Post Content
Mango Mike Anderson in Del Ray (staff photo by James Cullum)

He’s not remotely Irish, but Alexandria restaurant owner “Mango” Mike Anderson is the grand marshal of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Saturday.

A local celebrity of sorts, Anderson will lead the parade down King Street and to the reviewing stand on Royal Street in the heart of Old Town.

“I have been devoted to Alexandria for more than 50 years, not only as a homeowner but as a business owner,” Anderson said. “I hear there’s going to be 25,000 people there. It’s just terrific to have this kind of honor. I truly consider Alexandria to be my hometown.”

Turns out that this is the second consecutive parade where Anderson is the grand marshal, since he’s a Living Legend of Alexandria. All of the Living Legends were honorary parade marshals at the George Washington Birthday Parade earlier this month.

“Alexandria is the greatest,” Anderson said. “You’ve got history, proximity to the nation’s capital, and the great variety of people who live in the city. Almost everybody who lives in Alexandria is pretty passionate about it, which you can see at the city council meetings. This stuff creates a great community, and I also happen to be a proud member of this city’s restaurant community.”

Anderson is co-owner of the Homegrown Restaurant Group, which includes Pork Barrel BBQHoly Cow Del Ray, Del Ray’s pop-up bar, Whisky & OysterSweet Fire Donna’s and Tequila & Taco. He moved to Alexandria in the early 1970s and opened his first restaurant, Irish-themed Shooter McGee’s in 1979. He later owned and operated the Caribbean-themed Mango Mike’s in the West End for nearly 20 years.

Bill Blackburn is Anderson’s partner, and said that he doesn’t like to do things small, or simply.

“One of Mike’s favorite sayings is, if you’re going to be a bear, be a grizzly,” Blackburn said. “I think he lives by those words. He doesn’t like to do anything small. From 30-foot-tall palm trees at Mango Mike’s to 30-foot tall Christmas trees in Del Ray, he’s always going bigger.”

Anderson, who is married to Donna (of Sweet Fire Donna’s), is known for creating outlandish spectacles, including scouting for the Del Ray Christmas tree by air (he’s a pilot and owns two small planes) and paying for it to get cut down, delivered and erected every year. His itch to open new restaurants is tempered, he says, by the seasonal transformations at the Del Ray pop-up bar. Right now it’s an Aspen-themed ski lodge with a gondola parked out front.

Few city events, however, are as spectacular as a parade, and Anderson said that he was always jealous of Pat Troy, the founder of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and owner of the now-closed Ireland’s Own bar in Old Town.

“I was always pretty jealous of Pat,” Anderson said. “He was able to put together this terrific parade that’s transcended him and has lasted 41 years. I’m just so pleased to be a part of it this year.”

The Ballyshaners announced Anderson as parade marshal in January.

3 Comments

There’s nothing like numbing your aching body with a hot toddy after a long day on the slopes.

That’s the vibe that the owners of the Aspen on the Avenue popup (2312 Mount Vernon Avenue) have in mind. There’s a two-seat gondola parked outside the restaurant and bar greeting customers as they walk into a warm environment with a fake fireplace, a fake brick wall, lots of skis and two giant backlit photos of idyllic snowy scenes.

“Our gondola doesn’t go to Arlington,” joked popup owner Bill Blackburn of the Homegrown Restaurant Group. “It doesn’t go anywhere, but it’s great for selfies.”

“Mango” Mike Anderson, who owns the popup with Blackburn, found the gondola for sale at HomeGoods in Potomac Yard.

The popup is located between HRG’s other Del Ray restaurants, Pork Barrel BBQ and Holy Cow. It was previously The Sushi Bar for eight years before closing at the end of 2021. Since then, the space has changed concepts as a popup every few months.

“We get to create new concepts and decorate new restaurants and brands without having to deal with the back-of-the-house regulatory, mundane stuff that comes with opening a new restaurant,” Blackburn said. “I think it keeps us fresh.”

