Posts Tagged ‘Warren Rojas’

Leesburg’s Smokehouse Live: A Carnivore’s Dream

Posted by Editorial / Friday, October 23rd, 2015

Photo by Rey Lopez

Photo by Rey Lopez

By Warren Rojas

Smokehouse Live lights up the local barbecue scene

 This is probably the wrong place to be a vegetarian,” a folksy singer joked to the crowd assembled within Smokehouse Live for a taste of local barbecue.

Her set filler may qualify as the understatement of the year. 

The cavernous eatery—which boasts an open-air patio, curbside seating, dedicated stage for live music, interior bar and full-service barbecue market—has been vying to keep Northern Virginia bellies full of tempting proteins since rolling out the welcome mat in early June.

Cofounders Kris Diemar and Jim Foss, the latter a veteran of Penn Quarter’s Hill Country, devoted roughly a year and a half to developing the dining establishment of their dreams.

The decor is pretty basic. There are scattered picnic tables, corrugated metal walls and plywood dividers.

The one thing you’ll wish they’d invested in: screens. I swatted away more flies at Smokehouse Live than I did during the more than seven hours I spent waiting outside Franklin’s Barbecue in Austin.

Then again, the place is supposed to appeal to our primal selves, transporting us back to a time when feasting took place around smoldering embers.

The 40 minute-plus wait times I encountered during weekend trips to Smokehouse Live suggest that local carnivores have no qualms about getting back to nature.

“You can have meat AND sides,” one excited little girl informed a friend evidently new to the cafeteria-style ordering process. “I just want mac and cheese,” her gal pal opined. “No meat? I don’t think you can do that,” the incredulous host sputtered out.

And who can blame her?

Foss and executive chef Bryan Yealy—he’s the one in the Denver Broncos cap dishing out Texas-style grub in Loudoun County—have set the table with a slew of hand-carved meats that spend anywhere from a few hours (up to three for the signature Savannah chicken) to the better part of a day (the pork shoulder takes 18) basking in the glow of slowly exhausted timber.

Tougher-than-expected burnt ends are slathered in zesty barbecue sauce, enrobed in lusty bacon and sprinkled with crunchy potato sticks in one uneven opener. House pork belly (Foss says all the swine is supplied by Smithfield) steals the show in a self-styled bahn mi composed of unctuous piggy, fiery Sriracha mayo and cooling cabbage slaw stuffed into a crusty baguette.

Beef shoulder is lean; a thin ring of fat surrounds an otherwise muscular cut that should sate aficionados of traditional roast beef.

“Oh, that looks guuuuud,” a meat lover who apparently hadn’t yet figured on what to order opined upon spotting the slab of sanguine prime rib a market aide was shepherding onto my serving tray. The no-nonsense steak displays only trace amounts of salt and pepper.

Brisket sports a man-made bark (the product, Foss says, of 10 hours spent in a proprietary rub) while the inherent marbling produces bites of melt-in-your-mouth bliss.

Buttermilk-soaked turkey breast is tasty while warm but works wonders the day after as sandwich fodder. Conversely, the sweet tea-brined chicken offered at brunch is served cold, greeting hungry mouths with fried bird laced with syrupy undertones. Ladle on a spoonful of the spectacularly rich sausage gravy for a killer counterbalance.

Smoked chicken begs to be devoured. The fork-tender bird is basted in mustardy sauce and speckled with baked-on herbs that elicit a tangy-sweet, jerk-like zing.

Pork spare ribs play coy, revealing just a hint of caramelized brown sugar before the heat from the signature spice blend sticks you in the back of the throat. Brawny short ribs clobber hunger, yielding mouthfuls of succulent beef that smacks of cumin, pepper and smoke.

Artisan meat packer Lothar Erbe initially played an essential link in the Smokehouse Live food chain, feeding the fledgling joint traditional brats and jalapeno-cheddar specimens that were greedily snatched up by pork lovers. By the end of the summer, Yealy et al. had seized control of the sausage-making operation, cranking out Shiner Bock-spiked brats and cheddar-laced Red Hots now handcrafted in-house. 

