‘American’ Food

This post was written a couple of months ago, but I just found it and thought I’d post – just to add to my growing collection of food posts.

[image by Imjustmatthew (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons]

I’m having a love affair with crab. Crab cakes and crab dip to be precise. And while I keep thinking that it will become too rich, too cloying – as dressed crab in the UK always did – between two halves of sweet bun or muddled with horseradish, this obsession is not going anywhere.

Of course this is just a part of my wider love affair with American food and beer. I thought that after a few months I’d be bored of burgers and IPA and desperate to get back to the joys of camembert and Bordeaux, but that just shows how ignorant I was of the variety of burgers and beers that can be experienced over here. I reckon I’ve got at least another month before I start to crave what some over here call indiscriminately ‘ethnic food’.

So here’s a quick list of the best places to get American food – especially crab – that I’ve been to so far. Most are in DC, but I thought it would be unfair to miss out the best brew pub in Binghampton for merely geographical reasons – especially as it restored my faith in upstate NY after being horribly disappointed by the Holiday Inn room service. (That experience went something like this: ‘Can I get a beer?’ ‘What kind do you want?’ ‘Do you have any local IPAs?’ ‘No.’ ‘Well do you have any IPAs?’ ‘No.’ ‘Well, then what do you have?!’)

  1. Legal Seafoods. I thought I’d had the best crab dip in the world. I hadn’t until I came here. This is without doubt the best crab dip you will get in DC – they’ve certainly had the time to get it right. They also, according to numerous reviews, have the best crab cakes, and the best seafood in general. And their New England style clam chowder has the presidential seal of approval, having been served at the inaugurations since 1981. Certainly I couldn’t choose from all the delicious looking things on the menu and had to go with their wood-grilled assortment (chef’s choice of three types of wood-grilled fish with jumbo shrimp and sweet, sweet scallops as well as a choice of two sides). While I ate some of the vegetable sides for vitamins I relinquished most of the fries in favour of eating more fish – there was no way I could eat it all. I seem to remember we had wine, and dessert, and that they – and the service – were also excellent. But what sticks in the memory is that crab dip and those sweet scallops.
  2. Capitol City Brewing Company. This was my favourite crab dip before we went to Legal Seafoods. One of the best things about this place is that you get warm pretzels with a mustard dip instead of an ordinary dinner roll – and they’re also available free at the bar to accompany your beer. CCBC also has the best crab cake sandwich I’ve tasted. In fact I can’t bring myself to try any of the other ‘entrees’ on the menu. I’m just not willing to forgo that pleasure which I really thought would tip over and get too much, but never did. The wings are ok, and I’m told the burgers are very good but, for me, it’s just about the beer, the pretzels and the crab cake.
  3. Cashions. Now this is another place where American food comes with wine rather than beer. Good wine too – we enjoyed an Argentinian red made from one of those minor French grapes like malbec that’s done so well in South America. This is also one of those places where you can have a burger, and I’m sure it would be an amazing burger, and no-one would judge you for it, but how can you pass up the bison steak? Or the scallops? This is a local but somewhat fancy restaurant – people come here to celebrate special occasions – and the people who run it are just the best examples of famous American hospitality I’ve seen over here. We were three people with no reservation on a busy Saturday night, but they didn’t turn a hair. In terms of their menu, they keep it simple and short, and change it with the availability of local ingredients – what more could you ask for?
  4. Galaxy Brewing Company (Binghampton). This place was just the perfect American experience. We showed up with nine people and were seated immediately. There’s plenty of room, a two-sided list of beers on tap, and the staff are friendly. On the night we were there a country/folk duo were playing who produced a sound like something out of Inside Llewyn Davies. I had a special – crab cake BLT – which was a great idea, and definitely lived up to its billing. There was also a spirited debate about whether either of the vegetarians had ever tasted a better veggie burger, so I think the rest of the menu was equally good. The beer was one of the most beautifully balanced, hoppy, fruity and well-kept IPAs I’ve ever tasted. It was, for me, perfection. It was great later on to be able to share that with the proprietor, who, in that lovely way of smaller towns, came to ask us how things had been.
  5. Black Squirrel. Did you know there was such a thing as a black squirrel? Well there is, and we have them in DC. They’re slightly larger than the grey squirrel and sometimes boast a chestnut-coloured tail, and they give the name to this small bar/restaurant on 18th street. There’s not much that differentiates it from other good pubs that serve American food, but they do a number of very good burgers topped with various cheeses, bacon etc., and serve excellent beers from around the US.
  6. Jack Rose. Or, as they call themselves, Jack Rose ‘Dining Saloon’. It’s hard for me to remember the food here as what they’re really good at is whisky – especially bourbon and rye, of which they’ll pour you a tasting flight if you ask. But I seem to remember some excellent whisky-glazed wings, a good burger, and a seriously good sandwich. And I think that’s the food group that’s most different over here – the sandwich. While one of our aristocracy may give his name to it, the Americans have entirely reinvented the genre. Here you can have a sandwich for dinner because they’re that satisfying.

As people might correctly object, this list covers a relatively narrow variety of what I’m calling ‘American’ food. I guess I’m mainly sticking to foods that are representative of American pub-food, and mostly specialities from Maryland and New York. I’ve not covered Southern cuisine – grits, barbeque, Cajun – but I’ve not experienced enough of that yet, and I’m also not sure that DC’s the best place to do so. Also this list does not include fast-food, or pizza. For the record, there are some pretty upscale fast food places over here – Five Guys, for example, which I think is now also in Manchester, and Shake Shack with its amazing secret sauce. These deserve their own post, which I’m sure I’ll get round to at some point!

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3 thoughts on “‘American’ Food

  1. Good point, but I’m not sure that premium fast food and DC gastro pubs are really where the problem lies. Certainly in cities like DC you’d be hard-pressed to find much obesity. While there is a culture of happy hours, sliders and boozy brunches from Friday to Sunday, there’s also a culture of working hard, weird diets like Paleo and lots and lots of running during the week. For educated, middle-class city people I would say that DC is a healthier city than London – with the wealth of green spaces and a river that people can use recreationally there’s a lot of hiking, cycling and water-sports going on at weekends. In other parts of the US though, it’s probably a different story.

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