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Happy Birthday, Lavagna

Lavagna Ristorante Italiano, located on Barracks Row, turned 1 year old Monday night. The celebration had all the ingredients of the best first birthday parties: proud parents, old friends and plenty of alcohol.

In addition to serving up free celebratory food and beverages, the bistro premiered its new locally sourced menu. Offerings came from farms in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Patrons packed in the two-story establishment, which, despite a modestly sized storefront, houses the facilities to cure its own meat, brew its own booze and process its own preserves. A pork chop smoked on the sidewalk lured passersby, converting Eighth Street into an upscale block party.

For chef Darren Maas, who joined Lavagna three months ago, the hyperlocal menu represents the realization of a culinary vision.

“When you support your community, the schools and infrastructure improve. When you support your local farm, the quality of the food goes up,” Maas said. “Our food is starting to get better not because I’m a better chef, but because our stuff is better-sourced.”

Owner Stephen Cheung opened Lavagna after working for his parents at nearby Fusion Grill for almost 30 years. His concept for Lavagna was to keep things “simple and fresh.”

Almost everything served at Lavagna is made in-house, from the mayonnaise to the basil bitters. The only items they do not make are Italian spices and canned tomatoes. The menu changes frequently to accommodate the freshest ingredients and seasonal availability.

Maas notes that he also draws inspiration from traditional Italian dishes. “It’s local sources served in an Italian way,” he said.

On Monday night, that meant mini meatballs, artichoke bruschetta, fettuccine Bolognese and rigatoni pesto. Cheung said some of his favorite items on the new menu are the Potomac River Rockfish and Chesapeake Catfish.

The smoked pork with caramelized onions and polenta was the smash hit of the night. “I promise it’s worth every second you wait,” one diner said to those waiting on the line that spilled onto the sidewalk. We tend to agree.

Lavagna is located at 539 Eighth St. SE.

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