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D.C.’s Food Court: Fine Dining, Food Trucks and Everything in Between

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(Photo credit: PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)

(Photo credit: PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)

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In D.C., two things are certain: Politics and food. From the latest restaurants to the newest trends, we got you covered with a smorgasbord of information. Email me [Courtney] at FoodCourt@wnew.com with your Food Blog ideas!

Olive Garden Defends Report Attacking Its Breadsticks

You can get much further with a kind word and breadsticks than you can with a kind word alone. A famed Italian-American said that once… or something similar.

And Olive Garden’s parent company (Darden Restaurants Inc.) said essentially the same thing Monday in response to a nearly 300-page report penned by restaurant investor Starboard Value that dissed the Italian chain’s practice of liberally distributing breadsticks to customers.

Starboard is lobbying to gain control of Darden’s board of directors at the company’s annual meeting Oct. 10, according to the Associated Press.

But Darden, even though it has struggled to boost sales at Olive Garden recently, says its bread baskets convey “Italian generosity” and “have been an icon of brand equity since 1982.”

To read more about the breadstick bickering, click here. Starboard also criticized Olive Garden’s salad and dressing techniques, its apparently-unsalted pasta water and even the length of its asparagus spears.

Southern Comfort Introduces Gingerbread Spice Flavor

Everyone’s all about pumpkin spice right now, but Southern Comfort is already looking ahead to the holidays.

Starting in October, you’ll be able to buy a Gingerbread Spice-flavored version of the New Orleans liqueur, according to FoodBeast.

Be forewarned, though, traditional Southern Comfort is 35 percent alcohol by volume. At just 15 percent, the Gingerbread Spice flavor is considerably weaker.

Red Robin’s Fall Menu Includes Baconized Shake

Through Nov. 2, of-age Red Robin fans will be able to enjoy a maple-y, bacon-y dessert along with their burgers and fries.

The Beam®-N-Bacon Boozy Shake is made with Jim Beam® Maple Bourbon, caramel and vanilla soft serve ice cream. It’s topped with bacon bits AND a strip of candied bacon.

A spiced pumpkin pie milkshake that was introduced last year is back on the menu through Nov. 2, too.

McDonald’s Trademarks ‘McBrunch’

The trendy midday meal known as brunch isn’t going anywhere, and it looks like the world’s biggest fast food chain knows it.

McDonald’s has filed a federal trademark registration for the word “McBrunch,” according to Burger Business.

The report says the chain applied for a similar trademark back in 2001, too, but later abandoned the pursuit.

However, considering the restaurant’s falling sales figures, the powers that be behind the golden arches may be looking to boost profits with fresh menu items.

As a matter of fact, The Associated Press wrote earlier this year that McDonald’s was eyeing making breakfast available past its famous 10:30 a.m. cutoff time.

There has also been increased competition within the fast-food breakfast market recently (here’s looking at you, Waffle Taco), which could have spurred Mickey D’s to up its game.

Testicle Festival Coming To D.C.

Just when you foodies thought you’d sampled everything D.C. has to offer, along comes The Festicle.

In case the title doesn’t make it clear enough, it’s a festival featuring a celebrity chef testicle cook-off. That’s right, Rocky Mountain oyster fans. This is your chance to get your hands on some professionally-prepared animal genitals.

To be held at the D.C. fairgrounds (1299 Half Street SE) on Sept. 21, the event will also feature bands, “micro-wrestling” and aerial performances. Tickets cost between $20 and $25. You can purchase them here.

Festicle organizers advise you to “step right up and have a ball (literally).” No word on if there will be grilled wieners available for those who don’t prefer roasted nuts.

For updates, follow TheFesticle on Twitter or Facebook.

Hershey’s New Logo Causing A Stink

The Hershey Company has rolled out a new logo. Some like it, while others are saying it resembles an unappetizing emoji character. Read more and see the logo here.

Starbucks Announces Early Release of Pumpkin Spice Latte

Pumpkin lovers, rejoice! Fall is coming early. At least in the form of a latte.

Starbucks announced that the popular Pumpkin Spice Latte will be available on Aug. 26 instead of Sept. 1 this year. But you need a special password to get it.

Starbucks even went as far as creating a Twitter and Tumblr account for the Pumpkin Spice Latte.

