Washington DC

First Look: Crazy Aunt Helen's Is Capitol Hill's New Go-To Neighborhood Spot

The eclectic restaurant features all-day comfort food and decor from Miss Pixie's vintage shop.

Photo by Abdul Rahman Majeedi
Photo by Abdul Rahman Majeedi
Photo by Abdul Rahman Majeedi

Crazy Aunt Helen’s debut brings together longtime local restaurant industry folks, a beloved area antique shop, and homestyle food for a neighborhood spot that’s sure to rise to the top of your list.

The restaurant opened this week on Capitol Hill and marks Shayne Mason’s first project as a restaurant owner, although he has worked at many area restaurants and bars, including as the marketing director at Hank’s Oyster Bar and a server at Nina May and Mr. Henry’s. The comfortable, eclectic menu comes from a kitchen helmed by chef Mykie Moll, and local legend Pixie Windsor, owner of the funky Miss Pixie’s vintage furnishing store on 14th Street, designed the space.

Moll, a DC native, brings experience from local spots like Pom Pom, Doi Moi, and Mintwood Place, to the kitchen at Crazy Aunt Helen’s. Moll said he wants the dining experience to feel like you’re “eating at your grandmother’s house, where love and care are put into every dish,” and it’s evident in the slate of comforting dishes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Photo by Abdul Rahman Majeedi
Photo by Abdul Rahman Majeedi
Photo by Abdul Rahman Majeedi

On the breakfast menu, expect dishes like Bega’s Brisket, a version of his grandmother’s traditional Jewish style brisket with horseradish aioli and mashed potatoes, as well as egg and cheese sandwich versions and smoked salmon topped with goat labneh and sumac served on an everything bagel. Sweet dishes like apple fritters, donuts, and stacks of fluffy pancakes round out the morning offerings.

Later in the day, thoughtful comfort food like house-cured corned beef Reubens make up most of the menu, and there’s an entire section of plant-based dishes covering vegan- and vegetarian-friendly versions of risotto and shepherd’s pie. Moll’s dishes also reflect seasonal ingredients and iconic DC dishes, so you’ll see things like boiled peanuts with mambo sauce on the menu, as well.

Photo by Abdul Rahman Majeedi
Photo by Abdul Rahman Majeedi
Photo by Abdul Rahman Majeedi

The beverage program showcases locally made spirits, beer, and other beverages and was developed by Jo-Jo Valenzuela, the chef and owner of The Game Sports Pub and Tiki on 18th. Valenzuela was tasked with gussying up classic cocktails with items that could be “found in an old lady’s candy dish,” which led to the creation of drinks such as the Aunt Helen’s Lemon Drop, which pairs Civic Vodka with honey, lemon juice, and a citric sugar rim, and the Kiss My Sassafras with Macchu Pisco, Don Ciccio Cerasum Aperitivo, Embitterment sassafras Bitters, orange peel, and mint.

Many of the spirits behind the bar are made nearby and the beer list was curated by Right Proper Brewing Company‘s Thor Cheston and features many local breweries. Mead from Maryland’s Charm City Meadworks and DC’s ANXO cider are also available, as well as a selection of wines and non-alcoholic drinks.

Photo by Abdul Rahman Majeedi
Photo by Abdul Rahman Majeedi
Photo by Abdul Rahman Majeedi

Upon entering the two-story space on Barracks Row, you’ll see a bright magenta staircase that is oh-so Miss Pixie’s and vintage, maximalist decor, plus mix-and-match plates and coffee served in novelty mugs with sayings like “best aunt ever” and “good morning beautiful.” The restaurant seats 76 on the first floor, including 26 at the bar, and Mason plans to host theme nights on a second floor space called the Peacock Room, showcasing local performers with music, comedy, and more.

The restaurant is currently open Wednesday through Monday from 7 am to 9 pm serving breakfast, lunch, dinner, and brunch on the weekends. Reservations can be made via website.

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Aparna Krishnamoorthy is a freelance food and travel writer based in Washington DC. You can generally find her obsessing over the next meal or planning the next getaway. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter for more dining and wanderlust adventures.

Washington DC

15 Totally Free Things to Do in DC

A full itinerary, completely free of charge.

Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery
Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery
Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery

Washington DC is one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations, and for those of us who call the District home, it’s easy to see why. With dozens of world-class museums, murals that transform streets into galleries, and sites brimming with history, DC offers a full agenda-completely free of charge. Whether you want to try a new farmer’s market, explore a new hike, or polish off your roller skating or canoeing skills, here are some of our favourite free things to do in the District.

Flickr/gawnesco
Flickr/gawnesco
Flickr/gawnesco

Hike, bike, or stroll along the C&O Canal

The historic Chesapeake and Ohio Canal is one of the most accessible nature escapes from the District. Thanks to a multi-year restoration project, the first mile of the canal is an idyllic walk that’s easy to access in Georgetown. Stick to a short stroll there, or grab a bike or lace up your hiking shoes for a longer adventure along the 184.5-mile canal.

Jump on the pickleball craze

Pickleball is working its way up the ladder past kickball and softball as one of America’s favourite games. Jump on the craze and practice your paddling at one of the District’s pickleball courts in Takoma Park, the Palisades, and more. Plus, Washington DC Pickleball invites guests to drop in to beginner sessions to try their hand at the sport before signing up for a $30 annual membership.