The bar menu includes craft cocktails, like the ski lemon meringuetini, a concoction made from Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Meyer lemon, Grand Marnier, lemon curd, Simple and brulee meringue, which is toasted at the bar with a torch. There are 11 appetizers on food menu, the most filling of which is the chicken chili bread bowl — Pork Barrel BBQ’s white chicken chili served in a bread bowl.

The seasonal popup will be open until late March and will reopen as a new concept in early April, Blackburn said.

Aspen on the Avenue is open Sunday to Wednesday from 4 to 10 p.m. and Thursday to Saturday from 4 p.m. to midnight.

11 Comments
Benny Diforza’s Pizza at 1504B Mount Vernon Avenue in Del Ray (staff photo by James Cullum)

New pizza restaurant Benny Diforza’s (1504B Mount Vernon Avenue) has been popular since opening last week. The restaurant was well attended this weekend, and according to an application with the City of Alexandria, there could be more space for diners soon.

Benny Diforza’s is part of a Benny’s Pizza chain with locations across Virginia, the Carolinas, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wyoming.

The application said the restaurant is opening to add 8-10 seats out in front of the restaurant.

There’s currently limited seating (15 seats) inside the restaurant; where the kitchen fills most of the building.

The application also noted that the Benny Diforza’s could be selling beer and wine soon, pending an ABC permit.

8 Comments
Stracci Pizza at 106 Hume Avenue in Del Ray (via Facebook)

Washingtonian recently included three Alexandria restaurants in their food critic’s list of 19 favorite pizzas right now.

Washingtonian’s Executive Food Editor Ann Limpert included in her list “Stracci Bianca” at Stracci Pizza (106 Hume Avenue), the vodka pizza at Emmy Squared (124 King Street) and the white clam Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana (3231 Duke Street).

According to the Washingtonian review of Stracci Pizza:

This Del Ray gem makes its own stracciatella cheese—hand-pulled mozzarella soaked in cream—and it’s best shown off on this Roman-style white pizza, simply accented with olive oil and flakes of Maldon salt.

According to the Washingtonian review of Emmy Squared, which also has two locations in D.C.:

The thick, soft, Detroit-style pizzas from this Brooklyn transfer can be a little…extra. This version is relatively straightforward—just sweet, creamy vodka sauce, basil, and pecorino. The sauce is also good on the Big Ang, which adds ricotta, Italian sausage, and banana peppers to the party.

According to the Washingtonian review of Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana:

I’ve lined up outside this century-old New Haven institution for its coal-fired sheet-pan pizza countless times. And now there is one at Westfield Montgomery Mall! And in Old Town! This particular pie—one of their most famous—is thin, crispy, garlicky as hell, and loaded with fresh clams.

Image via Facebook

8 Comments

Got dinner plans for Super Bowl Sunday? Benny Diforza’s 28-inch pies will be available in Del Ray starting this week.

The restaurant has been in the works since last summer in the former home of Sicilian Pizza at 1504B Mount Vernon Avenue. Manager Hayden Ko says the restaurant is waiting for one more permit approval from the city before the pizza oven gets fired up. She also said that the restaurant will open this week.

“I’m really excited to start working,” Ko said. “I have 15 employees and last week and we had a staff dinner with their families, and it was great to meet everyone and get the vibes up.”

The restaurant is well known for selling 28-inch pies that go for $5 to $6.50 per slice.

Benny’s first opened its Blacksburg location in 2011, and now has dozens of locations throughout Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wyoming. Each location has a different last name, with Del Ray’s Diforza literally translating to “of strength.”

According to the Benny’s website: “Order a whole pie and feed 2 families. We limit our toppings and we don’t count pennies so everything stays simple.”

14 Comments

Old Town Deli at 109 N. Washington Street will be joining the regional chain Capo Italian Deli sometime over the next month.

A special use permit was filed with the City of Alexandria to rebrand the deli as Capo Deli. The Alexandria location will be the second Capo Deli location in Virginia after one in Tysons.