The orange-sunglasses-wearing latte announced a “Spot the Spice” challenge to give the beverage’s biggest fans an opportunity to bring the drink to their stores early. The account tweeted a daily clue beginning Aug. 21.

On Aug. 26, customers who show or say the password to a barista in their local Starbucks store will “unlock” the beverage early, making the seasonal latte available to everyone who visits the store.

The first customer who unlocks a store will be acknowledged by having his or her name displayed on an in-store sign.

D.C. Startup Delivers Hot, $6 Lunch To Your Office

Hot, healthy, fast and cheap.

Those are the principles behind MunchQuick, a company that launched June 30 in D.C. and is looking to show District foodies that high quality meals don’t have to be expensive, and that cheap takeout isn’t the only thing that can curb appetites quickly.

Read more about MunchQuick here.

D.C. Eatery Named Bon Appetit Magazine’s Best New Restaurant

A Capitol Hill eatery is garnering national attention for its delicious dishes and difficulty getting inside the door — but both are expected after it was named America’s “Best New Restaurant.”

Read more about Rose’s Luxury, on 8th Street SE, here.

Five Guys Testing Milkshakes in 3 Northern Va. Locations

Five Guys already has the burgers and fries down pat, and now the chain is testing out the third element of the ultimate American junk food trio. That’s right — milkshakes.

The shakes will start out as plain vanilla, but customers will be able to add cherries, chocolate, bacon, peanut butter, Oreos, coffee, bananas, salted caramel, strawberries and/or malted milk.

The local test stores are the locations on Quander Road in Alexandria, Ox Road in Lorton and Stafford Market Place in Stafford.

You may even be recognized as an Official Five Guys Milkshake Tester and win a t-shirt if you post a photo of your shake on Twitter along with the #ShareYourShake hashtag.

Happy slurping!

Saturday Is National Rum Day!

Captain Jack Sparrow will be delighted to hear it — Saturday is National Rum Day!

To celebrate, we have lists of special events going on in honor of the island liquor, and the best places to get an everyday rum cocktail in D.C. Click here to learn more.

Do You Pay Attention to the Salt Content of Your Food?

High sodium intake increases blood pressure, which is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, and most people consume nearly double the amount that is recommended by the World Health Organization.

While adults should get less than 2,000 milligrams of salt per day, the average intake is more like 3,950, according to a new report from The New England Journal of Medicine.

Calories are what most people look for when they are determining how healthy a food is, but salt content is also important to monitor.

Check out this list of the fast food dishes that contain the most sodium. Some menu items might surprise you, like the offenders from Starbucks and Subway.

Which Restaurants Have The Fastest Wi-Fi?

If you often find yourself making a decision on where to go for a meal or coffee based on the internet speeds available there, you’ll want to read this.

According to a recent OpenSignal.com report, Starbucks blows other restaurants away when it comes to getting online. Thanks to Google, the chain’s download speed is up to 9.01 megabits per second (mbps).

It’s fastest competing food chain, McDonald’s, is less than half that fast, at 4.187 mbps. After McDonald’s comes Tim Horton’s (1.901), Dunkin Donuts (1.723) and Panera (1.042).

All the Open Signal report’s data on internet speeds comes from users of the OpenSignal app.

SNL Celebrates 40 Years By Making Jokes Like ‘Schweddy Balls’ A Reality

Next year, Saturday Night Live will officially be “over the hill.” The big 4-0.

NBC is planning a three-hour live special for Feb. 15, but that’s not the only celebration it has in mind.

SNL has paired with IT’SUGAR to make fictional products like Schweddy Balls and Colon Blow cereal a reality. They will be available online and in stores starting Sept. 13.

There will also be novelty candy bars based on characters like Bill Hader’s Stefon, Molly Shannon’s “superstar” Mary Katherine Gallagher and The Ladies Man.

Dunkin’ Donuts “Take a Bite, Take a Pic” For Shark Week

Shark Week has become a must-see and even celebrated television series on the Discovery Channel, and it begins again on Sunday.

Dunkin’ Donuts decided to celebrate the return of Shark Week with their “Take a Bite, Take a Pic” promotion, where consumers snap a selfie taking a bite of a breakfast item.

