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New York Also Thinks DC Looks Fat In Those Pants
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New York Also Thinks DC Looks Fat In Those Pants

December 8th, 2010 by Maria Helena Carey · 40 Comments · Capitol Hill

Photo by María Helena Carey, who hasn't had her cholesterol checked since last eating "Mark on an Off-Day."

Dear New York Times,

We are so happy that our little neck of the woods inspired one of your stories today!  Look at the happy patrons dining happily at Ted’s Bulletin!  And DC-3!  And Matchbox!  You even got a picture of the homemade “silly” Pop-Tarts in their case!  How does the saying go, that if we make it to the New York Times we can make it anywhere?  Well, we couldn’t be happier that you’ve taken notice of our restaurants, really.

Except.

Not to insinuate that you have a fabrication or sensationalism problem by any means, but don’t you think the headline is a bit over the top?  “Junk Food Purveyors Pop Up Around Capitol Hill” and “Junk Food Storms the Capitol” really makes it sound like nothing but McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger Kings are cropping up on every corner from the actual Capitol building down Pennsylvania to the river, does it not?  During my last unofficial count, there is only one sad little McDonald’s on that stretch– it feels very lonely since the bulletproof-beglassed KFC across the street closed its doors some five years ago. I’m thinking that reading those headlines alone must have made at least three local NIMBYs faint thinking that the neighborhood has gone to the dogs overnight, and we only have you to blame!

While it is true that we have wonderful new restaurants which are fine purveyors of what really you should endeavor to call Comfort Food instead of that mean-spirited J-word; to say that we’re overrun with junk food and, ahem, “baroque” pizza (ornate? rococo? weird? misshapen?) is a little bit of an exaggeration, don’t you think?  A perfunctory look at the menus of most of our newer eateries will reveal the heartier entrees you seem to find so quaint and amusing, alongside healthier fare.  The only exception is perhaps DC-3, which is delightfully indefensible because it’s the only true, bona fide junk food experience out of all the restaurants you mention.  You don’t really mention the NOT junk foody restaurants that have recently opened (Ba Bay, Mi Vecindad, The Chesapeake Room) either, although I suppose that places that offer deep-fried ANYTHING are to be looked upon suspiciously from the outset, making pretty much every single restaurant in every possible cuisine, in fact, junk food.  Which means that you’d better scoff at your own backyard and its penchant for pizzas and hot dogs closely, too because I have this horrible sinking suspicion that JUNK FOOD IS POPPING UP ALL OVER NEW YORK CITY OMG!

Okay, this just came out wrong.  All I meant to say was, thank you for the shoutout!

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  • McD’s lover

    Woah, don’t hate on McDonald’s… it’s one of the few 24-hour food shops that we have on the Hill (South Cap location).

    There are actually two McDonald’s on the Hill too (South Capitol and Penn).

  • http://www.thehillishome.com Jon Penndorf

    Excellent.

    If it ain’t Baroque, don’t fix it, right?

  • Maria Helena Carey

    Jon: Ha! Snarkitect strikes again!

    McD’s: Far from me to hate, as I owe many happy meals to the Golden Arches (ha!). Having been mayor of the So. Cap McD’s for a two-day period, I am aware of its existence, but as it is not on Pennsylvania, it didn’t work with my sentence. Thanks for you comment though!

  • Topher

    H Street has a mcdonalds too- and popeyes is on BR and on H- i’m sure there are others but the point is spot on. the headline was obnoxious.

  • John

    Can we clarify what is the Hill. Last I checked the H Street Corridor was called: Old City #1; the Axis District or the H Street Corridor. Yes there are parts of NE that can be considered the hill but H street is a bit far no?

    Also, is the area across from the Capitol Skyline, near the baseball stadium and the SW waterfront now the Hill as well?

    So confusing- ahhh!

    Oh and yes, the headline was terribly misleading. Maybe we should try to limit the amount of fast food establishments popping up in DC so we aren’t inundated with only dining options and nothing else in our communities. After all we don’t want McDonald’s choking out the opportunity for retail businesses to take root. Also, the terrible litter and vehicle emissions emanating from drive thru’s is such a nuisance. I am going to ask our ANC’s to be sure to restrict any future fast food franchises in the District.

  • http://brunchandthecity.com/ Claudia Holwill

    @John – Historic Capitol Hill is roughly defined by the Capitol precinct on the west, F Street NE on the north, 13th and 14th Streets on the east, and the Southeast Freeway on the south, with an expansion area south of the Southeast Freeway bounded by 7th, M, 10th, and 11th Streets SE. (http://www.chrs.org/Pages/3_HD1.html) But yes, people are pretty liberal with what they call “The Hill” :)

    For the purposes of our coverage on THIH, we also include many of our immediately surrounding neighborhoods, such as Near Southeast/Capital Riverfront/Navy Yard/Ballpark District (everyone has a different name!), Near Northeast/H Street, New Hill East, Barney Circle, part of Kingman Park, etc. We generally cover up to Florida Ave on the north, North Cap/South Cap Streets to the west, and the river to the east and south.

  • http://www.monkeysuncleonthehill.com Jay

    the # of McDonald’s in the Capitol declined after Bill Clinton moved to…..wait for it…..New York!

