Need to get out of town for a weekend? This column highlights food vacations you can explore in your two days off of work. For more getaways, check out our archives.
The only thing elected officials in Washington, D.C., tackle less than good governance is the capital’s booming dining scene. Here, it’s easier to get a table at some of the nation’s best bars and restaurants than it is an appointment with your local congressman. Ride the Acela to its southern terminus for the weekend, and you’ll find can’t-miss outposts from a bastion of New York-unfriendly celebrity chefs, including Jose Andres, Michel Richard, and Wolfgang Puck; the most succulent lard-fried chicken; and a row of historic Shaw storefronts turned cocktail bars.
And everything’s easily accessed, even if you have minimal skill in navigating the Metro. Forget about Zipcar and stick to the rails all weekend long. You’ll speed through architecturally beautiful stations on color-coded lines that are nowhere near as challenging to navigate as the inscrutable Kubrick-like monolith from which you’ll purchase a Metro day pass.
Start your morning riding the Red Line from Union Station to Farragut North. If it’s caffeine you’re after, head a few blocks south to ME Swing Co (1702 G Street NW, 202-628-7601), a true local legend that’s been roasting beans opposite the White House for nearly a century.
For something more substantial, walk a few minutes north of Farragut, toward the Phillips Collection, for the neighborhood’s heartiest acronyms. GBD (1323 Connecticut Avenue NW, 202-524-5210) stands for Golden Brown Delicious; it fries up dishes like petite buttermilk-battered boneless chicken thigh, served with a touch of heated honey on a light crème fraîche biscuit. You’ll also find square-shaped filled doughnuts more swollen than New York’s Doughnut Plant; opt for the Cocoa Krispie-sprinkled variation plumped with chocolate pudding.
You could also sit down next door at DGS Delicatessen (1317 Connecticut Avenue NW, 202-293-4400), which predates New York’s current modern Jewish cooking boom. It serves cold cured lox with Montreal bagels, pastrami schmeared with chopped liver or shredded over sauerkraut-smothered fries, and rare roast beef sandwiches swiped with horseradish sauce.
Brunch is best near the Smithsonian. Ride the Blue Line to Federal Triangle, and you’re a short walk from Central Michel Richard, Jose Andres’s Jaleo, and The Source (575 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, 202-637-6100), where Wolfgang Puck executive chef Scott Drewno’s earned a well-deserved reputation for his weekend dim sum brunch inside the Newseum’s glass box dining room.
Make a meal of five to eight plates, like lacquered duck buns and as many fish a wok can blister, and begin the day drinking with a Chesapeake bloody mary stacked with spicy Maryland crab meat. Small plates dominate the tables at Jaleo (480 Seventh Street NW, 202-628-7949), too, where pitchers of mimosas and dishes of “liquid olives” wash down tapas like fried eggs with caviar.
While The Source’s brunch is Saturdays only, Sunday belongs to Central Michel Richard (1001 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, 202-626-0015), where a $25 three-course prix fixe includes colorful classics like a passionfruit crème brûlée french toast as precursor to the chef’s classic fried chicken and waffles. That these dishes never found a place on the menu in New York, or acceptance in Atlantic City, is a conspiracy on a par with any House of Cards subplot, especially when bottomless booze is only an additional $10.
If you’d rather have a walking tour of small plates for lunch, ride the Blue Line to Capitol South and go door to door between Spike Mendelsohn’s trio of joints, including We, The Pizza and Bernaise, along Pennsylvania Avenue SE. Good Stuff Eatery (303 Pennsylvania Avenue SE, 202-543-8222) continues to thrive, undaunted by Shake Shack; it remains a presidential favorite. And while it’s possible to find the Colletti’s Smokehouse Burger locally (on the menu at Colletti’s own restaurant, VB3 in Jersey City), Good Stuff’s the only place you’ll find brown bags of fat and greasy onion petals and a proper burnt marshmallow milkshake.
When the sun’s set on your afternoon plans, start your evening at the Metro Center station to explore two of the city’s most poorly kept secret addresses.
At newly opened Boss Shepherd’s (513 13th Street NW, 202-347-2677), chef Jeremy Waybright fries the city’s finest chicken. Under a crisp, flaky, and visibly salty crust lies sweetly succulent lard-fried poultry. It’s stacked high on a chopping block with crunchy wax beans and a warm biscuit baked with Mangalitsa pig lard. Despite being only months old, the clubbiness of the basement, and two-handed shakes from navy-blazered hosts, make the space feel like a timeless city staple.
Slightly older yet generations more modern is Jose Andres’ Barmini (855 E Street NW, 202-393-4451), the more accessible offshoot of his six-seat tasting counter Minibar. It’s not too difficult to acquire two seats early in the evening here, and you can’t start exploring the bar’s 100+ cocktails early enough. Look for new, seasonal additions like the Carmen Miranda, which features three ounces of potent banana and cinnamon bourbon, infused sous-vide, which gives the drink a fuller body than the banana-infused liquors you’ll find back home at Booker & Dax and American Cut.
It’s also possible to create your own tasting menu here, with low-priced small bites like the “foieffle.” A waffle version of Daniel Boulud’s pommes dauphine, it’s two bites of airy, hollow Belgian waffle essence, holding its weight under foie gras, peanut butter, and honey.
End your trip by taking the Red Line to Shaw and discovering one of the country’s most overlooked American landmarks: the rumored birthplace of Atlantic Records. Derek Brown’s trio of acclaimed cocktail bars Eat the Rich, Southern Efficiency, and Mockingbird Hill (1843 7th Street NW, 202-316-9396), are housed in the building once known as Waxie Maxie, a ’40s record store where Atlantic founder Ahmet Ertegun first learned the record business from owner Max Silverman. Together, they formed their first record label.
Each bar’s musically influenced, and each serves inspired drinks to match. Eat the Rich, named for a Motörhead song, constantly adds drink specials for metal bands touring through town, like a rye-and-Campari Unholy Passion served in a citrus ash-smeared glass; it was inspired by Danzig band Samhain. Southern Efficiency is rollicking. It pours potent, sweetly smoked Coke-and-whiskeys. Mockingbird Hill draws its name from the Clash song “Spanish Bombs.” Five bucks gets you the house special, a glass of Fino Sherry with a finger bowl of pickled garlic juice.
You can follow Adam Robb on Twitter, @lifevicarious.