I went to Eatonville with low expectations. A friend who had already tried Eatonville described it as “Disneyland-esque dining”–just substitute Zora Neale Hurston for Mickey Mouse. Other reviewers found the food disappointing and impersonal. Despite the mixed reviews, I was still curious about Eatonville. I am a longtime fan of Eatonville’s owner, Andy Shallal, who started the popular Busboys and Poets right across the street. Plus, I’d never eaten at a literary themed restaurant before. So on a cold wintery Friday night, I decided to venture out to U St. and give Eatonville a try.
Eating at Eatonville was probably the best decision I’ve made in a long time. Once inside the restaurant’s whimsical dining room, I felt as if I had been transported somewhere else. Maybe not Eatonville, FL (the town where famed author Zora Neale Hurston grew up and where the restaurant gets its name), but definitely away from all the hustle and bustle outside. Eatonville’s walls are covered with bright and funky murals, which stretch from the floor all the way to its high ceilings. Old-fashioned crystal chandeliers add to the dramatic effect. Other details, such as the worn wooden fences surrounding some tables and the drinks served in mason jars, make the Zora Neale Hurston theme fun and whimsical rather than gimmicky.
My date and I decided to eat at the bar upstairs, as there was over an hour and a half wait for a table. The bar ended up being just great–it serves the exact same menu as downstairs, has comfortable tables and chairs to dine on, and features live jazz on most nights. The menu was very reasonably priced, with only one entree costing over $20. We ordered the gumbo ($8), mac and cheese ($5), sweet potato and andouille sausage hash ($5), pecan crusted trout ($16), and corn muffins ($2). Needless to say, we ordered a LOT of food.
And we ate nearly all of it–the food was that good. The gumbo was intensely smoky and subtly spicy, spiked with crab meat, shrimp, and andouille sausage. For me, the dish was a bit too rich and I could only eat about half, but then again, I don’t consider myself a gumbo connoseiur. The mac and cheese, on the other hand, was heavenly right down to the last bite. Creamy and comforting with loads of melted cheddar cheese, it was the perfect antidote to a cold winter night. The pecan crusted trout was well cooked and the pecans really complemented the flavor of the fish. While the sweet potato and andouille sausage hash was just ok, the corn muffins–priced at only $2–were phenomenal. Buttery and sweet, just like they make it in the South (according to the Southern gentleman I was with).
By the end of our meal, we were too full to even think of getting dessert, but we will definitely come back to try the oatmeal pecan pie and apple crisp. Service was welcoming and helpful, though spotty at times when the bar got busy (our waiter was also one of the bartenders). Nevertheless, I think Eatonville is a welcome addition to the U St. corridor. The owner, Andy Shallal, has outdone himself once again.
2121 14th St. NW
Washington, DC 20009