Extra chunky pimento dip, layered with shredded cheese and diced sweet peppers, opens up the appetite better than curiously bland pulled pork-bacon hush puppies (which conjured up neither). Lightly scorched grits bolstered by sharp cheddar and hot peppers left a more lasting impression than the appropriately gooey but not particularly distinctive mac and cheese.

Greenery is scarce but worth seeking out. My favorite garden fare would have to be split between the refreshing spring pea-pearl onion salad (love the tongue-teasing mint and squishy noodles) and the wonderfully tart whiskey-dill pickles.

Early risers who trek out that way on the Lord’s day are rewarded with an all-you-can-eat spread populated by myriad egg dishes (a chorizo and mixed peppers medley went from good to great courtesy of a spoonful of guacamole forged from buttery avocados), brown sugared-ham (s’aright) and pulled pork (rather dry; rescue it with a hit of the vinegary Carolina sauce).

Skip all that and load up on the hearty casseroles.

One lasagna-like breakfast bake weaves together crumbled ground beef, chopped brisket and melted cheese beneath a canopy of tender noodles. A Thanksgiving-themed selection brings the best of turkey day to your lips in heaping spoonfuls loaded with smoked bird, mashed potatoes, cornbread and gravy.

Still hungry?

Staff floats around at all hours dispensing freshly baked sweets.

“May I offer you a cinnamon roll with candied bacon?” a server, hoisting aloft a tray lined with glazed buns studded with glistening pig, posits in what must be the absolute easiest sales pitch of all time. (The bacon is crunchy and the spice-filled center velvety smooth.)

A young woman carrying bite-sized caramel apple tarts (scrumptious) sidled up another time, while happy hour guests made short work of the chewy chocolate chip cookies a manager waved under their collective noses.

What left this hired mouth all shook up was the Elvis cake. The King-sized confection intersperses chocolate cake with layers of peanut butter filling and banana pudding, then crowns everything with silky chocolate frosting, crushed nuts and smoky-sweet strips of glazed bacon.

Uh-huh, you sweet delight!


The massive smokers are stoked with hunks of oak procured right down the road in Leesburg.
Appetizers: $5-$12; Entrees: $12-$26
Lunch Monday through Saturday, dinner daily, brunch Sunday.
1602 Village Market Blvd., Leesburg;


(October 2015)

Out Of The Playbook

Posted by Editorial / Wednesday, October 14th, 2015

Four decades later, it’s still ‘Game on!’ at Theismann’s.

By Warren Rojas

joe theismann, restaurant

Photo by Rey Lopez

The name above the entryway hasn’t launched a game-clinching spiral since the last Reagan administration. And the heavily trafficked Old Town Alexandria outpost is, in actuality, a spin-off rather than the original stomping ground of the aforementioned NFL great.

But none of that has stopped the crush of loyalists that blitzes Theismann’s on a regular basis.

No ordinary sports bar—there are no coeds in booty shorts hawking overpriced wings or meathead bros pushing test tubes of experimental liquor—Theismann’s continues to thrive some 40 years after former Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann joined the hospitality game.

The now-sportscaster tackled his first neighborhood venture in 1975, putting down roots near Bailey’s Crossroads. According to general manager Jordan Willis, the original restaurant performed so well (to wit, that flagship location is now a discount mattress shop) that a decade later Theismann approved an expansion into Alexandria.

On any given night, the L-shaped bar at the heart of the establishment may be overrun by beer-sipping lady friends totally oblivious to the wall-to-wall sports coverage sprayed across a dozen big-screen TVs, gray-haired business execs catching up with contacts over a drink (or four) or lovey-dovey millennials splitting appetizers. Multigenerational groups (including dads and sons spending quality time, grandparents joining their extended family for a meal and single moms with rambunctious school kids in tow) tend to lay claim to the main dining room and breezy patio.

