I’ve lived in Washington for five years, but this was the first I actually celebrated the Fourth of July in the District. There were no destination weddings, no summer trips; I had grand plans to hit the Penthouse Pool for a day of sun and relaxation, followed by a stop at Tyler Jeffrey’s rooftop party for the fireworks.
Instead, I found myself rooftop- and bar-hopping the entire day. A Fourth of July gone pleasantly, surprisingly awry.
I blame the starting line of this debaucherous Independence Day detour: a last-minute group brunch planned for my dear friend Hazel, who was about to skip town to Cairo as the newest member of the State Department’s Foreign Service.
Tasked to find a big table only a few days before, and with nearly everything in town booked, I resorted to that back-up list of restaurants that are almost always available and certainly within walking distance. Eatonville was the choice.
A table for 10 on a busy Washington holiday? “No problem, lady, we’ve got the space,” they said. Of course.
There’s a reason this place only fills up when it’s high season: It’s in a great, high-trafficked area but the locals all know that it’s not, actually, that great. But, we joined the tourists for some brunch and a World Cup game anyway.
The restaurant is huge, with high ceilings, chandeliers, and Palmetto ceiling fans. There are large wooden tables and rocking chairs—and murals. Bright, colorful murals everywhere. The decor is meant to be inspired by Zora Neale Hurston and her famous work, Their Eyes Were Watching God.
The owner situated the restaurant strategically across the street from Busboys & Poets, which is inspired by Hurston’s contemporary, Langston Hughes. The two authors had quite a rift back the day, and the locations are meant to posthumously bring the pair back together.
This thinking is, of course, lost on all the tourists who visit the two restaurants. In fact, it was lost on most of our well-educated brunch crew, as well. As we were pretty focused on getting those Bloody Marys to the table, stat. Our Thursday night holiday hangovers were crying.
We ordered Bloody Marys and mimosas. The Bloody Marys were small and served in mason jars with plenty of accoutrements and a red sugar rim. They were just spicy enough, so quick to go down. Though, sadly, not bottomless.
We ordered a round of appetizers for the table. Biscuits and jams? But, of course, we’re in the South. The homemade buttermilk biscuits were piping hot when they arrived, and the three cups of homemade jam were enough to share the plate with the whole table. They were quickly gone.
Looking at all the fried things on the menu, we decided we needed some greens to start. We shared the roasted beets and orange salad, which was a very pretty dish when it arrived—almost a shame to break it apart.
The sliced beets and oranges surrounded a sculpture of mixed greens, onion, feta, and roasted pumpkin seeds, topped with ginger-balsamic vinaigrette and wrapped in cucumber slices. A lovely summer salad, but hard to share.
The winning appetizer was the fried green tomatoes. The three large tomato slices were fried in delicious batter and served with an avocado and green salad perched on top, which was sprinkled with basil oil. But it was the saffron aioli that made the dish.
I had quite the disappointing brunch at Eatonville nearly four years ago, so I was pleasantly surprised by how this was going. The drinks and appetizers, for the most part, were on course. And our service was friendly and prompt.
Then the entrees came, and we were suddenly let down. I had spoken too soon. The dishes arrived in spurts, and one was even completely wrong: served with the wrong side and so quickly whisked back to the kitchen.
The catfish and grits looked and tasted like the fish filet came straight from a freezer bag and into the fryer. The grits were supposedly jalapeno-gruyere heirloom grits, served with a side of smoked tomato beurre blanc. But, the grits weren’t that impressive, and it was hard for us to tell.
My Southern fried chicken frittata was very pretty when it arrived, but was woefully dry and tasteless. In fact, I don’t believe I actually found any Southern fried chicken in there at all.
The frittata was to be made with sweet corn, lima beans, onions, tomatoes, feta cheese, and basil pesto. But it tasted like a plate of dry eggs with some overcooked vegetables quickly scrambled inside.
The vegetarian at the table ordered a veggie burger, which was the most perfectly round cardboard veggie burger I’ve ever seen in my life. Supposedly made with barley, onion, yellow squash, and zucchini, it looked—much like the catfish—that it came straight out of a freezer box and arrived on its kaiser bun.
The wild mushroom and spinach omelet was decent, and was the only dish that was finished at the table. It was filled with sauteed spinach and mushroom ragout, but not much else.
Our hopes were all resting on the Callahan, a friend chicken breast sandwich served on a buttermilk biscuit. It was indeed quite a large fried chicken breast, and looked a bit silly spilling out of its biscuit.
The chicken was not as dry as the other dishes, but it was still tasteless and rather boring. The mac ‘n’ cheese on the side was the only food on the table that we all hopped to share, but only because of its cheese sauce. It still tasted like it came straight out of a Kraft box.
Eatonville, you are like a sad Southern girl: very pretty and always available for large parties, but your food still woefully disappoints.
The Bitches say: D. Go for appetizers and cocktails if you’re unable to snag a table anywhere else in the neighborhood, which has far better options.
2121 14th St NW
Washington, DC 20009
Eatonville serves brunch on Saturdays and Sundays.