WASHINGTON – Restaurant workers, take a lesson from the hardest working bartender inside the Beltway. When I asked Charles to name the best entrée on the Founding Farmers menu Monday night, he didn’t offer either of the following mealy-mouthed answers.
- Everything is good. (Even though, judging by the dishes I saw coming out of the kitchen, this might have been close to correct.)
- I don’t know. I don’t eat this kind of food. (Then neither should I.)
No, Charles looked me square in the eye, and without hesitation or equivocation, said “Chicken and Waffles.” While “Chicken and Waffles” is the correct answer to many questions, it is especially correct at Founding Farmers. The concept is upscale comfort food using fresh, local ingredients, and food doesn’t get much more comfortable than fried chicken (with milk gravy), waffles (with syrup), okra and macaroni and cheese.
If you’re a regular reader, you know we’ve already discussed the difficulty of making truly excellent fried chicken. For whatever reason, mass-market fried chicken is far superior to the mass-market versions of other foods. Only premium chicken can command a premium price. Founding Farmers succeeds by frying impossibly juicy chicken beneath a light, crispy batter. The waffles were sturdy enough to soak syrup without losing their heft, and the mac-and-cheese had the perfect black pepper kick.
Then there was the okra, which came floating in a tomato broth that merits in-depth discussion. If possible, I would fill a swimming pool with this tomato broth. Then, I would make the world’s largest grilled cheese sandwich. I would invite everyone I knew to the broth-pool, and we would dunk grilled cheese while watching Goonies and the first two Back To The Future films. (I have very specific fantasies.) It should be noted that Founding Farmers does have a grilled Gruyere sandwich/tomato soup combo on the menu. If Charles feels like changing things up, he can probably suggest this and get tipped just as heavily.
I did not require the advice of Charles for the other elements of the meal. Strict adherents to the first commandment of Heaven is a Buffet could never resist ordering the Bacon Lollis appetizer. What’s a Bacon Lolli? It’s a hunk of thick-cut bacon smothered in a cinnamon/brown sugar glaze and jammed on a stick. This would be a good time to mention that the Dum Dums lollipop company is asking customers to suggest the next Dum Dums flavor. You’ll never guess what currently leads.
The Bacon Lollis don’t stay on the plate at Founding Fathers. Charles earned his money Monday with the Bacon Lolli-garnished Bone, a chest-hair sprouting mix of Knob Creek bourbon, lime juice and Tabasco sauce. The bartenders at Founding Farmers roll up their sleeves past their elbows, and with good reason. They have no time to chat up the stylishly dressed clientele that comes to drink three blocks from the White House. They’re working, because tending bar at Founding Farmers is manual labor. If not for Charles shaking my drink as vigorously as the paint-mixing machine at Home Depot, the Tabasco might have overwhelmed instead of providing a fiery back to the one-two punch of lime and bourbon. Meanwhile, Charles and his co-workers handled their muddling bats well enough to earn tryouts with the Nationals.
Still, I appreciated most that Charles answered my question honestly. He could have steered me toward something twice as expensive. He could have suggested something pretentious. Instead, he told me to order something he knew I would enjoy. Quality customer service and bacon on a stick? A rare combination indeed.