Everywhere you look, conversations flow freely. Smiles come easy. And no one seems to have a care in the world.

Which is, undoubtedly, part of this place’s irrefutable charm.

“We happily serve thousands of families, reunions, weddings, conference-goers and vacationers,” Willis says of a wildly diverse clientele that also includes local sports personalities such as Washington Nationals’ star Bryce Harper and Redskins head coach Jay Gruden

joe theismann, restaurant

Executive chef Louis “Bambino” Aguirre has apparently been calling the plays in the kitchen since 1992. The carte largely embraces Southern cuisine but also seems to bounce around (seafood fra diavolo, anyone?) quite a bit.

Lamb lollipops are par for the course (adequately meaty, fairly juicy). A companion salad proved irresistible, yielding forkfuls of leafy greens bolstered by mint-spiked vinaigrette, crumbles of salty feta and cherry tomatoes that burst like water balloons, all wrapped in shaved cucumber.

A well-composed flatbread unites zesty Andouille sausage, dulcet Spanish onions and crisp green peppers atop a blanket of mellow mozzarella.

Vegetables and cheese again carry the day in a plate depositing skewers of grilled halloumi (satisfying chew with just a hint of smoke) and flame-licked peppers atop terrifically nutty grains of pesto-soaked rice.

Blackened catfish hit its marks; I loved the herb-rubbed crust and delicate flesh. The supporting cast, not so much. Rather than simmer the kidney beans till nearly disintegrated or cream them with coconut milk a la traditional beans and rice, the kitchen dumped what amounted to vegetable stew (whole beans, chunks of tomato and chopped celery were all plainly visible) over white rice and called it a day.

The house lasagna, which Willis maintains has been on the menu since day one, is textbook comfort food. There’s savory ground beef saturated in robust tomato ragout. Competing strata of stretchy melted provolone, creamy ricotta and salty shredded Parmesan duel for most enticing dairy product. The marinara that moistens every bite lavishes the taste buds in sautéed onions, garlic and peppers.

There’s no artful deconstruction or ethereal foams to contend with. Just good old-fashioned pasta, hearty sauce, loads of cheese and aromatic slices of garlic bread. (Mangia!)

The grilled banana bread is a favored send-off. The tropically inspired centerpiece is dense and moist, sharing more in common with bread pudding than traditional cake. Praline ice cream amps up the crunch factor while ribbons of salted caramel sauce sweeten the entire deal.

As for the big man, he’s always around somewhere. “Joe … visits frequently and enjoys talking with patrons and staff,” Willis says.

Joe Theismann’s Restaurant
Old Dominion Brewing Company originally created the Broken Leg Lager, a tongue-in-cheek reminder of the former quarterback’s career-ending injury.
Appetizers: $7.50-$13; Entrees: $13-$36
Lunch Monday through Friday, dinner daily, brunch Saturday and Sunday
1800 Diagonal Road, Alexandria

(October 2015)

The Barbecue Issue is now online + Eat brisket with mooing in the background

Posted by Stefanie Gans, Dining Editor / Thursday, July 23rd, 2015


Today I ate brisket with mooing in the background.

A video posted by Stefanie Gans (@gansie) on


By Stefanie Gans

I think I pitched something like “The Fried Foods Issue!”

I pitched a lot of ideas last year, but ultimately we ended up with barbecue dominating the July issue’s slot, although Northern Virginia isn’t known for smoked meats.

As a food professional, I remain open-minded at the table. But me as a person, I have preferences. Barbecue isn’t one of them.

