While New York is known for being planet earth’s headquarters for dining, theater, fashion, nightlife, art, prosties, and vermin, Washington has a much different reputation. Our nation’s capital is more often regarded as being ground zero for paunchy government sell-outs, tightly-wound hill staffers in Ann Taylor sweater sets, impossible-to-navigate traffic circles, and fanny pack-wearing tourists asking directions to the nearest Legal Seafoods following a stimulating day at the International Spy Museum. Barf.
And yet, ever since I moved to the District back in 2010, NYC resto after NYC resto has opened up shop in my new city, and I’m not complaining. Hell, even one of my favorite St. Louis spots now has an outpost here. Am I that awesome that chefs simply cannot live without my patronage? Probably. Or is it the whole “President Obama spurred a DC dining renaissance thing”? All I know is that whatever impelled the Osteria Morini guys to open up shop south of the Mason Dixon line is fiiiiine by me.
Anyhoobadoobadingdong, here are a few DC offshoots of NYC superstars, which I like to think of as the mentally challenged “other sisters” of their invariably cooler northern siblings.
I was psyched when I heard that Shake Shack was opening on Connecticut Avenue about a 12 minute walk from my office. Sure, the whole thing is pretty 2008 at this point, but there’s no denying that their burgers are the dankness.
But what I loved most about the version I used to frequent near JTJ’s studio in Madison Square Park was the setting. Nothing compares to the intense gratification of a shack stack consumed al fresco (and only 25 feet from the best dog park EVER) after waiting in line for an hour in the heat of summer.
My verdict on the DC outpost? Worth trying once. After that, go for BGR up the street. Shorter wait, better selection (think lamb and turkey burgers that are actually good, not to mention the grilled asparagus), and some super amazing onion rings.
The Carmine’s on Broadway near West 90th has been a Feinberg family favorite since the dawn of time. Seriously, some of my earliest memories are of filling my pockets with handful after handful of the peppermints they keep in those huge barrels by the entrance. You know what they say… once a klepto, always a klepto. So it really felt like fate when a Carmine’s opened up in the Penn Quarter not long after I made the move to Washington.
But like Shake Shack, Carmine’s is all about setting. The one in New York is just so… New York: no menus, old salty waiters who don’t take any shit, utter cacophony, and that great old bar to tough out the long wait for a table.
The Carmine’s in DC, on the other hand, makes you feel like you’re at a run-of-the-mill banquet hall for your Italian friend’s sweet sixteen. For god sakes, they have televisions in the dining room! Don’t get me wrong – I love me some veal picatta and Carmine’s salad, but I prefer them sans-ESPN, thank you very much.
Mmmmmmmmmmm brisket. Mama like.
DC is pretty much in the South. People walk really slow, there are a lot of old school republicans afoot, and it’s so disgustingly humid in the summer that I simply choose to hibernate within the 4 square feet directly adjacent to my A/C vent from late May through mid/late September.
But if that’s the case, then where in the balls is all the goddamn barbecue?! I’ll tell you one thing – it’s not here. The lack of slow-smoked meat slathered in sauce in this neck of the woods is some serious bullshit that gets me real fired up every time I think about it, which is a lot. Can homegirl just get a decent hush puppy up in here for goodness sakes? It’s really not a lot to ask for.
Thus, a New York bbq joint had to come save us from ourselves, which is pretty pitiful. At the end of the day though, Hill Country in DC is just as good as it is up in Chelsea. I have no complaints about the unapologetically kitschy decor and unnecessarily high prices, because that’s what you get when there’s only one game in town. Now if only I could get Allen & Son to consider branching out…
Back in my glory days (i.e. COLLEGGGGEEEEEE!!!), we used to hit up a great pizza spot on the Loop called Pi. Being a 19/20 year-old girl means that it’s really difficult to go out to dinner without a cohort of at least six other 19/20 year-old girls, so places like Pi were perfect: walkable from campus, big portions you can share, decent booze selection, and lots of other people you know from school to shmooze with. Done and done.
So imagine my delight when – out of nowhere – one of my favorite St. Louis haunts magically appeared in DC! The food is every bit as good, the beer selection is even better (though that may be because Schafly is more exciting on beer lists outside of the Lou), and it’s in the perfect location for a dinner with friends and/or low-budget date when you’re seeing a movie at Gallery Place or the independent cinema on E Street. Bonus: Washington’s Pi has a great food truck for lunch on weekdays- think deep dish leftovers for three days running in the fridge at work. Si si si.