Young and Hungry

Meet the Guy Who’s Bringing a Vinegar Revolution to D.C.


Daniel Liberson wades ankle-deep through a pathway of clover looking for edible flora—the weirder, the better. The 220-acre nature reserve around him in Delaplane, Va., looks like a Grant Wood landscape with perfect blue skies, rolling hills cut by a stream, grasses that bend like waves in the wind, and butterflies fluttering.

In a wooded area, Liberson kneels down to pick some white violets, then he spots some ground ivy and hands me a few of their little green leaves to taste.

“It’s going to be pretty potent, I’m warning you about that now,” he says. “It’s got this basil kind of minty flavor to it, very herbaceous. It gets very bitter very quickly, so you’re going to want to eventually spit it out. But that first burst of flavor…”

Liberson passes by the giant leaves of mayapple plants—“they will super kill you”—and heads over to a spicebush, which really looks more like a tree. He uses his thumb to scrape back the skin of the branch, revealing the aromatic green flesh underneath.

“For me, it always smells like a combination of lemons and cayenne and allspice and birch,” he says. Later in summer, he’ll pick the spicebush’s little bright red berries, which also have a woody-lemon flavor.

Liberson will use all of these lesser known ingredients to produce his Lindera Farms Vinegar in a red barn nearby. The vinegars will then make their way into some of the very best restaurants and bars in the country: Minibar and Zaytinya in D.C., Per Se and Gramercy Tavern in New York, and McCrady’s and Husk in Charleston, S.C.

While vinegar production is as ancient as wine, Liberson is aiming to take it in a direction that no one has before. For the most part, other producers in the western world are making grape- or apple-based vinegars. Flavored vinegars often begin with a finished vinegar that’s then infused and sweetened. Liberson doesn’t do infusions. Rather, he ferments fruits, flowers, and other plants into alcohols, and then converts that into vinegar.

Every ingredient Liberson uses comes from Virginia. If he doesn’t forage it himself on the Bolling Branch nature reserve his parents restored from cattle farmland beginning in 2006, he gets it from small organic farms nearby. Since launching his business full-time in September, the 28-year-old is quickly building a name for himself in culinary circles for esoteric and complex vinegar flavors like mulberry, elderflower, wild chamomile, milkweed, black locust, bee balm, and matsutake mushroom. As far as Liberson is aware, many of these vinegar flavors have never been bottled and sold—or even made—before. Read more Meet the Guy Who’s Bringing a Vinegar Revolution to D.C.

New Food Delivery Services Aims to End “Sad Desk Lunch”

Sarah Van Dell has been that office worker who's stuck at her desk with a sad lunch. As a senior director working on health care issues at the Advisory Board Company for more than three years, she says she became addicted to work and rarely got a proper lunch break.

“You kind of give yourself these deadlines like, ‘I’m not going to leave my desk until I get this done,' and that’s how I was," she says. Her office became a revolving door for colleagues on her large team. "I never found a great way to eat. I put on 20 pounds since working there, and it was because I just did not pay attention to what I was eating."

Van Dell is now looking to cure "sad desk lunch" with Cozy Feast, a delivery service launching this fall that will cater to office workers. The idea was born out of a conversation with friends over drinks about how they want good homemade food but don't want to cook it.

Initially, Van Dell had the idea to create an eating club of sorts where her neighbors would share their leftovers. She went door-to-door in her 200-unit apartment building near U Street NW and found around 55 people who were interested in participating. "But really when it came down to it, they just wanted to eat someone's food," Van Dell says. Hardly anybody wanted to cook. "It was a total failure."

Instead, Van Dell took inspiration from the dabbawalas who deliver hot lunches to workers in India, which she'd studied during business school. She decided to do something similar, delivering homecooked meals to office workers in vacuum-insulated lunchboxes or tiffins, which wouldn't feel as much like takeout.

Cozy Feast plans to test a limited number of office buildings to start this summer. The idea is that offices will have bins to put their used tiffins in, and Cozy Feast will collect them after lunch and wash them. Van Dell says the tentative plan is that people would have up until 10:45 a.m. to order their meals, which will be prepared out of food incubator Mell Hall.

