When Andy Shallal told me he was opening a restaurant inspired by Zora Neale Hurston, I was more curious as to how a companion to Busboys and Poets (named after Zora’s old poet pal Langston Hughes) would size up. Would there be a stage for folk stories? A wall of hat racks? Blues guitarists. Why wasn’t I thinking food? Well, by the time Andy started auditioning chefs, he asked me to meet with the candidates and talk about Zora the woman and writer and inspirations for food. Then I started getting hungry.
Long story short (and a longer story is in the works), Eatonville is now open for eaters. Having participated in the chef judging, I thought I’d bring the restaurant into the Big Read – D.C. with a food tasting. Afterall, Georgia native Carson McCullers was a southern writer, right? Any excuse to eat good food. Zora Neale Hurston was D.C.’s first Big Read author in 2007 and the city read of Their Eyes Were Watching God. Zora attended Howard University. In fact our group was seated in the Hilltop room not far from the mural that pays tribute to Zora’s Howard days and the student newspaper – “The Hilltop” – she named.
With so much going on in DC, it’s hard to bring in an audience even for a free food tasting at a new restaurant. All I have to say is whoever bagged out missed it! Whoever wasn’t paying attention, better for us. We felt like queens — like Zora. She was the life of the party afterall.
But enough about Zora. What about the food? Rusty Holman of North Carolina is the new chef. Our tasting plate included 3 cheese macaroni and cheese, fried green tomato, mushroom loaf, and Vidalia Onion, Tomato and White Cheddar Tart. After a sit down chat with owner Andy Shallal and a moment with the chef (his first big day on the job), Andy invited us to taste the deserts. No argument there. More applause. In came plates and bowls of berry cobbler, lemon mousse, chocolate mousse, almond pound cake, and bread pudding with sauce.
We’re already making plans for a return visit. In fact we started ordering more food on the spot just to taste – Gumbo, Hushpuppies, Collard Greens. I’m returning for an Oyster Po’ boy.
To be continued. The Eatonville experience has peaked my interest in exploring what is Southern cooking? What have I abandoned for convenience sake knowing that a whole generation who fed me the love from their kitchens have moved on to join the ancestors.
Time to step it up and do what Zora did. Collect and preserve the culture. Pass the gingerbread and buttermilk.
Enjoy the pics!
2121 14th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20009
Currently open for dinner only.