It’s not all for nothing, though. Those who post their photos with the hashtag #DDSHARKWEEK could have their photo featured on Discovery’s “Shark After Dark” and Dunkin’ Donuts’ Times Square billboard, a Shark Week prize pack or a $100 Dunkin’ Donuts gift card.

Richmond’s Famous Sugar Shack Opening NoVa Location

Sugar Shack Donuts, a Richmond, Virginia staple, is opening another location in Alexandria.

The shop’s first birthday was in June, but it has already made a USA Today list of the nation’s best doughnuts.

The report said the store is “lovingly designed and run” and has “whimsical menu.” Flavors include maple bacon, gingerbread and Samoa.

According to a August 4 Facebook post, the new store will open in a few months at 804 N. Henry Street and it will be run “in the exact same fashion” as the original. That means you can expect a lot of quirk.

Recently, Sugar Shack has tweeted photos of Pac-Man themed pastries and offers such as “free donuts for blowing a kiss to your favorite flavor.”

Dunkin’ Donuts Releases Coffee Donut

America’s favorite donut and coffee chain already has several flavors of donut-flavored coffee, but now it has finally made a delicious move in the other direction.

Dunkin’ Donuts shelves will now stock two new coffee-flavored donuts.

That’s right, you can now sip donut-flavored coffee while chowing down on coffee-flavored donuts. It’s a turvy topsy world.

Baltimore and D.C. Restaurant Weeks Are Upon Us

Baltimore Restaurant Week is here, but it’s actually more like Baltimore Restaurant week-and-a-half. That means it will butt right up to the beginning of D.C.’s restaurant week, which begins on Aug. 11.

From Aug. 1 through Aug. 10, a slew of Charm City eateries will be offering two-course lunches for $15 and/or three-course dinners for $20-$30. Some will even offer brunch specials.

If you don’t get your fill of fancy food in Baltimore, restaurants in D.C., northern Virginia and Maryland’s D.C. suburbs will offer specials Aug. 11 through Aug. 17.

For a full list of participating Baltimore spots, visit BaltimoreRestaurantWeek.com. To book a table for the District’s restaurant week, visit RAMW.org.

Wegmans Plans 2 New Locations Locally

Wegmans Food Markets says it plans to add 10 new stores in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions over the next year or two, including two locations in our area. Click here for more info.

All-You-Can-Eat Wings At Hooters Tuesday

Wear your loosest pants to work on Tuesday. In honor of National Chicken Wing Day, Hooters restaurants are offering an all-you-can-eat-deal on what is probably their most famous fare for just $12.99.

NationalChickenWingDay.com claims that Americans ate more than 27 billion chicken wings in 2013 and that 1.23 billion wings consumed during Super Bowl weekend alone.

In case you were wondering, July 29 has been National Chicken Wing Day, as proclaimed by then-Buffalo, New York Mayor Stan Makowski, since 1977.

Wendy’s Testing Build-You-Own-Sandwich Concept

Beef or chicken? Pretzel bun or regular bun? And what kind of sauce? You’ll have so many choices if the fast-casual style program Wendy’s is testing in Ohio becomes a reality through the rest of the country.

According to QSR magazine, a build-your-own-sandwich program would allow customers to choose from burger or chicken patties, several cheeses, toppings like lettuce, tomato, red onion and seven different sauces.

New menu offerings and restaurant redesigns have been part of a “brand transformation that CEO Emil Brolick has stressed since coming on board in 2011,” QSR reports.

You may have also noticed the new, millennial-friendly “Wendy’s girl” in the chain’s commercials and revamped logo.

Old Bay Doughnut Chicken Sandwich Makes Debut at Astro

Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken, which has a brick and mortar store on G Street NW and a food truck that operates in Virginia, launched its new Old Bay doughnut chicken sandwich today.

Two halves of an Old Bay doughnut (with Old Bay in the dough AND sprinkled on top) surround a fried chicken breast, locally sourced lettuce and tomato, and the customer’s choice of bbq, blue cheese, ranch, Sriracha, buffalo, or honey mustard dressing.

The $9 sandwich will be sold Monday through Friday in the store and Tuesday through Saturday on the truck. No word on how long it will be on the menu, so get it while you can.