Read the rest of this entry »

Hungry for Linkage: Half-off wine at Gypsy Soul for Tax Day

Posted by Stefanie Gans, Dining Editor / Wednesday, April 15th, 2015

Photo courtesy of Ted's Bulletin

Photo courtesy of Ted’s Bulletin

Tax Day special: Half-priced bottles of wine starting this, and every, Wednesday at Gypsy Soul. [@GypsySoulVA]

Taxpayers are spending a lot of money subsidizing not people who won’t work, but industries that don’t pay their workers a living wage,”: 52 percent of fast food workers receive public assistance, including food stamps. [WaPo]

Former Washington Post restaurant critic Phyllis Richman details the delights of Arlington over the years. [Arlington Magazine]

Warren Rojas ranks the pop tarts at Ted’s Bulletin, including the newest flavor: key lime. [Roll Call

Probably inspired by our recent Kids Issue, there’s now a Kickstarter for Butternut, a glossy magazine dubbed “food literacy” for 2- to 6-year olds. [Grub Street]

Brunch Battles

We sent our writers into the ring to determine which of our favorite morning staples is the best brunch dish. —Brendan Spiegel, Warren Rojas, Tim Regan and Carten Cordell





(May 2014)

The Brunch Issue

Freeze Jag: The Swiss Bakery

Posted by Warren Rojas / Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

August is historically the steamiest, stickiest, sweatiest month of the year–brilliant move, Founding Fathers, building the nation’s capital on a swamp–in these parts. We’ve tracked down 31 frozen treats (one a day for the rest of this month) to provide you with some temporary, and often insanely delicious, relief.

The place: The Swiss Bakery – Multiple NoVA locations;

The prescription: meringue glace. Pastry chef cum Swiss Bakery co-founder Laurie Weber clearly fears no sugar rush. So we, in turn, thought nothing of ordering the meringue glace, a double helping of your choice of house made ice cream (we recommend apricot, almond nougat, black forest and/or mint straciatella) or sorbet (dig into blood orange-pomegranate, green apple-kiwi, pink lemonade and/or chocolate-banana) escorted by twin meringues. The airy cookies double as textured spoons, the ice cream or sorbet naturally sliding between the grooves of raised sugar and soaking into the chewy center. Sangria sorbet was potent stuff, relaying lots of ripe red fruit (cherry, mixed berries, grapes), while the pina colada was mostly sweet, slightly tart and totally refreshing.

On the off chance you do over indulge—all the featured ice creams and sorbets, plus other overstock flavors are also available by the pint—just snatch up one of their novelty aprons (painted with images of rugged mountain men and buxom frauleins) to keep up the fit and trim façade.



Keep tabs on the month long Freeze Jag trek here.

Freeze Jag: Nielsen’s Frozen Custard

Posted by Warren Rojas / Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

August is historically the steamiest, stickiest, sweatiest month of the year–brilliant move, Founding Fathers, building the nation’s capital on a swamp–in these parts. We’ve tracked down 31 frozen treats (one a day for the rest of this month) to provide you with some temporary, and often insanely delicious, relief.

The place: Nielsen’s Frozen Custard – 144 Church St. NW; Vienna; 703- 255-5553;

The prescription: Peppermint bark concrete. Dear holiday calendar–Just a quick note to let you know that I have officially been freed from your myopic subjugation. My liberator? Why, none other than Nielsen’s Frozen Custard. While you make me wait till the dead of winter before trotting out spicy-sweet manna known as peppermint bark, Nielsen’s allows me to indulge whenever I like. Their specialty concrete conjures Christmas in a cup via extra thick vanilla custard bolstered by quick hardening chocolate syrup (contact with cold quickly transforms it into chocolate brittle) and crushed peppermints, then turbo whipped into a breath freshening sludge that forcefully weighs down your spoon.

Those who prefer to live in the moment should enjoy seasonal selections like blueberry custard and other fresh fruit offerings (bumbleberry, a strawberry-raspberry hybrid is a particular favorite).



Keep tabs on the month long Freeze Jag trek here.

