I hope that this is the first post of many that centers around local favorites of mine (I've done a few before).
Washington DC has a booming DIY/craft culture and also a fair number of people who are committed to learning about, creating and serving really delicious food and drinks. Em's brother and his girlfriend are fond of making meals together and rave on and on about pizza dough, or favorite old-timey drinks, or about a restaurant they visited recently in the city and how fabulous (or not) it happened to be! I know folks who host a weekly wine night, a friend who is not only a fabulous bartender but an amazing Italian-Californian cook, and a host of other pals who can (as in...pickles), cook and experiment in their kitchens regularly. Farm shares are hot as well, as fresh and local produce seems to be ideal for both the Earth and the bellies of DC'ers. Even my friend Sylvie taught herself how to bake a cake recently!
Suffice it to say that during these tumultuous economic times, the number of people cooking in is going to dramatically increase and local restaurants will most certainly feel the punch. And for the novice or the expert, I really feel like Hill's Kitchen in Eastern Market has just about everything you need in order to get your feet wet as a home chef, or dive to new depths with alternative and unusual cooking techniques.
Situated directly across from the Eastern Market metro stop on the orange/blue lines, woman-owned and operated Hill's Kitchen takes up the entire first floor of a rowhouse built in 1884, and based on conversations I overheard with one of the lead sales clerks (if not the owner; I had my suspicions!) the basement was gutted and renovated into a storage room and the top floor is going to boast professional cooking classes. For now, however, customers have access to just the first floor and it is a sight to behold.
The front nook is lined with left-of-center and unusual cooking supplies, from potato ricers to cedar planks for fish cooking. The cashwrap area is covered in unique kitchen accessories, notions, linens and gifts. The walls are lined with professional bakeware, pots, pans and even a South Carolina-based line of canned foods and preserves, Lowcountry Produce (I bought my parents the sweet potato butter and apparently it is divine!). As you head towards the back of the store, island-style merch tables are filled to the brim with seasonal or themed merchandise. At the time of my visit, there were numerous holiday tables with some of the most delightful and cheery cooking and baking supplies imaginable. They have a fabulous assortment of aprons in a variety of fabrics, and if you tilt your head down, you'll see the cutest and sweetest rack of child-size aprons too! I had to step away before I ooed-and-awed my way to complete embarrassment! There is a substantial assortment of bar accessories, from what I recall...certainly enough to satisfy just about anyone. The back of the store boasts a thorough and inviting collection of cookbooks, food memoirs and theory/history. This is also where they stash some of the fun and quirky kitchen accessories.
The staff at Hill's Kitchen told me that their claim to fame, thus far, is their collection of state (and territory) cookie cutters. On an enormous rack at the bottom of the staircase, you will find an alphabetically arranged collection of high quality cookie cutters in every state in the USA, plus a decent assortment of basic shapes. Scattered throughout the store are mini cookie cutters in every theme imaginable, too. As someone who is seriously pondering the prospect of collecting cookie cutters, this was both a dream and a dangerous discovery. I picked up Virginia, Massachusetts and DC cookie cutters so our family is well represented when it comes to roll out cookies.
The most exciting thing about Hill's Kitchen, after the genuinely kind and helpful staff, is that their prices are completely reasonable. Unfortunately I was ill-prepared to take notes during my trip, but being intimately familiar with the Williams-Sonoma catalog has prepared me for the reality of cookware prices. And I must say that Hill's Kitchen, being an independently-owned and operated shop, has managed to make their prices accessible to DC's varied pocketbooks. No, we don't all need gourmet potato ricers or disposable Euro-style sweetbread sleeves. But if we're looking for something fun, fancy or the slightest bit utilitarian for our kitchen adventures, I highly recommend supporting this fledging shop!