Old Bay doughnut chicken sandwich. (Photo credit: Astro Doughnuts)

Old Bay doughnut chicken sandwich. (Photo credit: Astro Doughnuts)

Gifford’s Ice Cream, A Maine Favorite, Makes Push Into Capital Area

A long-loved ice cream company based in Maine is trying to break into the D.C. market, and it’s spreading the word with an ice cream truck tour of the region.

The “Gifford’s Good Times Ice Cream Truck” has been making the rounds in D.C., Maryland and Virginia since late June.

Gifford’s expansion into the area follows its 2011 acquisition of Maryland-based Gifford’s Ice Cream & Candy Co. Although the two companies share the same name and similar stories, the families are not related.

Gifford’s products have recently been introduced to customers at Whole Foods Market, Balducci’s, Wawa, and other grocery stores in the D.C. area. The “Good Times” truck has been increasing the company’s local visibility even further.

And, on Monday, U.S. Senator Angus King hosted a Gifford’s non-partisan ice cream social in his office to help his home state’s company earn some fans.

It’s worth mentioning that report about the expansion in the Portland Press Herald, a Maine newspaper, claims that competition in our area is “more fierce” than up north, “because ice cream sells better in the South, with its year-round warm weather.”

We guess they missed the fact that the DMV endured about 5,000 snow storms this past winter, but that’s OK. We will welcome their state’s cool and creamy desserts to our store shelves, anyway.

DC Restaurant’s Breakfast Sandwich Makes List of Must-Haves in the Nation

When people think of breakfast or brunch in the District, bottomless mimosas and bloody Mary bars are what come to mind first — the food is often an afterthought.

But one D.C. restaurant’s hearty breakfast menu item recently made a popular food blog’s list of “12 Must-Eat Breakfast Sandwiches Across America,” and it’s not taking a backseat to anything else on the table.

Red Apron’s “Buenos Dias” — egg, chorizo, cheddar cheese, pickled onion and sour cream on an Italian tigelle — “is a South American riff on an Egg McMuffin,” according to SeriousEats.com.

A tigelle, by the way, is a type of flatbread that’s cooked in lard.

“Bolder flavors and heat from chorizo and pickled onion, the Buenos Dias is a more adventurous breakfast sandwich with a bit of a kick. Every edge is griddled and fried to perfection, each bite is a satisfying blend of crisp, rich, savory flavor.”

And you can get all of that lardy goodness for just $5.50. A side of Red Apron’s brewed coffee is just $2.50. Not bad. Not bad at all.

‘Dogfish Inn’ Now Taking Reservations

Can’t decide what you like more, craft beer or the beach? No worries. Reservations are now being taken for the 16 rooms at the new Dogfish Inn in Lewes, Delaware.

“The Dogfish Inn brings Dogfish Head’s signature off-centered approach to hotel culture and beer tourism,” according to the brewery’s website. It “celebrates the scenic beaches, charming towns and outdoor adventures coastal Delaware has to offer.”

The inn, which is about 11.5 miles from the actual brewery in Milton and about 7 miles from the brewpub and restaurant in Rehoboth Beach, is basically an expansion of the Dogfish Head Brewmaster’s Suite at the Inn at Canal Square, also in Lewes, which has already been around for nearly a decade.

To see photos of the quirky hotel, visit the Dogfish Inn website.

Behold: The Selfie Toaster

For the low, low cost of $75, you can own a toaster that burns an image of your face into bread.

Just upload a high-resolution photo of yourself to the Vermont Novelty Toaster Corporation’s website and they’ll send you back the vainest product of all time, complete with the original photo you sent printed on the side.

This is the same company that offers the Jesus toaster, the Edgar Allen Poe toaster and the peace sign toaster. Check out their other products here.

Two Local BBQ Joints Make List of Nation’s Best

Two local barbecue joints — one in D.C. and one in Maryland — made Open Table’s list of the nation’s top 30.

To see where to go to get the best brisket, ribs and pulled pork in our area, click here.

All-Vegan Restaurant to Open Two D.C. Locations

Native Foods Café, a casual, all-vegan restaurant chain founded in 1994 in California, will open two D.C. locations in September.

So far, the only locations found outside California are in Colorado, Oregon and Chicago.

D.C.’s Native Food Cafés will be at 701 Pennsylvania Avenue NW and 1150 Connecticut Avenue NW, and will feature menu items like Seitan meatball subs, Tempeh atop kale with sesame sauce, non-dairy desserts and, of course, salads.

