A Small Southern Town in Northwest Washington
D.C. has a long list of traditional southern-style restaurants, so you’d be forgiven for wondering why it needed another. But you shouldn’t wonder after seeing Eatonville‘s unorthodox starter above — a single fried hushpuppy the size of a baseball filled with leek fondue and rock shrimp. It is seriously effing delicious.
Set on the same 14th Street corner as sister restaurant Busboys and Poets, Eatonville is named in honor of Zora Neale Hurston, the Harlem renaissance author and playwright. Hurston grew up in Eatonville, Florida, one of the first southern towns created by African-Americans after slavery ended. The name really made an impression on me as I realized how thoughtful they’ve been in putting the place together. From picket fences and rocking chairs flanking the bar to drinks served in mason jars, this was more than another DC restaurant with southern fare… I felt like I’d hopped a train to a small town in the Deep South.
After the hushpuppy, Eatonville actually gets a little more traditional, with apps like gumbo, fried green tomatoes, and corn muffins. Hot and soft, the muffins are a must. The fried green tomatoes are classic, light, and easy to share.
Fortunately, there’s still some creativity among the entrees, like the crab burger — a crab cake sandwich with arugula and pickled onions. I don’t know if it’d pass muster in Baltimore, but it’s better than most I’ve had in DC.
I’ve been dying to try the Cajun mushroom loaf — but haven’t gotten past the temptation of the more traditional items yet, like the wonderful fish and grits. Dusted in cornmeal and perfectly fried, the fish is surprisingly light. The jalapeno grits kick things up a notch, while the collards and tomato butter provide depth and balance the spice.
If you want your soul food fix in a lighter package, all of the four salads are available with chicken, shrimp, oysters, or vegan chicken. Unfortunately, nowhere on the menu does the chef explain what vegan chicken is, despite the fact that it’s also an entrée.
For dessert, I can only tell you about the bread pudding and lemon basil sorbet, which were both excellent. I wish I could tell you about the peach cobbler that we ordered, but we were brought bread pudding instead. It was good, but it was really carried by the ice cream and blueberry sauce it shares the plate with (not pictured here). Anyway, I highly recommend the sorbet. It was sweet, tart, and light — the perfect end to the meal.
Then there are the cocktails. I ordered the Sweet Heat, a refreshing mango juice, kicked up with Tabasco infused vodka. My brother went for the Pickled Mule. If you haven’t had a Moscow Mule, it’s a mind-blowingly delicious ginger-packed vodka cocktail. But the Pickled Mule adds muddled pickle… Fucking pickle!? Trust me; it is absolutely delicious. My Sweet Heat was damn near perfect, but I kept staring jealously at my brother’s ice cold copper cup of Pickled Mule. I’m getting my own next time.
A couple of service hiccups aside, I love this place. I can’t stop recommending it to friends who want to get dinner. Eatonville isn’t just a restaurant that serves southern fare – without forcing anything or being kitschy, it’s a cozy southern getaway worthy of its moniker.
2121 14th Street, NW