Chef David Shewmaker, the opening chef at Meridian Pint, will prepare the menu. Cozy Feast will offer three options: a chef's seasonal meal, a vegetarian/vegan meal, or comfort food. Van Dell aims to price the offerings around $9 to $12.

Cozy Feast recently launched a Kickstarter campaign with the goal of raising $41,200. The money will determine how fast the service can scale up.

Want to Freelance for Young & Hungry?

IMG_2587Y&H is seeking freelance contributors with an eye for restaurant and bar trends and solid reporting chops. (A personal blog chronicling your latest meal doesn't count.)

If you're thinking, "How about a round-up of the best outdoor patios in D.C.?" this gig probably isn't for you. We're looking for people who can cover the quirks of the local dining scene and news without relying on press releases. We're interested in food and drinks, yes, but also exploring the business and culture of the industry. We don't usually hand out assignments, so you must be able to generate your own story ideas.

Interested? Please email with a short blurb about yourself and your writing experience plus a story pitch.


Last Night’s Leftovers: Joe Englert to Ivy City Edition

joe_englertBar owner Joe Englert plans beer garden, bouldering gym, and coffee shop in Ivy City. [WBJ]

The truth behind 19 sushi myths [Thrillist]

Here's a map of D.C.'s many rooftop bars. [Washingtonian]

Ivy and Coney is moving ahead with plans for a full kitchen and retractable roof. [PoPville]

10 savory breakfast selections at local cafes [Eater]

Carluccio’s Italian market and restaurant makes U.S. debut in Alexandria on June 3. [Post]

Johnny Rockets closes in Shirlington. [ARLnow]

Photo of Joe Englert by Darrow Montgomery

Centrolina Opens Its Italian Market in CityCenterDC Today


At CityCenterDC's newest addition, Centrolina, you can sit down for an Italian meal or grab pretty much all the groceries you need to prepare one at home. The first solo venture from chef Amy Brandwein, formerly of Osteria Alba and now-closed Casa Nonna, features a full market, which opened today. Lunch will begin on June 1 and dinner will follow on June 5.

Centrolina's "mercato" shelves are stocked with Italian pantry items that Brandwein likes to use in her kitchen, including a range of dry pastas, marinated anchovies, crackers, mostarda, grains, oils, vinegars, and much more. Several of the products can't be found anywhere else in D.C., Brandwein says. Centrolina sells its own housemade products including jams, pesto, tomato sauce, and fresh pastas. There's also produce, dairy, meats, seafood, and some prepared foods like meatballs. Eventually, Brandwein hopes to sell bottles of wine as well.

"I just think that the actual physical product of whatever you're cooking is so beautiful. It's what's important of me," Brandwein says of why she wanted to have a market component to the restaurant. Read more Centrolina Opens Its Italian Market in CityCenterDC Today

Last Night’s Leftovers: Fried Chicken Edition


Where to find fried chicken for your picnic [Eater]

Don't mess with Todd Kliman's negroni. [Washingtonian]

Courthouse restaurants organize for food truck restrictions. [ARLnow]

Could cricket flour be the next big thing? [Post]

Six new restaurants and bars coming to D.C. [Zagat]

Twenty new and almost opened restaurants, breweries, and coffee shops in Northern Virginia [NoVa Mag]

The best community gardens and farms in the D.C. area [DCist]

Photo via Shutterstock 

Catoctin Creek Will Release 4-Year-Old Rye Whiskey Called Rabble Rouser

Catoctin Creek – Becky & Rabble Rouser barrel

Catoctin Creek Distilling Company, best known for its Roundstone Rye, is preparing to unveil a new addition to its rye whiskey portfolio: Rabble Rouser. Whereas Roundstone Rye is aged for just under two years, Rabble Rouser will be four years old when it's released in October. Not only is that double the amount of time required for the spirit to legally qualify as a “straight” rye whiskey, it also makes Catoctin Creek one of just a few craft distilleries producing rye whiskey of that age.

