls.

And oh, the whipped cream.  It’s a perfect dollop of lightly sweetened, real cream.  To be honest, it’s the main reason to order a milkshake.  One time, when both my and my compatriot-in-burger lacked the cream, we had to return because the shake was just not the same.  Really, we had to complain because the whipped cream is really the most delicious part.  Forget the fudge, forget the marshmallows, it’s all about the toppings.

So what does this all mean?

Good Stuff (GS) is a necessary component of life.  Overpriced, but inexplicably contingent to a better way of living.

As a side note, GS is more expensive that one would expect for a burger joint.  But give it a try anyways.  You might just become addicted.

72 hour picnic.

What’s the thing to do when you leave the frigid north and go on holiday break?

Apparently, the thing to do is eat a lot of food, go camping, and embark on a 72 hour picnic.  Ramen, steak, Cuban rice and beans, pastries, and salted caramel hot chocolate, all enjoyed at the ‘best restaurant around.’  The beach.

Hello, California.

Brown Bread Ice Cream.

Alright, the only thing you need to know about LA and Southern California besides the fact that the beaches are beautiful and literal smooth-pebbled and bleached-sand heaven 360 days out of the year, is that there is an ice creamery on a little street named Heliotrope.  Take a left off Melrose as the Michael Jackson mural and park.  The Prince won’t steer you wrong.

The magic phrase, the key to your happiness, is ‘one scoop, two balls.’ $2.75, two flavors, frees sprinkles.  (But you should really stick with the sparkling sugar.)  Oh yeah, and the place is called Scoops.

With a tiled entryway, red-covered chairs, and a gigantic mobile a la Calendar made of oversized ice cream shovels, Scoops is the northern most storefront of four relatively small and nondescript unique little shops.  But Scoops, oh Scoops.  Talk about ice cream heaven for the purist.  With a rotating daily menu anchored on the house favorite Brown Bread ice cream, Scoops is all about the ice cream, and nothing but.  Example—the ice cream cake?  No cake.  A round of ice cream, shaped like a cake, but just ice cream.

My favorite kind of cake.

A sampling of Scoops flavors, drawn from two days of research: Malt Honey, Chai Black Sesame, Mocha Oreo, Pumpkin Eggnog, Vanilla Malt, Mint, Maple Oreo, the infamous Brown Bread, etc.  Creative flavors, each unique and absolutely delicious.

But the Brown Bread.  Oh, the Brown Bread.  Misleading in that there is no real bread included, but there are Grape-Nuts, the cereal of your future senile days.  A vanilla base studded with candied Grape-Nuts and caramel, Brown Bread ice cream is alternatively salty and sweet and most importantly, crunchy.  After extensive testing over the past twenty years, I’ve concluded that the secret to the perfect ice cream is the contrast between creamy and crunchy.  And, being made of rocks and fiber, Grape-Nuts retain their crunch even in ice cream.

Adhering to the rule that butter and sugar make anything delicious, candied Grape-Nuts are good.  So good in fact, that you might actually consider eating them in milk or over yogurt.  Granted, after canidage they have the nutritional qualities of butter-soaked Fruit Loops.  But they’re good.

Having no true recipe for Brown Bread ice cream, just the inspiration, I took the liberty of swirling the ice cream with caramel and infusing the custard.  Just because.  I won’t say it’s better than the real deal, but this Brown Bread ice cream is definitely in the top three of my all-time favorite ice creams.  The creamy-crunchy, salty-sweet dynamic is hard to beat.

So while you could and should go to LA, you can also bring a little bit of LA home.  In the form of a quart of ice cream, of course.

Recipe on the following page.

Crack Pie Ice Cream.

Is it obscene?  Well, that really depends on where you stand in the battle of fat.  Are you afraid of a little cream, a little butter?  What about a little sugar then?

In a pervious post I noted that, as a Crack Pie Round Two, I was going to dress the Crack Pie portion of the Chocolate-Malt Cake and Blueberry and Cream Cookies Momofuku Milk Bar Trio in my absolutely favorite treatment.  Make it into Ice Cream.  So, that little amount of butter—you know, ½ a pound isn’t that much—plus a custard base, that’s not obscene, is it?  I’ve discovered that, when it comes to ice cream, my stomach and brain—oh yea, not the reasonable part of my brain, no way that gray matter has anything to do with my decisions today—demolish my arteries.  You’re clogging you say?  Butter will help with that.

Recipe on next page.

MexiCali Ice Cream. (Horchata Ice Cream with Dulce de Leche Swirl)

Blame this resurgence of Ice Cream Week on a taco truck.  A taco truck after 1:00 a.m. in an exceptionally interesting part of Los Angeles that would most definitely be impossible to find again during the day in a normal state of mind.  Parked next to an electrical box in a v-shaped parking lot at the corner of an intersection that boasted many neon signs for cars, different sorts of random items, and a lot of Spanish, the truck was surrounded by various people in different states of being.  Most stood around with plates eating little three inch tacos.

And while I backed down from the tongue—lengua— taco in a cowardly and sober way, I did try a bit of the head taco and the grilled onions, both of which were delicious, greasy, spicy and appreciably salty without being over powering.  The meat was mounted on a vertical spit and the tacos were assembled by a surprisingly large number of people crammed into a standard sized truck.  One would pull the tortilla out of the steamer, another would hold it under the spit and slice of sheets of meat which then fell a foot or two to the tortilla.  The taco then got a sprinkling of herbs and spices, finished off by a pile of grilled onions.  But the last man, the man who hand the dollar tacos out the window, also distributed Styrofoam cups of horchata, which, on a hot LA night, is quite literally perfect.

Having never tried horchata—again a major fail in the adventurous palette department—mostly due to an overwhelming but still highly irrational fear of fruit and even the slightest possibility that horchata may taste like bananas, I was shocked. The first sip was slow, and surprising. Horchata is everything I love, except sucked through the narrow vein of straw for maximum ease.  It’s cool, sweet, refreshing, and slightly spicy.  It’s light.  And while I still have a great dislike of fruit, I’ve been kicking myself ever since for not giving horchata a try sooner.

Manhattan Beach Creamery.

SoCal, I love you.  And yes, it does feel a little bit like cheating, but really, how could I not?  You have beaches, long, wide, hot and next to clear blue water.  The waves are never too big, just perfect for body surfing and floating.  Sometimes, it’s true, you do have foggy days, but they’re always just foggy mornings, burning off just around lunchtime.  Everyone is tan, everyone is pretty.  And the fish tacos, the ice cream, the brunches and the outdoor patios that seem constructed simply for lounging outside at all times of the day and night, just eating, drinking and napping.  Oh yeah, and you seem to have all rights to the sun.

Now, of course, it’s only an affair, because it’s NorCal that’s truly the best.  But splitting my time perhaps?  Joint custody?  Maybe a 60-40 divide of my time?  Ideally SoCal weather and NorCal everything would combine with the addition of excellent, excellent beaches.  California at it’s best.

Unfortunately, I do not appear to have geographical land-bending skills, so I’ll never be able to fully execute my plan of folding California so San Francisco and SoCal magically mash together in a most likely devastating but obviously awesome plan of redistricting.  So I guess I’ll have to settle for the occasionally trip down south.  And fish tacos.  And frozen yogurt.