On Wednesday nights during the summer, Art and Soul on Capitol Hill hosts a Louisiana-style crab boil on its patio, where pickers crowd in at happy hour for spicy steamed jumbos, bites off the bar menu, and Flying Dog seasonal brews.
But I skipped all of that on a recent Hump Day trip to the restaurant. Too much natural light, fresh air, and human interaction. Besides, I was there in search of a different bar bite prize: Doug’s Mom’s Pickles (DMPs).
Doug is Art and Soul sous chef Douglas Alexander, who Y&H readers caught a glimpse of in a recent piece about a Cajun boucherie (pig roast) that the restaurant held in Charlottesville. The pickles he served that day were perhaps the most memorable part of a meal already full of riches. I followed up incessantly afterwards to pry the recipe from him.
“Every couple of weeks, I’ll spend two days making a ton of pickles at the restaurant, because we serve them with almost everything,” said Alexander. “I can remember my mother doing the same thing in our bathtub with vegetables from her garden.”
Alexander hails from Oregon, and I like to think he and his mother at least partly inspired the much-loved “We Can Pickle That” sketch on Portlandia. He has carried her recipe with him to every restaurant in which he’s worked, from Portland to D.C.
Sitting at the bar at Art and Soul last week, I dug into a jar full of cornichons, jalapeños, and cucumber slices—all perfectly crunchy and slightly sweet. (The chef believes most pickles are overloaded with salt.) On any given day, you might also enjoy asparagus, cauliflower, green tomatoes, okra, or ramps as part of the $5 mixed pickle appetizer, depending on the most recent market bounty. The pickles pair well with one of GM Patrick Chiappetta’s superb gin and tonics with lime and Tomr’s Tonic and a plate of crab beignets, deviled eggs, or smoked ham.
You’ll have to make a special request if you want to hit pay dirt, however. Alexander’s zucchini pickle, which soaks for just a day in rice vinegar with sweet onions, turmeric, mustard seeds, and black peppercorns, is the highest form of fermented vegetable known to humanity.
“I think of my mother every time I make the zucchini pickles,” said Alexander with a smile. “Although I can’t imagine what she would have said if she’d found out that I use rice vinegar.”
Art and Soul, 415 New Jersey Ave. NW; 202-393-7777; artandsouldc.com
Photo by Sam Hiersteiner