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.
Everyone’s talking about “The Wire” these days, a show that only recently wrapped up its run on HBO. DVD sets are on the shelves ready to buy or ready to fly into your mail box courtesy of Netflix.
Articles and interviews about “The Wire” are all over the place. Here are a few:
Bill Moyers Journal (April 17)
The New York Observer – “Should Literary Novels Be More Like ‘The Wire’” (April 21)
The Guardian UK – “Newspapers Last Bastion Against Political Corruption says David Simon.” (March 27)
New York Times – “Modern Love – Down to The Wire” (April 19)
I’ve gotten to know, in one way or another, some writers and actors from “The Wire” and the team that seems to stick together from one David Simon gig to the next. Undercover Blackman aka David Mills is one of these people.
As I see it, what keeps the group connected to real people and in some ways “humble” compared to most production teams working out of the Hollywood factory, is that they are not wedded to or in most cases living in Hollywood. “The Wire,” “The Corner,” and NBC’s “Homicide: Life on the Street” were filmed in Baltimore, MD, a city that has its own version of true grit. And if all goes as planned, the team will be returning to a new location –New Orleans that is–for an HBO series prospect titled “Treme,” another creation of David Simon’s. These creatives also share a few other characteristics: they were journalists (i.e. newspapers, print media); and graduates from the University of Maryland. I always say, pick your schools based on alumni network patterns. Best of all, you can talk to them about a lot of things and not just television, the movie deal, or back scratching.
This Saturday, George Pelecanos, a writer and producer for the series and part of the “Treme” team will be speaking at the Big Read – D.C.’s kick-off event (11 am, Gallaudet University, 800 Florida Ave., NE – DC). Call it coincidence that “The Wire” is out there without even being on the air. I’m producing this event and am project director for the Big Read – D.C., so listen up!
The Big Read – D.C. is part of the national initiative called The Big Read presented by the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and Arts Midwest. They support cities, towns, etc. nationwide to launch community readings of a single book (you know the routine — Oprah Book Club, One Book/One Chicago, Center for the Book). D.C.’s book is The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers and the events are presented by the Humanities Council of Washington, DC and the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities with the support of local community partners.
George Pelecanos will be at the kick-off as well as the DC Commission’s Larry Neal Awards presentation (May 8), and reading from his new book, The Way Home, at Politics and Prose (May 14).
Apparently, a writers life does rise above just being a bird on a wire.
Update: Today’s (4/23/09) Washington Post District Weekly’s front page features The Big Read – D.C.