Sure, most of us have been metaphorically tightening our belts, as money's been tight. But sometimes even budding chefs want to get away from their own kitchens. Of course, there are choices for cheaply treating yourself without picking up food from a national chain, which often don't care what's in their food.
The hearty aroma of fried food that a family was eating outdoors lured me to the Amsterdam Falafel Shop (although I actually ate elsewhere that evening), so I decided to quaff the in-house lemonade, for three bucks. While waiting for my liquid refreshment, I practially drooled at that giant salad bar, aka toppings bar, with all sorts of unusual things to top the fried garbanzo cutlets--fried squash, eggplant, beets, as well as the usual toppers. I have to go back--fried nutritious food and french fries (to be followed with delicious lemonade)--is too much to resist forever. After all, a half pita filled with three spicy fried bean balls for $5.50--with three kinds of salads, two kinds of sauces, and assorted pickles--this could fill you up for a couple of days.
Instead, I went to the bar down the street, the venerable "dive," Madam's Organ. Of course, the music playing and the company was all great, and it's a decent sized space, but the food and drink are, shall I say, the right price, with considerably sized portions. (What else could you expect from an establishment with its famous mural?) You can mix and match with the veggie plate, so I chose coleslaw (they don't stint with the cabbage, although it's a bit sweet), fried okra (just so-so), fries (I don't care for batter-fried fries), but the homemade cornbread is awesome. All at close to $9. However, cornbread and beer sounds like a good way to pass the time while there, so that's what I'll get next time, although the macaroni and cheese is calling.
To fortify myself for a rough day, I recently headed to the Teaism at Penn Quarter, this time to get lunch (usually breakfast is my meal there, of ginger scones and anxi oolong tea). The time I came was the sweet spot, early, so it wasn't yet crowded. Thus, it only took five minutes for my sweet Japanese green tea (only $2) and stir-fry seitan (just under $10).
If you're thinking there's a lot of food on that plate, you'd be correct. Spinach, macadamia nuts, chile pepper, seitan, and brown rice, in a slightly sweet and spicy sauce equals yum. Again, no skimping on ingredients (although there was slightly less spinach this time than a previous visit, but I quibble). That also means that after this delicious, filling meal, there was no room for dessert, which was a shame. Maybe next time. (I haven't had the chocolate torte and green tea ice cream in a while. Uh oh.)
Haven't had pizza in a while, so a craving may be coming on. I normally make my own, but if I eat pizza out anytime soon, I want one of the fantastic pies at Matchbox again. We had the terrific "Fire and Smoke" pizza (which was preceded by tiny brioche balls as appetizers); not only is that pizza rich and smoky, with a thin crust, but the place also has a reasonable (as in, you won't fall down laughing when you see the prices) wine list.
I did fulfill my craving for Caribbean food when I went to the local chain, Tropicana, to pick up the small size of the brown stew tofu, a rich, mysterious, delicious concoction which comes with rice and peas and cabbage. Did I mention that I got the small size? For under $9, it was enough for dinner for two, plus lunch the next day for one. I'm curious to see how many people the large size could feed for one dinner!
Of course, you can't forget Chinese food, particularly the lunch specials, when you want good food cheap. I had reason to scoot near, and have lunch at, The Vegetable Garden in Rockville, which was full, as usual, at lunchtime. (And also does plenty of carryout business.)
The weekday lunch special includes a soup--the spicy hot and sour soup is what I always get--along with the moo shi cilantro roll, which is OK, and some type of mysterious homemade bread, which I can forgo without guilt.
I tried a new dish, the emerald bean curd, which was nice and spicy and also seemed to contain bits of crispy mushroom. As usual, tasty and filling, but again, no room for dessert, which would have been the key lime pie, if I weren't concerned that I might explode with additional food.
The only downside to eating there, if it's rainy, is that in supposedly public transportation-friendly lower Montgomery County, you have to gently wade through this muddy mess to get through the strip mall parking lot, when coming from the subway:
Periodically, the site Wisebread hosts the blog carnival, Carnival of Pecuniary Delights--I have a vintage post there, but there are lots of other good ones there as well, so stop on by. You can never have enough info on saving money, I say.