Chow Town

Nation’s capital offers diverse cultural, culinary delights

Smithsonian cafeteria cornbread, greens and Carolina pulled pork sandwich
Smithsonian cafeteria cornbread, greens and Carolina pulled pork sandwich

Not much is happening under the big dome that dominates our national capital’s downtown landscape.

A world of diverse cultural and culinary delights is happening outside the dome, however. You can sample a lot here in 4-1/2 days.

Julia Child’s gift to the planet is enshrined in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. What a delight!

Arranged exactly as it was in her Cambridge, Mass., home, Julia’s pots, pans, tools and gadgets are ready for action. America’s most loved culinary icon is featured nearby in continuous video footage of cooking sessions with celebrity chefs.

Of course that made me hungry. I found some pretty decent Carolina-style pulled pork topped with spicy slaw, sides of greens and cornbread in the Smithsonian cafeteria.

A strong sense of community and neighborhood held forth at a potluck dinner in the historic Eastern Market. Neighbors brought entrees, sides and desserts for sharing. Barry Margeson and friends served up a charcoal roasted pig.

We dined on butcher paper-covered tables adorned with gorgeous arrangements of fresh flowers under the outdoor market roof as Little Red and the Renegades treated us to “squeeze box Rock n’ Roll, Zydeco and Nawlins R&B.”

What’s not to like about visiting with interesting people while feasting on pulled pork, turkey meatballs, tabouleh salad, German potato salad, Gayle’s roasted mixed veggies, Dolmathes, chicken wings, cheese pizza, tortilla chips, salsa and Texas chocolate sheet cake for dessert?

I was honored to talk barbecue on camera with one of the neighbors, Bonny Wolf of American Food Roots.

Art is everywhere in this town and environs. We visited the Kreeger the Glenstone and the National Gallery of Art East Wing lobby, plus the Andrew Wyeth, Degas and Cassat special exhibits in the West Wing.

The food at Rasika Flavors of India was fantastic: crispy flash-fried spinach, mango shrimp, salmon tandoori tamatar, tandoori chicken, railway lamb curry, three house-made chutneys, garlic naan and more.

We had time for one local barbecue feast. I asked barbecue expert and food writer Jim Shahin at the Washington Post for advice. He suggested Hill Country and the new DCity Smokehouse.

We chose DCity. It’s a hole-in-the-wall carryout joint, and their barbecue is spot on delicious. Our oak, cherry and charcoal smoked sliced brisket, pork spareribs and rib tips were top-of-the-scale 9s on appearance and tenderness.

We knocked off a point or two on taste. No kiss of smoke; the ribs and rib tips were a bit too salty. The grainy vinegar base sauce reminds me of Arthur Bryant’s, slightly sweetened. I love it!

And like Jim said, the green chili cheddar grits are fantastic. Likewise the braised greens. Hush puppies were okay. I’d like them better with some creamed corn or chopped green chili peppers or crumbled pig cracklins in the batter.

Would love to return next month for more DCity barbecue, some Hill Country beef ribs and brisket, and the National Capital Barbecue Battle.

Ardie Davis is an iconic figure in the barbecue community. He founded a sauce contest on his backyard patio in 1984 that became the American Royal International Barbecue Sauce, Rub & Baste contest. He is a charter member of the Kansas City Barbeque Society and an inductee into the KCBS’s Hall of Flame. He has been interviewed on numerous food shows and writes for a variety of barbecue-related publications. He is also the author of a number of barbecue books, His most recent release book is “America’s Best BBQ Homestyle: What Champions Cook in Their Own Backyards.”