Arriving in Washington, D.C. For Summer by Rail

By Madi Butler

May 31, 2019

After landing at Dulles last week, I felt my nervousness turn into anticipation. After weeks of planning, coordinating, and chatting the time had finally arrived for me to begin my Summer By Rail Internship. As I crossed the overpass from the bus to metro platform at Reston, I experienced what can only be described as transit bliss. The moment when momentum and excitement combine. When the destination is in sight and the adventure begins to manifest.

I boarded the Silver line and rode into to town, transferring to the Red at the historic Union Station in DC. In the bustle of escalators, elevators, and the over 700,000 people that use the Metro everyday, I found my DC host Mariah. This amazing Amtrak employee and RPA team member offered me shelter in her newly acquired home. After jostling all my bags and giving her a big albeit awkward luggage filled hug, we boarded the Red line and headed towards her neighborhood.

Neighborhoods rushed by as we passed a few stops and eventually we disembarked and hopped a bus to her street. After dropping off my bags, we dipped over to Brookland’s Finest where we snacked on Fried Brussels Sprout Chips, Salmon Pate Bruschetta, and a lovely piece of Fried Catfish. As a chef raised in the south, I’ve always been wary of fried food up north, but after the first hot crunchy salty crisp bite I felt the warm embrace that comes from comfort food. A few Wyndridge hard ciders later, we strolled home slowly and took in the block.

The next day I ventured on my own to Metro Station and the adjacent building which houses Rail Passenger Association. An easy morning ride in with a gentle breeze accompanying the day break. It’s the kind of late spring day you want to bottle up and revisit in the dead cold of winter. After a few meet and greets with the team, Jim and I headed down to take in the DC food truck scene.

A huge smile came across his face as we found Killer Tomato (KTPizza). A 3 man team slinging neapolitan style personal pizzas out of a brick oven inside their truck. Executive dysfunction set in as soon as I saw their menu – all of my favorite combinations amongst their rich assortment – it was a difficult decision to make. The smell of the fire, the fresh dough hitting the oven, the roasted toppings wafting with an inviting heat… Of course we got 2 pizzas. The traditional Margharita and Chicken Cacciatore special. We returned to the office and proceeded to smash as many slices as humanly possible. It was a terrific welcoming to the team.

Wednesday I met up with a friend from childhood and had tapas and sangria at Boqueria. A traditional Spanish small plates menu with glorious salty treats served in a modern bustling space. As we were brought quail eggs, chorizo, ham, and olives, we watched as one of the cooks sliced ham to order. The smile on her face said all we needed to know. This food was made with love. After a lovely happy hour, we strolled around the surrounding blocks as voyeurs to the DC nightlife. Everything from LGBTQA+ sports bars to VR hookah lounges to hipster small batch garage bars came alive after dark.

As the week started coming to a close, the team rendezvoused to discuss Summer by Rail, take photos, and eat tacos. I personally have never been known to order less than 3 tacos, so I sampled the Drunken Master, Patito, and Al Pastor, at Taco Bamba in Chinatown. The Drunken Master is a well balanced fusion taco with kung pao shrimp, arbol, shisito, peanut, and a hint of miso agave. Paired with their house arbol sauce and a tamarind jarrito I was instantly hooked. The Patito had the texture of a traditional carnitas and a lively radicchio slaw with just enough mole verde to make sure it’s memorable. The pastor was a traditional comfort with plenty of pineapples begging to be drenched in their assorted house sauces. After a lovely meal, we strolled through a scorcher of an afternoon taking in the sights that hold much of the history of this country.

After a long cool shower, I set out to make cupcakes for the RPA crew in celebration of a team member’s last day. Inspired by the first truly hot summer day, I dusted off my Vegan Strawberry Lemonade cupcake recipe and got to baking. It may be a small gesture of my appreciation for this opportunity, but considering the first cupcake was eaten before 10am, it was well received.

I’m looking forward to my next week, a few more historical sites and a weekend trip to Richmond, VA await. I wonder what flavors we will savor next.

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