Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Verizon Center - Washington Capitals

Loyal readers will have noticed that we've had a recent string of bad luck when eating out. Fortunately (or unfortunately for those people would prefer our rants), we've also found a few pleasant surprises in unlikely places.

The Verizon Center is the home to the Wizards (NBA), Capitals (NHL), Mystics (WNBA), and countless other events. The complex features a fantastically central location that is surrounded by recent business growth that is largely due to the Verizon Center's completion 10 years ago. Sitting at the Metro's hub (at the Chinatown stop and walking distance of Metro Center), Verizon Center anchors a bustling area of downtown that drew us to the neighborhood. Within one block of the arena you can find restaurants, bars, shops, museums, a movie theatre, a bowling alley, a hotel, a playhouse, and just about anything else you can think of... While this urban revival has relegated DC's Chinatown to "Chinablock," in the end, it is a marquee win for the city.

Now that we've described the neighborhood, join us for a look inside theVerizon Center. Once inside, it is much like any other recently completed multi-use facility. There may be nothing iconic about it but if you go to an event primarily for the architecture, there is something amiss. Think of Verizon Center as a referee that is only noticed when he gets something wrong. This is to say that the arena gets out of the way and lets the experience dictate the quality of the event.

J is fortunate to work with people who have really great season tickets to the Caps. When they can't use their tickets, she is usually the first to volunteer to take them. While not a big hockey fan, she loves arenas/stadiums and sitting a few rows from the ice makes hockey come alive.

As for me, I was indoctrinated as a hockey fan 10-15 years ago in Los Angeles, which means two things. I'm a Kings fan and I must really like the sport since winning tends to not be in the cards. The Caps, on the other hand, have been Stanley Cup contenders for the last 2 years and should continue to be among the elite for a while considering their crop of young talent. Locals have taken notice, too. With the other major sport teams suffering through lean times (need I go through it?), the Verizon Center is consistently "Rocking the Red."

On this particular night, we were lucky enough to see the Caps vs. the Devils. I'll skip the game analysis but I will say that we can someday tell our kids that we saw Ovechkin vs. Brodeur in a shoot-out. And if that doesn't grab you, throw in a good ol' fashion brawl...

So that was the fighting for the night, what about the love you ask? Well, surprisingly, we loved the food (maybe not so surprising considering who we're talking about). But seriously, most arenas serve up overpriced bar food and for the most part, Verizon Center is not different. A couple of chain restaurants and generic grills offer the usual burgers, dogs, and chicken tenders. In short, grab a meal in the surrounding neighborhood before you enter. However, we recently uncovered a few hidden gems for those looking for a quick bite between periods.

J's Favorite Big League Eats

One of my favorite parts of a night out at the ballpark or arena is the food! There's something about grabbing a hotdog or soft pretzel, and eating it at a game that always makes me smile. As we explained in our Nationals Park posts (read here and here), stadium food has been called up to the majors with local restaurants opening up shop and supplementing the standard fare.

While the Verizon Center doesn't have as many interesting options, you can find some treats mixed in. We decided on the sampler platter approach and went to 3 different non-traditional stands.

First up was The BBQ Pit and Carvery, which dishes up a special hand-carved sandwich for each game. Tonight's pick was the carved BBQ beef topped with sharp cheddar cheese. Unfortunately, I got stuck on a conference call at work and arrived at the game late. By the time I got to the Carvery, I was left with the ends of the carved roast. Nevertheless, this was a tender and juicy sandwich. The bun and potato chips were kind of blah, so I recommend sticking to the meat.

B stopped by a different BBQ cart and picked up a pulled pork sandwich served with coleslaw. This didn't do much to stand out from typical pulled pork. Nothing amazing, but pretty solid for a sports arena.

As we made our way back to our seats, we saw that local Penn Quarter restaurant D'Acqua was serving up Italian fare. According to the Washington Business Journal, they opened up shop at the Verizon Center in April of this year. Though we've never been to the original D'Acqua, we thought that an Italian-style sandwich would be a nice supplement to our sampler platter. We chose the chicken parmigiana sandwich, which was much tastier than it looks in the photo. I recommend skipping the BBQ stands and heading over to D'Acqua for a little slice of Italy - arena style.

I think B is excited that I'm getting more interested in hockey. I don't know whether it's the hockey or the promise of fun food options that will keep me coming back. The energy of the Caps faithful is pretty contagious though. By the end of the game I was cheering for fights and found myself chanting "Let's .... go ..... Caps!" Still no mullet though...

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