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D.C.’s largest (and only?) lamb based party returned this Monday, but not in quite the way we were expecting. Lamb Jam, a traveling event that highlights the American Lamb Board in cities throughout the U.S., is usually a raucous bacchanalia dedicated to eating as much lamb and chasing it with as much beer as humanly possible, but this Monday’s gathering was an unusually quiet affair. Instead of watching as top chef’s threw raw meat into the crowd while trying to down 15+ different lamb dishes, we were treated to a toned down BBQ themed party where seven different chefs vied for the title of best dish.

Before I hop into the food, I want to admit that this was my first Lamb Jam, so while I don’t have any first hand experiences of the wild parties of years past, I’ve read all about them on this very website. So I was very surprised at the low key nature of the party. There were no demonstrations on how to completely break down a lamb. There wasn’t an “around the world” type of food experience. If you were looking for a lamb rager, this certainly wasn’t it.

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That’s not to say the food wasn’t good, because my lord was some of the food fantastic. Starting off at the top, the best dish of the night was Federalist Pig’s Cordero Azada. Featuring smoked lamb shoulder, charred corn esquites, grilled pineapple relish, a watermelon radish and red chile all piled on a fluffy hoe cake, it was truly a treat. The portion was a little small and it wasn’t the prettiest plate of the evening, but damn if it didn’t make up for it by being the perfect mixture of smoky, citrusy and meaty. It’s no surprise they brought home both the Best In Show and the People’s Choice awards. I didn’t think anyone could touch them, but Cava’s lamb shoulder and belly taco was a very close second. Featuring a homemade tortilla, goat cheese, pickled onions, chickpeas and some meaty lamb goodness, they were the definition of addicting.

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Runner ups in my heart included District Distilling Company’s smoked lamb neck tamale, which made me exclaim after one bite, “Fuck, I love tamales!” and Sloppy’s Mama’s lamb and grits, although to be honest, the standout on their plate where those succulent collard greens. Of course, Tico’s Chicago style lamb dog definitely gets points for creativity and deliciousness (even if it did lose some of the lamb flavor).

The Lamb Jam you know and love might not have come around this year, but regardless we’ll be dreaming about these dishes all summer long.

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