Angry Rant from a New Yorker: If D.C. is so insufferable in the summer why do I have to go to the South for decent barbecue?

By Ben Adler

I recently went to Savannah, Georgia with my parents. There is not much of importance to see in Savannah but there are two things that make it seem like a place with high quality of life and good for a quick visit: the beautiful, historic streets and parks, and the delicious food. I have no idea how Savannah compares to the rest of the South, food-wise, as my Southern traveling experience is limited. I know I had some great barbecue on my way back from the Outer Banks in North Carolina, and some very mediocre food at the beach itself. I was also very unimpressed with the supposedly great food in Charlottesville, VA. But Savannah was exactly what I had hoped for.

Every thing I ate over several days was good. My first afternoon I got something called a summer stack cake to go with my coffee from the self-consciously “hip,” coffee bar. It featured cream and berries and was delicious. That night we went to a barbecue restaurant where I had some excellent pulled pork: part crispy, part tender, part sweet and part spicy with a hint of vinegar, all delectable. Only caveat is that the macaroni and cheese was underwhelming. I tried some of my dad’s beef ribs and was suitably impressed by the incredibly tender, juicy meat.

The next day for lunch I got a cheap brisket sandwich from a cheap local fast foody place. It lean and perfectly seasoned. I had two fancy dinners: both blended southern cooking traditions, such as buttery biscuits, with nouveau trends. I wouldn’t say I was overwhelmed by what passes for the best food in Savannah. My fish had been frozen and the artichoke and goat cheese fritters were breaded when they should have been fried very lightly. Also my duck was a little dry. But you can get an overall good meal in Savannah with as much ease as you can in D.C., and you can also get some ribs that fall right off the bone, which I had one night, along with fresh seafood at a family friend’s house.

And, for breakfast, you can go to any old diner and get some intensely satisfying fare. I’m talking about cinnamon apples and aged cheddar in an omelette — with a biscuit, of course.

Breakfast in Savannah means eggs, bacon, grits, biscuit and pancakes for under $10. As you see, it cannot be finished

As you see, it cannot be finished

D.C. has all the disadvantages of a Southern city: the summer is sweltering and there is a lack of white ethnic immigrant communities that you find in the Northeast and Midwest. Hence, no real Irish bars, pizzerias or Greek diners. You’d think the trade-off would be good Southern food and barbecue, but you would be wrong. Outside of Florida Avenue Grille and a waffle house here or there, there are very few choices. Don’t say Georgia Brown’s or Creme, I mean old school places that are cheap.


17 responses to “Angry Rant from a New Yorker: If D.C. is so insufferable in the summer why do I have to go to the South for decent barbecue?

  1. Yes! D.C. is really lacking in good Southern food options. We have no good meat and threes, for example. In addition to the places you mention, I’d as market lunch as a place that has some desirable features. And I’m excited about a place that’s supposed to be opening up near Benning Road sometime soon.

    But still. Given where we’re located and the number of Southern people here, it’s an inexplicable problem.

    btw, if you ever have a chance to go to Charleston, the food there really, really kicks ass.

  2. While I agree that we are starving for some good diner and BBQ food, we should be thankful we have such a huge variety of other things that my friends living in even Charlottesville, VA would kill to have (I have a friend who treks up here for the pho alone). Also, lest we forget, the only real Irish bars are located in Ireland and greek diners aren’t exactly clogging Manhattan. Now if you want to talk about the Jewish deli drought here, let’s get started…

  3. pomme de terre

    Ahhh, that diner picture is amazing. Checked tablecloth, laminated menu, metal creamer, styrofoam cups of sweetener, Heinz ketchup, thick white mugs for hot drinks, tall opaque plastic cups for cold ones. Perfection.

    Ben, did you drive or fly to Savannah? I just read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and it’s now on my list of places to go. It seems like it’s a just little too far for a weekend road trip (especially since I’m coming from Baltimore and not DC), but I could be wrong.

  4. I’ve had a lot of mediocre food on the Outer Banks, but over the years we’ve figured out some places that do amazing fish. (You’d think there would be more.)

    I don’t think I’ve ever been excited by food I’ve had traveling through Virginia.

  5. Pingback: Hidden DC BBQ Gems « The Internet Food Association

  6. oohs and ahhs on U street has extremely good food, but in general i would agree.

  7. I dunno, dude, that omelet looks kinda like a pancake.

  8. Ben, c’mon now:

    “There is not much of importance to see in Savannah…”

    Yeah, I know your schtick is an angry rant from a New Yorker… but you could turn it down a smidgen?

    As a Southern Jew whose parents were born and raised in Savannah, I feel the need to come to this fair city’s defense.

    The city is certainly of historical importance. And you give huge props to the laid-back and delicious current food scene. A little old school flavor, mixed with some new school soul!

    Seems like there’s plenty to see and do– even if it is just stroll about, admire Temple Mickve Israel while you digest your “kosher” cuisine from Johnny Harris’.

    Or not. Whatevs. Savannah doesn’t have to impress you. It’s happy with who it is.

  9. Mark,
    I totally loved Savannah. It’s got beautiful buildings and streets, a cool artsy vibe, friendly people, better weather than up North this time of year. All I was saying is that it isn’t like there’s a specific museum or palace like, say, Versailles or the Louvre. Hence, some might wonder why you would go there, which I’m acknowledged.

    And yes, it does seem to have a lot of Jewish people: the diner I went to actually had a bunch of Eastern European dishes on the menu, many involving kosher (or kosher-style) meats, and my parents speculated that the original owners were Jewish.

  10. Shocked and dismayed that no one has mentioned Saint’s Paradise Cafeteria, a/k/a Daddy Grace’s, as an exemplar of southern cooking AND a typical southern cafeteria, like Luby’s used to be. Also, what about b’fast at Ben’s Chili Bowl – scrapple and home fries, what else do you need?

  11. Nathan Williams

    You live in a city famously described as being of “Southern efficiency and Northern charm”. Why would you expect better of the food?

  12. @ nickdanger: I’ve never heard of that place, but you make it sound great–where is it?

  13. gotcha. thanks for clearing it up. i just had to represent for my peoples. totes understood that it’s not exactly the quintessential destination vacay, but i’ve got very fond memories just kickin’ back there… glad you enjoyed the food!

  14. go to wilson’s already. across the street from the Howard U hospital. Delicious, cheap, Southern, lots of booths.

  15. I live on Tybee Island, GA which is “savannah’s beach”. We love the fact you had such great meals while here! I’d love to know exactly where you ate- I have a vacation rental cottage business here on Tybee and am always looking for new recommendations for my guests! And if you come back,hope you’ll stay with us! looking forward to hearing the names of the restaurants!

  16. Pingback: Ben: Carolina BBQ is Unacceptable |

  17. Pingback: Hidden DC BBQ Gems |

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