Tag Archives: Southern

What the RAMMYs Missed

The Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington unveiled the nominations for the 2010 RAMMY awards yesterday at a swanky bash at the Ritz-Carlton. My friends Jen (at freshcrackedpepper) and Mary (the girl behind Girl Meets Food) were lucky enough to attend the event, and snapped a few delicious photos of the evening. A full list of the nominees is available here.

Not to detract from the prestige of the award, but I have to say that I am disappointed with the nominations. DC’s dining scene is way more vibrant, and way more varied, than the RAMMY list would make it seem. And I just don’t understand this city’s obsession with the Michel Richard (Citronelle, Central), Jose Andres (Jaleo, Cafe Atlantico, Zaytinya, Oyamel), and Wolfgang Puck (The Source) restaurant empires. I have yet to be blown away by a meal at any of these places.

So, what restaurants would I have nominated, you may ask? I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite restaurants, which were sadly overlooked.

Eatonville: This unique spot transports you to the whimsical world of Zora Neale Hurston with bright murals adorning the walls, vintage crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, and worn white picket fences encircling some of the tables. But the quirky-cool atmosphere isn’t the only draw; so is the food. The menu features creole and Southern comfort food at its best, and for affordable prices. Mac and cheese ooozes with butter and cheddar, gumbo exudes an intense smoky flavor, and pan fried trout sings with the addition of chopped pecans. Make sure to check out Eatonville the next time you are on U St.!

Legends: No, Legends is not “fine dining.” But it’s fresh and honest Greek food in a simple and modest (and blue and white, in traditional Greek fashion) setting. And man, those gyros. Don’t even get me started on those mouthwatering gyros.

Ray’s the Steaks: I love steaks. But as the unpaid gourmet, I don’t have the cash to eat at The Palm, or BLT Steak, or any of the other venerable steakhouses in DC. Luckily, Ray’s the Steaks offers top-notch, well-priced steaks in a casual yet upscale setting. Ray’s filet mignon au poivre is arguably one of the best versions I’ve tried: perfectly cooked with a rosy pink center, juicy and tender on the inside, with a slightly charred peppercorn crust on the outside. Plus, all steaks come with a complimentary family-style side of buttery mashed potatoes and creamed spinach. And if that were not enough indulgence, a complimentary cup of hot chocolate arrives at the end of the meal. Now that is what I call a value meal.

Asian Food (in general): Did anyone else notice the complete lack of Asian restaurants nominated? The DC Asian dining scene is not limited to Chinese takeout or mediocre chicken teriyaki bowls; there’s so much more. What about Four Sisters, the beloved Vietnamese restaurant in Falls Church? Or Sichuan Pavilion, which serves some of the most authentic mapo dofu and dan dan mian I’ve had since living in China? Or Kotobuki, the hidden sushi mecca in the Palisades with legions of loyal fans?

Eatonville: Eat Your Heart Out

Entrance to Eatonville

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.

View of Eatonville's main dining room

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.

Southern feast (**the beers come in mason jars, which can be seen in the background--so cute!)

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

(202) 332-ZORA

Eatonville on Urbanspoon