Where to eat Washington DC – Old Ebbitt Grill
Almost anywhere in Washington DC, you’re steps from a piece of American history. Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband, making their first visit to this world seat of power, had a laundry list of items to do and see – Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, the reflecting pool, the Capitol building … just to name a few.
Less clear was the age old question: Where to eat Washington DC? One venue kept being mentioned in dispatches – the Old Ebbitt Grill.
Washington DC in the spring is a tough proposition for hay fever sufferers. Both Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband were suffering big time. Still, we braved the leafy streets and parks and ticked off the tourist sights. Happily, we were able to combine one such sight with a very enjoyable evening out – the Old Ebbitt Grill is a very short walk from the White House.
The Old Ebbitt Grill is Washington DC’s oldest ‘saloon’. It was founded in 1856 in an old boarding house somewhere on the fringes of the city’s Chinatown. Its present location has only been open since 1983 but it’s in an old theatre building.
The interior meticulously recreates the olde worlde style of the original and contains a lot of memorabilia associated with the restaurant over the years. Indeed, some of the animal heads on the walls were purportedly ‘bagged’ by Teddy Roosevelt – see a selection of them over the main bar, pictured at the top of this post.
We were determined to get in; we missed out being able to make an online booking, so we asked at our hotel if they could ring and plead our case. The receptionist tried to get us to visit another restaurant under the same ‘umbrella’, close to the hotel. We said that would be second prize. A few persistent conversations later, we scored a table for the next night.
The grill is a relatively big space, dominated by the long bar to the right of the entrance. Tables are a mix of booths and more flexible spaces. We were shown to a spot on the far wall.
It’s a boisterous spot. While the interior looks great, it’s not a refined restaurant. The menu is extensive but just a notch above typical diner food. We opted to share a couple of starters and then took a main course each. A rather full Cosmopolitan, made with Tito’s vodka appeared on the table (and was promptly slopped all over the tablecloth) as well as a Belgian-style IPA brewed in Maryland. It’s probably best to read the label (below). Greedy Girl doesn’t want her blog blocked by language filters …
Greedy Girl started off with a hummus plate, featuring some lemon confit, chickpeas, black olives, marinated feta and some red pepper-Harissa. This was a substantial but very pleasant dish. The lemon confit was an inspired addition.
To go along with that fresh option, we took some deep-fried calamari. Again, a pleasant dish, if not a wow. It was served with a lemon vinaigrette and a chilli sauce.
Greedy Girl opted for a crab cake burger for her main. These are available as a dish in their own right or served as a ‘sandwich’. The crab cake was very tasty, with large chunks of meat. It was accompanied by tartare sauce, coleslaw and fries. None of the additional elements had a huge amount of oomph but the crab was definitely the star of the show.
Gluttonous husband decided he needed meat. He chose the filet mignon, served with asparagus, confit fingerling potatoes and a Vidalia onion sauce bordelaise. It was certainly a substantial dish and the sauce had a beautiful deep colour but gluttonous husband was particularly disappointed by the asparagus which was woody. We were also introduced to a new way of ordering gluttonous husband’s preferred ‘blue’ steak – Pittsburgh style. Greedy Girl isn’t sure how widespread this expression is in the US, having never used it in NYC, but, when in Rome …
And we were done. Foregoing dessert, we headed back to our hotel, taking the long walk along Pennsylvania Avenue, past the White House.
A couple of days later, having walked until our feet were sore, we found ourselves again in the neighbourhood and decided to try to get a seat at the bar. Gluttonous husband was keen to try the happy hour oysters and Greedy Girl could always have another cocktail.
The oysters were a variety of species and sizes and gluttonous husband much preferred the smaller, sweeter ones, just with a squeeze of lemon. He did taste the sauces, commenting the red wine vinegar and shallots (in the middle of the plate) was particularly good.
Greedy Girl decided to sample one of the bar’s flatbreads, opting for mushroom, rocket and Parmesan. It was probably the best ‘pizza’ she’s had in the US.
The bar was a fun place to sit, with large windows looking out to the street and, on a Saturday afternoon, we had no trouble getting a spot.
Old Ebbitt Grill is an over the top spot for dinner but, for a taste of what DC was like more than a century ago, it’s definitely worth a stop.
Old Ebbitt Grill
675 15th Street NW, Washington DC