The application said there will be few other changes at the site, just interior painting and new flooring/tiling.

The Capo Deli menu features a mix of cold and hot subs with a variety of Italian meats, along with salads, Italian pasta dishes and meatballs.

Old Town Deli owner Andrew Seligman told ALXnow the plan is to convert the restaurant to a Capo Deli at some point in the next 30 days or so, depending on when the special use permit is approved.

Photo via Capo Italian Deli/Facebook

13 Comments
George and Martha Washington ride in the George Washington Birthday Parade in Old Town, Feb. 21, 2022 (staff photo by James Cullum)

George Washington’s history with cherries will be honored this month, as 18 Alexandria restaurants will compete in this year’s GW Cherry Challenge.

The challenge, which is sponsored by George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate, pits the restaurants against each other to create the best “cherry-oriented appetizer, entrée, beverage, or dessert,” according to the city.

The challenge ends at the city’s annual George Washington Birthday Parade in Old Town on President’s Day, Feb. 19.

“This unique event helps generate buzz for Alexandria restaurants, encourages chefs to get creative, and boosts customer traffic,” said Kristen Eastlick, GW Birthday Celebration committee member and chair of the event. “The #GWCherryChallenge lets us offer a tasteful event that keeps George Washington’s memory alive in his hometown. We’re thrilled that historic Mount Vernon has graciously sponsored this whimsical event.”

When George Washington turned six, he was caught red-handed chopping down his father’s cherry tree. Legend says that his father angrily asked him what happened, and the future president said: “I cannot tell a lie…I did cut it with my hatchet.”

Here’s how it works:

Diners—whether dine-in or take-out—will receive QR codes to vote electronically for their favorite cherry entries based on three criteria: taste, presentation, and creativity. Diners will rate each item from one to three cherries for a maximum score of 9 on each ballot. Point totals for each dish are divided by the number of ballots to get the average score. The highest average in each category wins.

Participating restaurants:

Guests are also encouraged to share photos and descriptions of the cherry items on Instagram or X with the hashtag “#GWCherryChallenge” or by posting them to the George Washington Birthday Celebration’s Facebook page.

4 Comments
Dish at Nasime (photo via Nasime/Facebook)

Two Alexandria restaurants were ranked in Washingtonian’s The 100 Very Best Restaurants in Washington, DC.

At number 15 on the ranking was Japanese restaurant Nasime at 1209 King Street.

Washingtonian’s review said:

This unassuming Old Town storefront houses one of the area’s most underrated and best-value Japanese restaurants. Chef/owner Yuh Shimomura works the kitchen solo, turning out a seven-course $95 feast for no more than 20 diners at a time. Seasonal hits might include yuba-wrapped sea bass in dashi with slippery nameko mushrooms, but the menu always features pristine sashimi (with tongue-tingling “buzz button” flower, when available). The meal culminates in a bubbling pot of noodle soup, recently with oysters and matsutakes. The $60 sake pairing is a generous deal.

Only the Top 25 spots on the list were ranked, but Americana restaurant Virginia’s Darling (277 S Washington Street) also made the top 100 list.

According to the Washingtonian review:

“Our nightly dinner party” is the tag line at this Old Town wine bar, adjacent to owner Nicole Jones’s daytime cafe, Mae’s Market. Indeed, the mood in the dining room is low-key and convivial, and the wine list, which highlights women makers, is written in a breezy, conversational tone. Snack on salt-and-vinegar pistachios, charred dates, or an abundant charcuterie board, then move on to larger plates, which include a hefty “Frenchie” burger on an English muffin and an extra-lemony sole meunière that was so good we convinced the neighboring table to get it.

Alexandria had one fewer than Arlington, which had three locations. There were ten restaurants on the list in Fairfax County.