Freeze Jag: Buzz

Posted by Warren Rojas / Monday, August 29th, 2011

August is historically the steamiest, stickiest, sweatiest month of the year–brilliant move, Founding Fathers, building the nation’s capital on a swamp–in these parts. We’ve tracked down 31 frozen treats (one a day for the rest of this month) to provide you with some temporary, and often insanely delicious, relief.

The place: Buzz – Multiple NoVA locations;

The prescription: open-faced oatmeal cookie sandwich with cereal milk ice cream. “It’s supposed to taste like the milk leftover after you eat a bowl of cinnamon toast crunch,” a Buzz worker says of pastry chef Tiffany MacIsaac’s whimsical creation. Maybe–if you’re used to having breakfast at Charles Bukowski’s house. The cookie—spot warmed right when you order—is great, delivering mouthful after mouthful of whole grains, golden and traditional raisins plus bonus cinnamon spice. But it’s the boozy cereal milk, which gets a boost from a long pour of bourbon, that had us cleaning our plate and clamoring for more.

Should you (unlike me) happen to NOT be a raging alcoholic. MacIssac’s treat churning prowess extends to virgin flavors (the aptly named “exotic” weaves together ultra tart mango and lusty spice cake; vanilla is plain delicious) as well as seasonal sorbets (raspberry, apricot).



Keep tabs on the month long Freeze Jag trek here.

Freeze Jag: Haymarket Delights

Posted by Warren Rojas / Sunday, August 28th, 2011

August is historically the steamiest, stickiest, sweatiest month of the year–brilliant move, Founding Fathers, building the nation’s capital on a swamp–in these parts. We’ve tracked down 31 frozen treats (one a day for the rest of this month) to provide you with some temporary, and often insanely delicious, relief.

The place: Haymarket Delights – 15111 Washington St., #113, Haymarket; 703-743-9730;

The prescription: Some ice cream shops regard fruit as, at best, a topping or, at worst, an afterthought. Not Haymarket Delights. They’ve developed over two dozen “Tropi-Kool” smoothies featuring carefully considered premium ice cream –one attendant said she favors strawberry or raspberry hard pack for berry based beverages, but switches to mocha hard pack for javafied frozen drinks–soft serve, or not (non-dairy options abound). Our strawberry-pomegranate cooler did not disappoint, the fresh, tasty bits of real strawberry swimming up the straw during each protracted slurp while luscious pomegranate permeated every sip.

What was most surprising, though, were the non-dessert options. Turns out, Haymarket Delights is also a den of Mediterranean delicacies, turning out overstuffed Greek gyros, crunchy falafel sandwiches and savory spinach pies.



Keep tabs on the month long Freeze Jag trek here.

Freeze Jag: Boccato Gelato & Espresso

Posted by Warren Rojas / Saturday, August 27th, 2011

August is historically the steamiest, stickiest, sweatiest month of the year–brilliant move, Founding Fathers, building the nation’s capital on a swamp–in these parts. We’ve tracked down 31 frozen treats (one a day for the rest of this month) to provide you with some temporary, and often insanely delicious, relief.

The place: Boccato Gelato & Espresso – Multiple NoVA locations;

The prescription: Chilean peach gelato. Gelato is, by design, naturally denser and sweeter than your run-of-the-mill ice cream. But Boccatto’s jaw-dropping Chilean peach is nothing short of ambrosial. The boozy chiller (left me punchy, anyway) captures the nectar-like sweetness and intensely floral bouquet of the foreign fruit, a combination that translates into an absolutely intoxicating thrill ride that slides down your throat.

The homegrown shop hangs its hat on experimentation and variety, boasting a recipe Rolodex with over 200 flavors–evaluating every single one sounds like a perfect challenge for next year, no?–including: rum raisin, chocolate cake batter (lawdhavemercy), cafe con leche, lucuma (fruity and refreshing), cinnamon risotto, blueberry-banana (smurf blue with a tropical undercurrent)  and Ferrero Rocher truffle.



Keep tabs on the month long Freeze Jag trek here.

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