Somehow, in my entire life, I had somehow neglected to ever get to our nation’s capitol. This little situation was rectified recently when I landed for the wedding of friends of mine. Tracey, another college friend of mine, was excited to take this moment to show me the food of the area. So, I have to admit, I walked by the White House on the way to a sandwich shop. I did see the Washington Monument from the deck of a bar serving me drinks. My trip was not entirely void of culture, history and that thing, housed in the city, oh, yeah, our government?
That said, time was limited and the food was delicious. Ben’s is a Washington tradition, but chili poured over a hot dog is not really my type of food. Hesitantly, I agreed to go, since she was the guide. I regretted ever having doubted Tracey’s excellent taste. That is a woman who knows her food.And Ben’s? It is a place that knows their ‘half-smoke’ aka what the rest of us call a chili dog. The meat itself was what I felt really made the combination work. The whole thing was a messy proposition, with the chili soaking into the vaguely sweet, yet bland bread, transforming it into a spice-spiked but disintegrating partner of the meat. The meat held up though, like a circus strongman lifting balloon dumbbells of bun. That little snap of skin that’s required of meat in tube form was present, as was the requisite grill flavor. Sitting at the counter, we soaked in the atmosphere of Ben’s, like the bread soaked in the chili. Bustling, hustling, the staff were hard-working, but clearly proud of their handi-work and pleased with the grins and groans of enjoyment coming from us–and everyone chowing down in the restaurant.
Later that day we trekked out to a different part of town, weathering high heat and humidity to walk a mile from the nearest subway station. Again, I silently questioned the worth of this trip. Both Tracey and a number of my Twitter buddies had suggested it. But pizza? I can get good pizza anywhere. And it’s hot. And I’m sweaty. Are we there yet? Then we were there, and when I took my seat at the bar and these showed up next to me:
Right there, by my left elbow, were hundreds of anchovies, silently curing in zippy, fragrant olive oil. Clearly there was one order that I was going to make before I got any further.
The anchovies, the very same ones I was snuggling up to at the bar, were presented to me like fishy stripes amongst the rainbow of soft grilled peppers. Olive oil was in no short supply in this dish, nor in any dish at Two Amys’. Lucky for us eaters, they use a good kind, adding a light zing to everything. But next up for us was a totally different kind of fat. Possibly my favorite for eating straight up. The kind that comes from a certain adorably dirty, four legged animal. That makes an oink. Lardo! Sliced in to long ribbons, like handmade papardelle noodles at an Italian restaurant. Noodles these weren’t, though. Thin slips of meat would disappear within a mere instant of landing on your tongue, leaving only a porky memory of what once was. Lardo, cured pieces of fat back, is light in texture and rich in taste. The whole plate that came as a starter barely had a dent in it by the time our pizza arrived.
Yeah, it was as good as it looks. Somehow I remained un-bothered by the shell on clams that had to be picked apart before we could eat. The juices were immediately diluted amongst the other juices in which the herbs were afloat, from the cheese and of course the ever present olive oil.
The meal was overall incredibly good. We were a little squished in against the bar, but the advent of air-conditioning after our walk was such a relief that our own comfort was plenty mollified. The service was a little harried and flaked out–we had to wait for a knife to slice our pizza, for example. That said, as you can tell from the post, the food quality was high enough to over come any misgivings about the service.