6 Comments
Hops n Shine (photo via Hops N Shine/Facebook)

Del Ray/Arlandria bar Hops N Shine (3410 Mount Vernon Avenue) is celebrating its five-year anniversary tomorrow (Saturday) with live music, craft activities, and a local beer tasting.

The bar’s anniversary party is scheduled to run from 1-8 p.m. on Saturday, with arts and crafts for kids from 1-6 p.m. and live music from 2-6 p.m.

The event listing said it would include sample beers from Lost Rhino, Dynasty, City State, Cigar City, and Oskar Blues as well as a selection of new sandwiches.

The bar launched in 2019 and became a staple of the Arlandria/Del Ray area with events like packed trivia nights.

It’s occasionally been a victim of its own success in the past: facing scrutiny from the Planning Commission and backlash from neighbors over noise violations.

Photo via Hops N Shine/Facebook

4 Comments

Update at 3:35 p.m. — The Interstellar Influencer commemorates the Chesapeake Bay impact crater, not the Chicxulub crater 35 million years earlier that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs

Earlier: The asteroid collision 35 million years ago will be the latest public art at Alexandria’s Waterfront Park.

“Interstellar Influencer (Make an Impact)” will be formally unveiled in March and will be on display at the foot of King Street until November. It’s the sixth temporary installation at the site, and is being created by artist Jason Klimoski and architect Lesley Chang of New York City-based STUDIOKCA.

“At the foot of King Street on the shore of the Potomac River, an interstellar collision that took place not too far away and not too, too long ago between an asteroid and our planet is about to re-appear,” the city’s Office of the Arts announced. “Interstellar Influencer uses metal, water, and light to create a 1:1000 scale representation of the asteroid and the 85-kilometer-wide, 1.5-kilometer-deep crater it left behind that helped to shape the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed and the flow of water through its rivers and tributaries in the process.”

The installation will kick off Alexandria’s 275th birthday celebration programming, it was announced at Visit Alexandria’s annual meeting on Monday.

Chang said she wants the installation to “raise awareness of the fragility of our shared existence on this planet and the extraordinary (and sometime extraterrestrial) foundation of our modern cities and waterways.”

Klimoski said that we all live within the history that has shaped the planet.

“Sometimes you have to look at it from the point of view of an asteroid hurtling through space 35,000,000 years ago to appreciate just how incredible it is we’re here at all,” he said.

Alexandria’s 275th birthday, also known as ALX275, will mostly be recognized from April through mid-September.

According to Visit Alexandria:

The opening of waterfront public art installation Interstellar Influencer (Make an Impact)kicks off the 275th anniversary programming in the spring. Then, look forward to special editions of the 2-day Portside in Old Town Summer Festival in June, which features the ALX Jazz Fest, and the Alexandria City Birthday Celebration with fireworks over the Potomac on July 13.

Alexandria’s award-winning Port City Brewing Company will produce an original hoppy Pale Ale called ALX275, brewed with 275 lbs. of hops, that will be served on draft at the Portside Festival, at Port City’s Tasting Room and Old Town Pub Crawl and at more special events from April through September. Also in September, the 275th anniversary festivities include events for the 10th anniversary of the Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery Memorial and the 50th anniversary of the Torpedo Factory Art Center.

New exhibits include Alexandria Archaeology’s “The Buried Ships of Robinson Landing” with scale models of the three excavated ships at a temporary new waterfront gallery space. The Alexandria Black History Museum’s Moss Kendrix exhibit will honor the nationally significant visionary who revolutionized how African Americans were depicted in the media in the mid-20th century. The special collection of artifacts will demonstrate how the D.C.-based advertising and public relations pioneer transformed the advertising industry, paving the way for the diversity of actors and models who today are featured throughout marketing creative. Meanwhile, Historic Alexandria’s oral history exhibition, “Mapping Alexandria: Stories of a Changing City,” is coming to The Lyceum in June. Interactive features of the exhibition include a story kiosk where the public can record and upload their own oral histories, an interactive map and more.

26 Comments
×

Subscribe to our mailing list