Dining out is food blogger Lori Gardner’s obsession. At Been There Eaten That (beenthereeatenthat.net), she shares stories and opinions, and sheds light on the best bites in the D.C. area and cities beyond. She also has written for the local blog jewishfoodexperience.com. As a contributor to Tablet, Gardner detailed the challenges of being a foodie outside the home when you can only eat kosher, a choice her daughter made after graduating from Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School.
Gardner, 66, balances her hobby with a day job working in marketing and membership for a national organization of cancer programs. She and her husband, Todd, who works in the restaurant equipment industry, live in Silver Spring and belong to the Conservative synagogue B’nai Shalom of Olney.
What drove you to this obsession with food?
I’ve always enjoyed food and restaurant experiences were part of my upbringing. One of my favorite memories is visiting Wolfie Cohen’s Rascal House, a Jewish deli in Miami, with my parents. We never minded standing in line and waiting our turn to enjoy enormous corned beef sandwiches served with refillable bowls of kosher pickles. Some of their homemade rolls, babka and slices of cheesecake inevitably made the trip home with us.
When I got married and started taking vacations with my husband, and later my children, I drove myself crazy planning where we would dine for every meal. And pre-pandemic, my husband and I took numerous food-focused vacations in and out of the country.
From the perspective of being a non-kosher restaurant diner, what was it like having your daughter become Modern Orthodox and strictly kosher?
When my daughter became strictly kosher about 12 or so years ago, I was concerned that it would affect our relationship, because dining out is so important to me. Instead, we started taking trips where kosher restaurants were part of our plan. This led us to some great dining experiences in New York City, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Miami and Chicago.
My daughter and son-in-law lead Modern Orthodox lifestyles. If they can’t find kimchi, they’ll make it. You can adapt. I don’t think you have to think about what you’re missing out on. There’s a fabulous new magazine called Fleishigs that really explores food for kosher cooks. We’re really enjoying all the recipes and they have interesting products. So, I’m finding out more and more what you can do while keeping kosher.
What are some of your methods for picking a great restaurant to dine at?
I spend quite a lot of time doing restaurant research and culling. I read reviews in The Washington Post and Washingtonian. I talk to friends, food writers and publicists in the food community. I use Eater DC’s Essential Restaurants and hot lists as a resource as well. Most important for me is paying attention to my friends in the food community — in conversation but also through their Instagram posts. I am definitely influenced by food photos on Instagram.
What is your favorite kosher restaurant?
It’s a local food truck called Schmaltz Bros. They tend to be nontraditional when it comes to food and so I really like the creativity. They have hot pickle-brined crispy chicken sandwiches and brisket on homemade challah rolls and fried matzah balls called Matzah Puppies (like hush puppies). I’m also a fan of the shawarma at Max’s Kosher Caféin Silver Spring.
What is your favorite holiday for Jewish food?
Chanukah. My husband makes hot, crispy latkes and he experiments with a lot of different ingredients, like lox and onions and crab spice. It’s a big production because our friends and family have grown to love his latkes. I’m a recipe cook and I pick interesting, nontraditional menus for Shabbat. I’ll do Asian, Indian or Korean or Mexican and make some seasonal kind of soup. My husband makes a wonderful, very sweet challah.
Do you focus on eating healthy at restaurants and at home?
Since my husband keeps kosher inside and outside of the home, I’ve found myself ordering more fish and vegetarian dishes when we eat out so we can share food. I love how area restaurants are getting more creative with vegetables, and I’m embracing the trend. There’s also a burgeoning number of vegan restaurants in the area, many of which are kosher certified. This excites me because my daughter and son-in-law will eat at vegan restaurants.