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all words: Jeb Gavin, all photos: Farrah Skeiky and Jen Cubas
I’m not sure I can do a sufficient job running down the gargantuan list of quality DC restaurants which showed up Sunday afternoon for the Soundbites Festival on V Street right outside the 9:30 Club.

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To call it a “plethora” would certainly lead to some unproductive Three Amigos quoting, rather than what I should do, which is report on what I ate (writ short: a lot.) Perhaps more important than the food itself was the cause. Proceeds from the festival go to support the DC Central Kitchen, an organization dedicated to providing meals for the underprivileged and more impressively, training the unemployed in the city for jobs in the food industry. They’re one of unsung groups in DC actually helping people, rather than becoming another voice in the crowd bickering about how to fix DC in one fell swoop. Many of the volunteers working the festival come from Central Kitchen, and make no mistake, THEY CAN COOK.

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Booths were spread along the sides of V Street between Florida and 8th Street, open near the entrance to the club, with the far end blocked off by grills, smokers, and the ridiculously massive paella pan Jaleo likes to trot out when trying to feed the masses at festivals like these. The paella, by the way, is as good as you’d imagine, chicken and sausage shot through the glossy, rich rice and sauce.

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Immediately next door, the fellas from Rappahannock Oyster Company where shucking Old Salts as fast as I could suck them down (very fast.) Shake Shack was dishing out chocolate chip cookie custard (tasty, of course, but suspiciously bereft of chocolate cookie bits.)

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On the far side, Fatshorty’s came over from Arlington to dish out some solid bratwurst and mild Italian sausages. The order of the day was mostly pulled pork and beef though, as the Hamilton did a smoked brisket sandwich on jalapeno-less jalapeno biscuits, Divine BBQ in Motion contributed pulled pork with vinegar barbecue sauce on crackers, and the folks from Red Apron threw down a beef belly (yeah, like pork belly, but moo instead of oink) made into a sloppy Joe, topped with Gordy’s cherry pepper relish. Across the street, the crew from Gordon Biersch were serving pulled pork sliders with a beer based barbecue sauce. Not too shabby, and the portions weren’t terrible either.

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By the bartending competition one stall down from Red Apron, Buffalo & Bergen had both plain and bacon cheddar knishes with chive sour cream. I’m not one much for potato filled pastries; I still recall when the Heights’ pork cheek pierogi ruined me for all other pierogi, but the bacon cheddar knishes taste like the platonic ideal of a baked potato, and are thus worth it.

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Past the DJ booth and giant screen, & Pizza were making fresh mozzarella by hand served on lollipop sticks with your choice of regular or spicy tomato sauce, or a red chickpea sauce which will now be my go-to pizza sauce there. Cork had these dainty tea sandwiches of crisp brioche full of fontina and prosciutto, and topped with golden raisins. Nearest the entrance, El Centro DF were throwing down both beef tacos with pico and pork carnitas topped with sweet, pickled red onions. I dreamed of the pork tacos last night. I need them like drowning victims need air: you go your whole life unaware of how essential a thing is, until you’re separated from it.

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Across from El Centro, Borinquen Lunch Box was dishing out their empanadillas. They were the only food truck in attendance. Masa 14 had little spoonfuls of a seriously tasty seaweed salad, which I’d of eaten more of had I not been hauling ass over to Astro’s booth to try as many of their donuts as I could. Opened up with the bacon maple glaze, bounced over for some oysters, came back and crushed one of the crème brule donuts (probably my favorite.) Then right next door to Muse for the best quinoa salad I’ve ever had.

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Sure, it’s not a high bar as my mother has been over or under-cooking quinoa for years, but the figs and red wine vinegar balanced the salad nicely. For once it didn’t feel like I was eating large grains of sand. Anyhow, back to the donuts. Managed to eat a chocolate espresso, one of their firecracker donuts (dusted with cinnamon, chili, and sugar,) and even one of the grapefruit zest donuts. It didn’t occur until later, excluding the brilliant crème brule, I wasn’t all that impressed by the donuts. The toppings weren’t bad, but the donuts themselves lacked flavor beyond sweet. Even the chocolate espresso was more sweet than chocolate or espresso.

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On the other side of Astro towards 8th, Bar Pilar was dishing out Peruvian ceviche, full of mussels and octopus and mahi mahi, and curiously sweet potato, which I was informed is ubiquitous. Del Campo had a similar idea, instead doing a seared salmon ceviche over grilled avocado guacamole, and topping the whole thing with chicharrones. Black Jack, with Chef Black bouncing back and forth between the booth and the competition, offered a crab and shrimp salad over guacamole, served with fresh tortilla chips.

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Further down, Pizzeria Orso made lamb bacon sandwiches garnished with a cucumber feta salad and tomato jam. I couldn’t find the tomato jam (supposedly hidden under the lamb,) but as always the lamb, cucumbers and feta worked perfectly together. Also, I vaguely remember really loving their bread, though I’d be hard pressed to find what it was in my notes.

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Reading over all of that, I realize: I am disgusting. Sure, my gluttony is a problem. That I hit up tables from over 20 restaurants over the course of the first three hours of the festival- most multiple times, certainly guarantees it. But more specifically I found myself singing a modified version of the old Brewer and Shipley song as I crammed one more El Centro pork carnitas taco into my face, “one taco over the line, sweet Jesus, one taco over the line…” ignoring the bands inside (which was a mistake, but one I couldn’t possibly hope to correct at this point.) Hopefully someone will be fed with the money DC Central Kitchen raised, and someone will learn to cook and find work doing it. Gotta focus on the good others do, rather than all the evil things I do to myself.

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