Mall Food: Where to Eat After Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert Rallies
Two cable TV comedians are coming to town to stage a rally on the National Mall, and the political establishment isn’t sure whether to laugh, cry, or declare its own irrelevancy in the presence of fake pundits who have the drawing power of Sarah Palin at an NRA swimsuit contest.
Y&H doesn’t have the bona fides to judge where on the spectrum between actual political rally and Yuksapalooza Saturday’s “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” will fall. But he does know there will be plenty of hungry out-of-towners combing through guide books and looking for advice on where to eat. The last thing you’d want, as a Jon Stewart fan, is to end up at an establishment better suited to the Colbert Nation. Thankfully, Y&H is here to help.
Below are a number of the District’s tourist-approved dining spots. Y&H has taken the liberty of labeling which ones are more suitable for Daily Show devotees and which ones cater to the church of The Colbert Report.
Celebrity chef restaurants
Washington, D.C., is the new Vegas, at least in terms of celebrity chefs, who have decided our money is as green as Sin City’s even if they can’t legally spend it on hookers here. In the past few years, Eric Ripert (Westend Bistro), Wolfgang Puck (The Source), Alain Ducasse (Adour), Michael Mina (Bourbon Steak), and Jean-Georges Vongerichten (J&G Steakhouse) have all opened up shop in the District. They have one thing in common: A Stephen Colbert-like belief in their sheer brilliance, a combination of talent and hubris that makes them think they can go into anyone’s neighborhood and take over the place.
Westend Bistro, 1190 22nd St. NW, (202) 974-4900
The Source, 575 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, (202) 637-6100
Adour, 923 16th St. NW, (202) 509-8000
Bourbon Steak, 2800 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, (202) 944-2026
J&G Steakhouse, 1515 15th St. NW, (202) 661-2440
Ray’s Hell Burger
President Obama has made two stops (and counting) at Michael Landrum’s Arlington patty parlor, but those trips alone do not place Hell Burger in the Daily Show camp, given Stewart’s repeated criticisms of the president. No, what does the trick is the fact that Landrum, like Stewart, refuses to align himself with any particular cause or constituency, except for one. With Stewart, the cause is comedy. With Landrum, it’s undermining the bloated economics of the restaurant industry.
Ray’s Hell Burger, 1725 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, (703) 841-0001
Busboys and Poets
Andy Shallal’s chainlet is a bastion of progressive thought and cost-conscious cooking, which alone qualifies it as a dirty little lefty hangout. But take a few steps back from the liberal vortex and peer into Shallal’s macro business plan—there are already three B&P outlets with a fourth coming to Harlem—and you see good ole capitalist empire building. Rupert Murdoch would be proud.
Busboys and Poets, 2021 14th St. NW, (202) 387-7638; 1025 5th St. NW, (202) 789-2227; 4251 S. Campbell Ave., Arlington, (703) 379-9757.
Five Guys Burgers and Fries
When announcing his rally last month, Stewart told viewers that our political discourse is dominated by loud, divisive, fringe voices on both sides. His Rally to Restore Sanity, he said, would be a chance to “Take It Down a Notch for America.” Similarly, Five Guys, the once-proud burger joint from Northern Virginia, has been taking it down a notch for America even since it started franchising across the country in 2003. Just ask the noted burgerologist Josh Ozersky, who wrote last month: “Five Guys is as bad a burger as there is.”
Check fiveguys.com for locations.
Roberto Donna may have been the original Tea Bagger. Long before those anti-tax and anti-big government zealots started mailing tea bags to the White House, Donna was staging his own revolt. The entire time he ran Bebo Trattoria in Crystal City, the chef never paid a single dime to Arlington County in meals taxes. When the authorities finally put the screws to Donna, he owed more than $156,000, including penalties and interest. Now Donna has to pay his back taxes or face jail time. Stephen Colbert himself might want to dine at Donna’s new restaurant and shake the chef’s hand for standing up to the man.
