Ralph Melton (ralphmelton) wrote,
Ralph Melton
ralphmelton

Overnight Washington DC trip

I'm interrupting my own New Orleans tale, but if I tell about our quick trip to DC, I have a chance to tell about the trip before the memories are quite decayed. But I'll try to be terse; I'm quite behind.

Tom Pittman is retiring from the Austin Lounge Lizards, and they've been doing a farewell tour. We saw that the tour was coming near Washington, DC, and we wanted to see them enough to drive down to see them. Their Saturday show sold out before we got around to buying tickets, but they added a Friday show which we could make.

On the drive down, we stopped at the Park-N-Dine in Hancock, Maryland, which was listed in the Roadfood books as recently as 2008, but is not listed on the Roadfood website. I may well be adjusting my experiences to match my expectations, but I agree with a deliberate delisting; the food was not that good.
The most novel food was the ham pot pie, a dish that might only be found here in a place that borders on Amish pot pie territory and upon the country ham zone. Salty country ham turned soft and gentle in a creamy broth with thick soft noodles. At first, I found it a nice softening of country ham, which often requires an aggressive chaw - but by the end of the dish, I felt it needed more flavors.

Dessert: apple lattice pie and Boston cream pie, neither outstanding.

Service was slower than I'd expected, and it made us later than I'd hoped for the concert. But we found a splendid parking place, and the show started later than the official time, so it all worked out.
The concert was at Hill Country Washington D. C.. I'd expected it to be out in the suburbs, but it was downtown, just a few blocks from the Capital.
Now, I'm not emotionally prepared to acknowledge that you could get anything in Washington D. C. that would compare with the outstanding barbecue near Austin - but I'll say that Hill Country is about as close as you could come in a downtown city. It was clearly created by people who knew about places like Smitty's or Kreuz Market, and were trying to emulate that faithfully without being distracted by other barbecue traditions. It diverged from those original sources in some ways - for example, it had a wine list, the black on the walls looked like paint instead of smoke, and it provided cutlery - but the meat was still cut to order and served on butcher paper.

Our food:
lean brisket: excellent meat, served unsauced in the Texas way.
Kreuz sausage: very fatty. I believe this to be authentic, but it's not my favorite hot gut.
Mac and cheese: excellent.
Banana pudding: I was wary of this, because when I ordered it, the guy behind the counter carefully garnished it with two vanilla wafers, and I feel that fresh vanilla wafers are somewhat contrary to the essence of banana pudding. But this was superb, with more wafers nestled in soft pudding like cake in trifle.
In hindsight, we should have skipped Park-N-Dine entirely for more time and appetite at Hill Country.

We'd reserved a table at Hill Country, and they'd saved our reservation even though we were late arriving. They reserved us a great table, up close to the band.

The concert was great. Seeing them with an audience really amplified the humor, because someone in the audience would crack up over a joke that was familiar to me, and that would make me laugh more myself.

I didn't write down the playlist as I intended, but when I asked Tom if I could photograph the playlist for my notes, he handed it to me. The playlist:
Too Big To Fail - At one point in the song, Hank Card shouted out "Ben Bernanke!" When he did, he pointed at someone in the audience. I turned to look, and it looked quite a lot like Ben Bernanke. I'm not sure it was he... but maybe it was.
Life Is Hard, But Life Is Harder When You're Dumb
Paint Me on Velvet
Stupid Texas Song
The Drugs I Need - lead singer was Darci Deaville, not the man singing it on the album.
The Shallow End of the Gene Pool
Jesus Loves Me (But He Can't Stand You) - the lead-in for this was one I've heard them use before (paraphrased): "We're really a gospel band at heart. People ask us, 'if you're a gospel band, why don't you play more gospel songs?' After hearing this, you can see why."
Buenos Dias, Budweiser - "We want to celebrate our Hispanic heritage, so we're singing some songs in Spanish. Soon we'll get around to learning what they mean." The translation was very different from the translation provided on the album; I don't know whether the Spanish they sang was different as well.
That Godforsaken Hellhole I Call Home - "Most bluegrass songs are about schoolchildren in peril and returning home. The home usually turns out to be some uninhabitable shack in Appalachia. We were hampered in our bluegrass upbringing by not having grown up in an uninhabitable shack in Appalachai, but..."
The Neighbor of the Beast - "We're trying to emulate the Lewis Family with our merchandising by offering the Austin Lounge Lizards Bible. We took out everything we didn't understand or didn't agree with, so it's really more of a pamphlet. ... And we left out the last book by accident, but that's not the end of the world."
Leonard Cohen's Day Job
(At this point, the playlist says "Strange", but Lori and I don't remember a song. "Strange Noises in the Dark" would be the most obvious candidate - maybe they skipped it.)
The Lonely Yodeler
Old Blevins
A portmanteau that started as "Didn't Go to College" and finished as a bluegrass version of "Wipe Out"
Three Sinners
Cornhusker Refugee - including audience participation waving our arms and singing "Come Back Home".
Rocky Byways
Teenage Immigrant Welfare Mothers on Drugs