Flickr/mcfeelion
Flickr/mcfeelion
Flickr/mcfeelion

Bike the Mount Vernon Trail

DC is incredibly bike-friendly, and luckily that applies to the land immediately outside of the city as well. Start in the city and bike along the Mount Vernon Trail, a scenic route that hugs the water and cuts through the woods. It’s about a 10-mile trip from DC to Mount Vernon, but you can cut the trip slightly short and end at the Old Town Alexandria waterfront-just make sure to factor in time for ice cream before pedalling home.

Explore a sculpture park

While not located in the District proper, Glenstone, an expansive sculpture park in Maryland, is worth the 45-minute drive. Tickets to the park are free (just be sure to reserve several weeks in advance), and the 300-acre space offers stunning art, architecture, and open land. In addition to its indoor gallery spaces, you can spend hours walking on paths that wind through sculptures, meadows, and forests.

Flickr/Geoff Livingston
Flickr/Geoff Livingston
Flickr/Geoff Livingston

See the monuments at night

When the sun goes down-and the summer humidity somewhat dissipates-head to the National Mall for the rare chance to see the monuments without busloads of tourists. Moonlight will give you a different perspective as you traverse the marble steps of the Lincoln Memorial or gaze up at the Washington Monument set aglow with lights.

Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery
Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery
Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery

Museum hop the day away

One of DC’s greatest strengths is its world-class Smithsonian museums that are open to the public free of charge. There is no shortage of options, from the intimate Renwick Gallery, to the sprawling National Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonians offer something for everyone. Pro tip: Some of the museums are open late in the evenings, making for an ideal date night.

muralsdc
muralsdc
muralsdc

Explore the city’s murals

Washington is home to hundreds of murals that are becoming as much a part of the city’s landscape as the monuments on the National Mall. Take a self-guided tour of these colourful creations no matter which neighbourhood you happen to be in. MuralsDC, the organization behind 150 of the District’s public artworks, is a great resource for mapping out a route to explore the city’s street art.

Hotel Washington
Hotel Washington
Hotel Washington

Take in a birds-eye view of the city

Washington looks pretty stunning from up high, and there are few spots within the city that make for phenomenal vantage points. Rooftop bars and restaurants offer epic views for the price of a drink or two, but there’s no more iconic sight than seeing the city from the top of the Washington Monument, which is completely free. Book a ticket ahead of time and ride an elevator all the way to the top of the monument and step out on the 500-foot observation deck.

Flickr/Nicolas Raymond
Flickr/Nicolas Raymond
Flickr/Nicolas Raymond

Wander through a garden

DC is home to some of the most beautiful urban gardens in the country, and many of them are open to the public for free. There is nothing like an afternoon spent strolling through, or picnicking, at the expansive 446-acre United States Arboretum or wandering through the Botanic Garden on the edge of the Mall. For something a bit smaller, explore the grounds at Tudor Place or Dumbarton Oaks (free in the winter), both of which are in Georgetown.

Flickr/ehpien
Flickr/ehpien
Flickr/ehpien

Hike the Billy Goat Trail

You can catch one of the District’s most popular hiking trails, the Billy Goat Trail, from the C&O canal. The full trail is 4.7 miles and ranges from easy to strenuous, so hike a section in and back or make the full loop for the variety.

Pay your respect at Arlington National Cemetery

Just across the Potomac from DC, Arlington National Cemetery is the final resting place for more than 400,000 veterans. The cemetery is an expanse of 639 hallowed acres and the ANC Explorer allows visitors to locate graves, notable sites, and take self-guided walking tours to spots including the tomb of the Unknown Soldier as well as the final resting place of President John F. Kennedy.

Lace up your roller skates

When was the last time you went roller skating? Chances are it’s been too long. So get back into this nostalgic activity at the Anacostia Park roller skating pavilion. You can rent skates for free, just show proof of a government-issued ID, and the skating pavilion is open from 9 to 5 every day.

Help clean up the Anacostia River

We all know there’s a lot of work to be done to keep our waterways clean. Do your part, and have some fun, by participating in the city’s Green Boat initiative. On select weekends, DCers can join a two-hour guided paddle along the Anacostia River to collect trash and monitor the river’s progress.

Eastern Market
Eastern Market
Eastern Market

Stroll your local farmer’s market

DC’s close proximity to the farms of Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and beyond mean that the city’s farmers’ markets always have something to offer. Check out the year-round markets like Eastern Market in Capitol Hill and the Sunday market in Dupont Circle or head to seasonal markets like the pop-up in front of the White House that draws vendors like Cucina al Volo and Call Your Mother Deli.

The Library of Congress
The Library of Congress
The Library of Congress

Play tourist all around the city

It’s easy to forget that all those traditionally touristy activities can be fun for locals too. If you haven’t been on a tour of the White House, the National Archives, the Library of Congress, or the Capitol, this is your sign. All are free with advanced reservations. Plus, tucked in the northern quadrant of NW, the Washington National Cathedral is free and open to all. Tour the cathedral’s impressive architecture, 215 stained glass windows, 112 Gothically-inspired gargoyles, and enormous pipe organ. See if you can spot the sculpture of Darth Vader.

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Madeline Weinfield is a Thrillist contributor.

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