Galileo III, 600 14th St. NW, (202) 783-0083
Maybe Donna should start a food truck in D.C.? As a mobile vendor in the District, he’d have to pay only $1,500 annually in sales tax, compared to the 10 percent shelled out by the brick and mortars for their sales. That’s the kind of tax burden even Colbert could live with. But then again, these food truck operators aren’t exactly fat cats looking for tax loopholes so they can buy a second home in Tahoe for coke-and-stripper parties. Whether selling poutine (Eat Wonky truck) or Maine-style lobster rolls (Red Hook Lobster Pound truck), these vendors are the little guys, fighting the cops, the inline restaurants, and powerful political interests for their right to work the streets. Sounds almost like an immigration problem.
Birch & Barley/ChurchKey
Beer may have been invented in Mesopotamia and perfected in Belgium many centuries later, but it took good ole American ingenuity to turn the ancient craft into a (draft) arms race. Everyone knows who’s armed to the teeth in the District: ChurchKey, the upstairs bar at the beer-centric Birch & Barley. The joint has more than 50 tap arms and five ales on cask. Colbert would no doubt approve of the gratuitous stockpiling of (non-powder) kegs, laughing in the face of the mutually assured destruction they clearly represent.
Birch & Barley/ChurchKey, 1337 14th St. NW, (202) 567-2576
Old Ebbitt Grill
Old Ebbitt is indeed old. (It can trace its roots back to 1856.) It makes a ton of money annually. (It was No. 5 on Restaurants & Institutions’ Top 100 Independent Restaurants list, raking in more than $20 million.) It has played host to numerous U.S. presidents, including Ulysses S. Grant, Andrew Johnson, and Theodore Roosevelt. Likewise, Jon Stewart is old. (OK, he’s 47, old by TV standards.) He makes tons of money. (Forbes pegged his salary in 2009 at $14 million.) And he’s played host to presidents. (Well, he played host to his first sitting president on Wednesday when Barack Obama appeared on The Daily Show.)
Old Ebbitt Grill, 675 15th St. NW, (202) 347-4800
José Andrés Empire
The District’s most celebrated/prolific/motor-mouthed chef already has four restaurants in Penn Quarter, not including his chemistry experiment within a restaurant (minibar inside Café Atlantico). Andrés also has a strolling gastronomic playground in Los Angeles and plans to open two new places in Las Vegas and another in South Beach. He was profiled on 60 Minutes. GQ named him Chef of the Year in 2009. He has his own PBS series. We get it: José Andrés is everywhere. In fact, he’s almost as ubiquitous as Colbert, who still has one accomplishment that Andrés can’t touch yet: a painting of the faux pundit at the National Portrait Gallery. Curators valued the Colbert portrait to such a degree they hung it where the museum traffic is greatest—near the toilets.
Check thinkfoodgroup.com for locations
Last month, Colbert testified before a House Judiciary subcommittee that, “American farms are presently far too dependent on immigrant labor to pick our fruits and vegetables.” The solution? “Now the obvious answer,” Colbert noted, “is for all of us to stop eating fruits and vegetables.” But how about this, Stephen: Pay a visit to Founding Farmers, the Foggy Bottom restaurant owned by real American farmers. The place strives to source ingredients from “fine, high-quality, family farms,” although a Post investigation later revealed that this category broadly included salmon farmers, those scourges of the environment. No matter. Colbert’s testimony wasn’t always sincere either.
Founding Farmers, 1924 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, (202) 822-8783
Ben’s Chili Bowl
Regardless of what you think of Ben’s Chili Bowl—I’m always surprised at the vitriol this U Street NW institution can inspire—you have to respect the Ali family for its commitment to keeping their greasy spoon pure. They’ve refused offers to chain the Bowl far and wide, understanding part of what makes Ben’s great is its historic location and vibe. Regardless of what you think of Stewart’s rally on the Mall, the man himself has similar integrity, refusing to compromise his brand for the sake of any one administration. He’s on a crusade to make politics civil. I’ll raise a Ben’s chocolate shake to that.
Ben’s Chili Bowl, 1213 U St. NW, (202) 667-0909
Eatery tips? Food pursuits? Send suggestions to email@example.com. Or call (202) 650-6925.