For an encore:
Chester Nimitz Oriental Garden Waltz

It's hard to call it a perfect playlist without the inclusion of "The Other Shore", "Truckload of Art", "Love in a Refrigerator Box", and "Hey Little Minivan", but it was excellent.


Our hotel was the Henley Park Hotel, which we had chosen because it was the cheapest hotel Kayak.com found nearby (cheaper than the Red Roof Inn.) But it was excellent. The furnishings were very elegant and very comfortable. We found them very accommodating, as well: the WiFi was free and involved no fuss at all to access, and the valet parking folks saw no problem at all with our leaving the car until late afternoon even though we were checking out in the morning. We would be very happy to stay at the Henley Park Hotel again, and would recommend it to others.



On Saturday, we scrambled to the Cherry Blossom Festival parade, snatching a mediocre muffin on the way. We'd failed to muster the coordination to get grandstand seat tickets beforehand, but we got an adequate view standing on a corner.


I took lots of parade pictures, but frankly, few of them are any good.

One story: we recognized Barack and Michelle Obama on one float. Lori got excited to be so near them, while I pondered how the Secret Service could possibly handle the security challenges. Then the float came closer, close enough to read the sign that preceded it: Madame Tussaud's. No wonder they didn't move.


After the parade, we met up with Lori's cousin Christine. She led us to eat at Clyde's, a genteel restaurant that reminded me of English gentlemen's clubs.

Christine's Eggs Chesapeake (like Benedict, with a crab cake instead of ham):

Lori's grilled cheese and tomato soup:

My crab cake, red rice with country ham, and vegetables. I'm not a great judge of crab cakes, but this is one of the best I've had, with a light, sweet taste.


After that, dessert at Red Velvet Cupcakery:


I took a photo of my cupcake next to the sign that explained it as an aide memoire. Shape of the cake meant that light, delicate lemon icing hit my tongue first with every bite, and then as it faded, a cool anise flavor developed. It was very good.


From there, we walked across to see some cherry blossoms, on the theory that we're likely to return some summer when Lori is out of school, but cherry blossom opportunities will be much rarer. Unfortunately, a recent storm had knocked down many of the cherry blossoms, so we didn't see full blossom splendor.



I grabbed a half-smoke from a street cart, because it's a D.C. -local thing. It was definitely spicy.


We took the Metro back to the hotel to pick up the car, then went to the Roadfood-listed Florida Avenue Grill.


Warm, fragrant corn muffins.


My meal: barbecued ribs, collard greens, black-eyed peas.
The black-eyed peas were great. I couldn't identify anything singularly distinctive about them, but when I order black-eyed peas, I do so hoping that they'll taste like this. They were rich and soulful with just a bit of salt in their cooking liquid.
That "taste like I hope they will taste" characterization applies to the collard greens as well.
The ribs were flavorful but not smokey, with a mild sauce. There was variation in how tender they were; two of the ribs were tender enough that the meat could easily be detached with a fork; the third required a bit of gnawing to capture the meat.


Lori's meal: baked chicken with gravy, mac and cheese, green beans. The chicken was good, the mac and cheese didn't enter the tier of great mac and cheese.


Lori ordered peach cobbler for dessert. I finally settled on the sweet potato pie, after some dithering; I like peach cobbler more, but the sweet potato pie provided more variety. My choice was a good one; the peach cobbler had good peaches but bad crust, and the sweet potato pie went nicely with its topping of whipped cream and cinnamon, despite its bad pie crust.


For our last stop, we visited with our friends Seth and Karen for an hour (after some self-induced confusion over their location). It was very nice to see them, and their triplets seem happy and vivacious.

Then the drive home. I bolstered my alertness with Diet Coke for the drive. I rarely drink caffeine, so I have little tolerance; I worried that the caffeine I needed might keep me awake very late. These worries did not come true; I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.
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