Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Busy and Broke, Pt. 2

So last night when I started my initial list of things to do in DC when the funds are low and the debts are high, I had no idea that it would become a series...and that some 12+ hours later (minus a few for sleeping, eating, etc.) I would be back at it!  Before I continue on with some cheap eating options, I thought that I would offer a brief back story of sorts.

Yesterday I was feeling stressed so I went for a walk around Haines Point, which is one of my spots for getting in some exercise during the summer.  And I got to thinking about how walking the Mall is a great way to exercise and to see the sites.  And how *free* is definitely a magic number for the Busy Black Woman on a budget who needs low-cost ways to decompress.  Lord knows that being busy all the dang time makes us crazy.  So I made a mental list of all the many ways that my fellow Busy Black Women could find to relax, relate and release. 

(Imagine if you will, Whitley Gilbert relaxing, relating and releasing :)

Thus we arrive at Part 2 to focus on cheap eating options in the city.  In our last installment, I was trying to make a case for venturing East of the River to see some of the free and/or low cost stuff there is to do and we were just speeding past the Shrimp Boat.  Which is NOT one of my recommendations for eating on the cheap.

Now this topic is not exactly my area of expertise, because unlike the husband who reads every food blog ever written, I am not that discerning when it comes to finding dining deals.  I am not one of those people who will learn of some previously undiscovered place, and then enlist the spouse in an Indiana Jones-like adventure in order to find it, even though I know that my sense of direction is, shall we say, not as keen as it should be, especially when there are plenty of perfectly good places to eat if we are unable to find it/get a table/use the discount coupon as intended.  Noooo, the BBW generally does not care--I get hungry and will settle on whatever is the most convenient place to eat. 

Still, I must concede that as the food landscape of the city has dramatically improved, it is a good idea to take advantage of our newfound bounty as often as possible.  Just a few years ago, if you worked downtown your breakfast and lunch options were limited to a certain ubiquitous coffee merchant, a few upscale lunch counter chains with sandwiches named for famous dead people, the dirty water dog carts, the weigh-your-food for $5 a pound scam, and of course the fast food court purgatory.  Dinner options were better, but they were clustered in certain neighborhoods.  However, some folks are determined to remake DC into a Los Angeles or New York foodist dream paradise, so along with plenty of new restaurants, we now have a lot more options including food trucks and hot new destination neighborhoods.

Now there are among you some very tech-savvy folks who follow their favorite food trucks on Twitter.  Well, I am not one of those people, but the BBW appreciates the spirit of these mobile food brigades and urges the more adventurous among you to check a few of them out and then report back to me with your feedback.  Clearly, I am missing something...

When it comes to cheap food options, I may not be sold on the trucks, but I am a true believer in the discount deals offered by some online coupon sites.  Once, the husband and I snagged two Jamaican dinners from a carryout for only $10!  Another time a friend and I had brunch in Dupont Circle for $25!  One deal plan offers charitable donations to local food banks, and I am all about giving back!  And can I tell you that the fabulous Inaugural BBW Hump Day Happy Hour was brought to you courtesy of a very nice discount deal?  The great thing about each one of these deals was that it led to the discovery (or rediscovery) of a new neighborhood destination, so I highly recommend that you check out Groupons, Living Social, Deals for Deeds and Bloomspot.

Now, I do not recommend that you purchase any online discount deal that requires you to buy the coupon, then spend more money in order to use, and then which adds your gratuity to the final bill.  I used one of those last week and ended up paying double for a meal that I could have skipped.  So read the fine print before you purchase!  And another word of caution--these things can become addictive.  The husband has a notebook full of them, complete with color-coding and arranged in order of their expiration dates...yeah... 

If I can also add something that is totally unexpected, do not sleep on the traditional fast food places when it comes to eating out on a budget.  Now, some folks will give you the side eye if you said that you had lunch at a certain place whose mascot happens to be a scary clown, but I bought a smoothie from them yesterday and it cost me $3 less than what I would have paid if I had gone across town to a specialty chain.  Additionally, fast food joints are adding salads, deli sandwiches and all sorts of other healthy items to their menus, so if you really are down to your last few dollars, why not?

Now there are websites and annual issues of magazines and folks who are paid to know where all of the local deals are at any given time, so if you are like the husband who needs to know where every deal is located within a 25 radius, the Washington Post, Washingtonian Magazine, the City Paper and DC Foodies are good places to start.

But the real pearl in the oyster that is DC dining on a budget comes twice a year--Restaurant Week! 

In January and August, the savvy BBW convinces her significant other or her girls to get fresh dressed like a million bucks to hit the town.  You have to dress to the nines because it is not everyday that a swanky place that regularly features a menu of courses with wine pairings, professional waiters who do not need to write down your order, and that sends out amuse-bouche samplings of caviar is going to let just anybody in.  This is the type of place where your favorite Top Chef Master or All-Star just might walk out into the dining room to inquire about your meal.  It is the type of place where jackets are required.  It is the type of place where you always have room for dessert.  It is the type of place that offers a brief peek into how the other half eats.  And it can be yours, starting at $20.11 for lunch and $35.11 for dinner.

(And I'll have to get back to you with the exact dates for DC this year, but the Alexandria Restuarant Week is scheduled for August 18-28; and the Bethesda Chevy Chase Restaurant Week is scheduled for July 18-24).

And that, ladies and gents, is a wrap for Part 2!

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