Lay’s Announces Crazy Finalists in “Do Us A Flavor” Contest

The Frito-Lay company has announced the four finalists for its 2014 “Do Us A Flavor” contest. They are Cappuccino, Cheddar Bacon Mac & Cheese, Mango Salsa and Wasabi Ginger.

They will be found on grocery shelves beginning later this month, and snack enthusiasts will then be able to vote online for their favorite through mid-October.

Last year’s contest finalists were Chicken & Waffles, Cheesy Garlic Bread and Sriracha. Cheesy Garlic Bread was the winning flavor.

Appliance of the Future: Calorie-Counting Microwave

This sounds like something Joan Jetson would have.

General Electric researchers are working on perfecting the prototype of a device that can scan foods and deliver an approximate calorie count, reports the MIT Technology Review.

Matt Webster, the GE employee who invented the machine, says the technology may eventually be incorporated into a kitchen appliance such as a microwave. That would be particularly fitting, since it works by sending low-energy microwaves through the food it’s measuring.

The prototype only works on “homogenous mixtures,” according to the report, but GE scientists are hoping that more advanced versions will be able to count the calories in, say, an omelet or a cheeseburger.

The three data points used to measure the calories are fat content, water content and weight. Meanwhile, calories from sugar, fiber and protein “can be approximated by subtracting the water and fat weight from the total weight,” the report says.

TGI Fridays Introduces Endless Apps

Endless summer? That’s a pipe dream. Endless appetizers, however… that’s attainable.

This week, TGI Fridays announced a summer-long promotion during which diners can choose any one appetizer from a list of the restaurant’s most popular and receive unlimited refills of that starter during their visit.

The apps included in the promotion are: loaded potato skins, garlic & basil bruschetta, mozzarella sticks, boneless buffalo wings, tuscan spinach dip, crispy green bean fries, and pan-seared pot stickers.

So, is this going to bring in money for TGI Fridays this summer, or are people fill up on their chosen appetizers and then leave?

David Corsun, director of the University of Denver’s Fritz Knoebel School of Hospitality Management, tells CBS News he’s not sure the promotion was the best idea for the company.

“I hope for their sake they don’t run it long-term,” he says. “It’s a loss-leader. They’re not going to make money on it. They’re trying to drive [customer] traffic — the question is whether they drive in the traffic they want.”

The appetizer promotion comes on the heels of announcement that the Carlson Group is selling the chain to Sentinel Capital Partners and TriArtisan Capital Partners.

General Mills Takes a Page From Taco Bell’s Book

Great news for those of you who love nacho cheese-flavored taco shells so much that you need access to them 24 hours per day, not just until the drive through closes at 2 a.m.

The Old El Paso brand of Mexican foods, owned by General Mills, is riding the wave that began with Taco Bell’s Doritos Locos Taco.

Coming soon to your local grocery store: the Old El Paso Bold Taco Kit. It includes 10 “Stand ‘n Stuff” hard taco shells “blasted with nacho cheese flavoring inside and out.”

At a 7-Eleven Near You: 3-D Doritos Filled With Cheese

As if taquitos, Big Bites and Slurpees weren’t enough temptation, 7-Eleven now stocks a snack that is basically a 3-D Dorito filled with cheese.

Doritos Loaded® cost $1.99 for a four-pack. They are apparently crunchy on the outside, encrusted with the classic Doritos Nacho Cheese flavoring, and melty on the inside. They are also served warm and come in a handy to-go box.

A news release says Doritos Loaded® were actually first tested in a few D.C.-area stores earlier this year, and the locals who discovered them “created demand for the product.” Way to go, D.C. snackers!

You can find the closest 7-Eleven store that stocks Doritos Loaded® at doritos.7-eleven.com.

Cold Stone Creamery Launches Bottled ‘Milk Shakers’

Just in time for the dog days of summer, there’s a more convenient way to get a cold, creamy treat from Cold Stone Creamery.

Cold Stone Milk Shakers™, which were launched last month, are now available at select 7-Eleven and Duane Reade stores, as well as at several other gas stations and convenience stores.

The available flavors are Chocolate Fudge Brownie, Strawberry Swirl and Simply Vanilla. Calorie counts range from 390 to 450 per 12-ounce bottle.

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