The Best Thing I Ate This Week: Shrimp and Grits, Fried Chicken
Washingtonian’s food team shares their favorite dishes from their past seven days of dining.
Shrimp and grits at Water & Wall
I remember having a conversation with some people in New Orleans some years ago, pre-Katrina, about Creole food outside Creole country. The idea amused them. They indulged me for a few minutes as I talked about a gumbo I liked up here, and then set about setting me right: No gumbo outside N’awlins is any good, donchaknow?
The gumbo was Ann Cashion’s, which I still love—dark as an oil slick, with a slow burn that sneaks up on you. It’d stand with some of the best versions I’ve tasted in Bayou Country.
And you know what? So could Tim Ma’s shrimp and grits.
Now, the notion that every version of every dish in the great Creole canon in that city is superior is laughable; I’ve eaten some truly wretched gumbo, étouffée, jambalaya, and po’ boys in my many travels through the Big Easy.
But that doesn’t take away anything from this fine preparation. The grits are at once coarse-grained and creamy, the shrimp have a perfect pop, and the bits of venison sausage reinforce the hearty, rustic character of the dish.
Or go to Maple Ave., in Vienna, Ma’s first restaurant, where you can find the same preparation.
Crispy shrimp po’ boy at Hank’s Oyster Bar
Whenever anyone asks me where I eat the most—not where I’d pick for a birthday or anniversary, but rather where I’d choose to go on a random weeknight when I’m not working—the Hank’s in Dupont always comes to mind. The place is as familiar as the 25-year-old Le Creuset pan that sits on my stove, or the worn-through T-shirts I’ve kept around since college. For the most part, Jamie Leeds’s New England-inspired menu has stayed the same over the years, and it is one of very few restaurants where I tend to order the same thing every time (the lobster roll; it’s excellent).
I’m not sure why I broke with the pattern when I stopped in for brunch (okay, fine, I knew there was going to be a lobster roll sitting right across from me), but I went for the crispy shrimp po’ boy instead. After a nicely fiery Bloody Mary and a delicious round of broiled, buttery Hog Island-style oysters dashed with Tabasco, the sandwich arrived. The airy roll was stuffed with plenty of fried shrimp and layered with a sweet slaw. Every bite was crunchy and tangy and somehow, despite all that fry batter, surprisingly light. I definitely stole some bites of the beloved lobster roll, but the next time I visit Hank’s, ordering will be tougher.
This has been a wonky week for dining, so I’m going to cheat slightly and mention a few experiences, including a “worst thing.” Right off the bat, the best dish I ate arrived from the kitchen at (surprise!) Rose’s Luxury. I know, we may have mentioned liking Aaron Silverman’s red-hot restaurant before. Fortunately the hype contains no hyperbole; the excitement is much deserved, and radiates throughout the restaurant in the best—and most unpretentious—way possible, from diners to staff. We had many memorable plates, both old (pork-lychee salad) and new (soft-shell crawfish and grits). My favorite falls into the former category: pickle-brined fried chicken, a perfect balance of moist and crunchy, sweetened with honey and spicy from the accompanying bottle of Krystal hot sauce.
Earlier, over the weekend, my boyfriend and I decided to check out Bar Charley’s new brunch after dropping by a few times for tasty (and moderately priced) cocktails. The deal: $23.95 for biscuits, a choice of entrée, and select bottomless drinks. The brunch rush had dwindled when we arrived, which is likely why the bar ran out of mimosas by the time we placed our order. Instead we were offered a collegiate mix of vodka, Sprite, and orange juice. Things went downhill from there. To be fair, Charley is new to the brunch game, and the bartenders can mix tasty cocktails when not trying to create faux-mosas. But the eatery opened months ago, and I’ve experienced better in week-old restaurants. Biscuits never arrived, and what did, eventually—eggs Florentine, an omelet, sliced fingerlings—was overcooked and/or cold. The waitress avoided the table until it was time to clear a nearly full plate of food and glasses of Sprite-vodka, which she did without a word before plunking down the bill. So we went to Annie’s.
Annie’s Paramount Steakhouse is one of the longest-running restaurants in Washington. It’s well established with the LGBT community, but is typically crowded with the full spectrum of locals and tourists of all orientations one finds along 17th Street. I don’t love the place for Rose’s culinary fireworks, or the funky vibe of Charley’s on a good night. It’s just a fun neighborhood restaurant. You can wrangle a group of friends for brunch—and can typically find a table—or perch alone at the bar. Al and Scott are attentive barkeeps who pour no-frills, perfectly chilled martinis and Manhattans so generous you have to sip a half inch from the bar top before daring to pick up the glass. The American menu isn’t overpriced and doesn’t over-promise, and that afternoon it delivered the perfect brunch-gone-bad remedy: a cold bottle of Prosecco, plump crabcake sliders, and a crisp wedge salad heaped with bacon and blue cheese. Sometimes the best meals are all about the experience—or, in this particular case, the absence of too much experience.
See also: Previous Best Things I Ate