"We felt there wasn't much out there that's four [years old] yet, in terms of craft brands," says distiller Becky Harris. Most small distilleries are producing rye at two years or less. "It'll be the oldest thing we've made, and I've been hiding it away for a long time."

Catoctin Creek faces ongoing, immediate demand for its signature Roundstone Rye, so stealing away the still for an alternative product can be a challenge.

"When we started up, we were so busy doing Roundstone Rye and we were trying to get cash in the bank," explains co-owner Scott Harris. "But we would do one week every year to do something a little bit different, do a [research and development] run. This was the start of that."

The initial run of 100-proof Rabble Rouser will produce about 150 bottles, which will sell for about $60 each. The limited supply will be mostly allocated to the distillery's best retail customers and will likely be difficult to nab. Read more Catoctin Creek Will Release 4-Year-Old Rye Whiskey Called Rabble Rouser

Last Night’s Leftovers: Barbecue Edition


Ranking the best barbecue joints in the D.C. area [Post]

Memorial Day weekend dining options [Washingtonian]

Duck Donuts to open Fairfax and Arlington locations. [ARLnow]

Six restaurants with revamped patios [Zagat]

Crumbs & Whiskers cat cafe will open next month. [DCist]

A look inside Turkish restaurant Ankara [BYT]

Masterchef's Amanda Saab is the first woman in a hijab on an American cooking show. [Eater]

Photo courtesy Andrew Evans of the BBQ Joint

Underserved: Fernet About It at Osteria Morini


Underserved is a recurring Y&H feature highlighting the best cocktails you're not ordering.

What: Fernet About It with Fernet Branca, Green Chartreuse, Lazzaroni Maraschino (cherry liqueur), and lime

Where: Osteria Morini, 301 Water St. SE

Price: $13

What You Should Be Drinking

The Fernet About It is Osteria Morini’s take on a classic cocktail called The Last Word. It swaps in Fernet Branca for gin, leaving the cocktail without a common lead spirit. “Oh man, there’s no vodka, gin, rum, or whatever in here,” Bar Manager Kristi Green says, stepping into the shoes of her guests who shy away from it. Green’s even tried listing the drink on the menu in English, instead of the usual Italian, to encourage orders. The Green Chartreuse is responsible for the herbaceous outburst on your tongue, because its secret recipe combines 130 herbs and flowers like fennel, wormwood, and anise. “At any given time there are only two or three people in the world that know how to make it,” Green explains. Those people are Carthusian monks living in a monastery near Voiron, France. Read more Underserved: Fernet About It at Osteria Morini

Are You Gonna Drink That? Jrink’s Activated Charcoal Juice

blackmagic_jrinkThe Drink: Black Magic

Price: $9.25 for 16 ounces

Where to Get It: Jrink Juicery, multiple locations;

What It Is: A blend of activated charcoal, aloe vera water, and cold-pressed green grape and lemon juices that is said to detoxify, serve as a digestive aid, and provide a hangover cure. Charcoal becomes “activated” when exposure to a gas expands its surface area, which increases its ability to be absorbed. Medically, it’s used for treating patients suffering from severe poisoning.

What It Tastes Like: A very refreshing and enjoyable lemonade with a faint grape Kool-Aid flavor—although it does start to taste a bit more, shall we say, charcoaly toward the bottom.

The Story: Co-owners Shizu Okusa and Jennifer Ngai introduced the murky juice on May 4. The 100 or so bottles they make fresh each day sell out early enough that fans call and reserve ahead. Okusa says her customers are taking activated charcoal in other forms like capsules, anyway, so why not give the people what they want? Jrink is currently the only juice bar in the area using the ingredient. “People were saying they wanted a drink with the activated charcoal,” Okusa says. “We’re not afraid to take a bit of a risk, to be nimble and responsive to customers.” Read more Are You Gonna Drink That? Jrink’s Activated Charcoal Juice