  • http://www.thehillishome.com Jen

    Maria this was a perfect response. John, why the hate for all parts of “the Hill” not is the Historic District?

  • Maria Helena Carey

    John: What Claudia said. It can be confusing, but let’s face it– the Hill flexible enough, just like our elastic waistbands.

    Jay: HAHAHAHAH! Oh, that was a good one.

    Jen: Thanks!!!!

  • RC

    I don’t think beglassed is a word.

  • http://twitter.com/monkeyrotica monkeyrotica

    People actually CARE what New York thinks about DC? These are the same people who put tomatoes in their clam chowder, for god’s sake.

  • http://www.thehillishome.com Jon Penndorf

    I believe New York is starting to fear DC, now that we actually have our own celebrity chefs (and our own celebutards too) and big name chefs consider DC a viable market. We also have a blossoming population and maybe the second largest arts scene on the east coast (second to NYC perhaps). So yes, they do care. Because there is fear.

  • http://www.thehillishome.com Jon Penndorf

    Plus let’s face it: our junk food does rock.

  • http://madamemeow.com Maria Helena Carey

    RC: It’s okay. Most people don’t think KFC serves “food” anyway.

    monkeyrotica: When you put it that way, it’s clear to see that they are just annoying clam-chowder-ruiners.

    Jon: Just drove by DC-3, with longing. Also, I forgot to mention Dunkin’ Donuts on the Pennsylvania stretch. Mm…. donuts.

  • John

    @Jen: I have no hate for parts of the Hill outside of the Historic district. In fact, I live in one. I just don’t refer to neighborhoods off the hill as being the Hill. E.G. I would not say the Zoo is in Dupont Circle even though the two are relatively close to one another in proximity.

    I understand the Hill will grow over time and think that is fine. However, I don’t believe by any metric that H Street, NE or the Capitol Riverfront area are, or should be, considered the Hill. They have different BID’s, different names, different identities, different challenges, less historic preservation worries and the list goes on…

  • http://www.thehillishome.com Jon Penndorf

    You know, to balance out all this junk food we should also point out that we have a Sweetgreen and the YES! market. And they sell vegetables at Eastern Market, right? Somewhere among the crepes and kettle corn and funnel cakes…

  • http://integrativehealthmassage.blogspot.com Janet

    I like Manhattan Clam Chowder. :P

    NYC will always have a bone to pick with DC. No matter what we do. If it is not the NY Times about too much “fast food”, it is Anthony Bourdain complaining that we are too elitist with the White House garden. Bah, at least we can name a neighborhood outside of our block, eh?

  • http://twitter.com/nicholeaileen Nichole Remmert

    @John, H Street is absolutely part of the Hill. Yes, they’re different, but the Hill has always been the largest neighborhood in the city, which is one of its challenges. For your reference, CHAMPS, the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce, considers the Hill borders (for purposes of membership) to be from Florida Ave. to the North to the river to the south and from the river (again) to the east to 2nd Street NW (ish) to the west.

    I mean, even Barracks Row goes all the way to M Street SE. It does no one any good to have a very narrowly defined notion of what the Hill is. We are collectively stronger (particularly the business community) when we realize that we’re all part of one neighborhood.

  • John

    @nicole. Fair points but I respectfully agree to disagree. Ask folks on H Street if they think they live on Capitol Hill. Regardless, none of this matters. Yay, for more food options!

  • http://twitter.com/nicholeaileen Nichole Remmert

    @John, I do, every day. And most of the ones I talk to do think they live on the Hill. Many of our writers live closer to H than to Barracks Row (meaning, a block off H) and they would absolutely say they live on the Hill.

  • http://brunchandthecity.com/ Claudia Holwill

    @John I’ll happily second the yay for more food options!

  • C

    There has certainly been a rash of new restaruants that focus on making junky food, like burgers and pizza and cupcake, upscale. But that’s a nationwide trend, certainly not limited to the Hill.

    As a pescetarian that’s not too keen on fried foods and things smothered in cheese, I remember a time in the not-too-distant past when there were only a handful of items from a couple of Hill restaurants that appealed to me. The healthier options have increased noticeably in the short time I’ve been here.

  • Kim

    Eh, I had a different take on the piece. I thought it was a light-hearted, fun article about comfort food places. If anything, my problem was that this is not really a “new” trend; it’s actually something that’s been going on for a while now! And of course they didn’t include the healthier places; the point of the piece was to write about the “junk food” places that have been springing up, not to generally write about new food options. I suppose the titles could use a little tweaking, but the article itself is fine. And the first slide specifically refers to “high-end junk food places.”

    I know you’ll disagree and I’m not interested in getting into an argument, I just wanted to voice my opinion and say that we’ll have to agree to disagree!

    Oh, and just to put it out there, I agree with Nichole and a few others about the boundaries of the Hill. I technically live on the northernmost block of the historic district, so I guess I am on the Hill by both of the competing definitions, but I certainly don’t consider myself magically no longer on the Hill when I walk up to the corner market. I do sometimes tell people I live near H Street or on the northern part of the Hill, but, as Nichole said, the Hill is a huge neighborhood. I do that more to give people a better idea of where I actually live.

  • http://madamemeow.com Maria Helena Carey

    Kim: I think that was probably the spirit of the piece, originally. But I don’t think I’m alone in having picked up on the subtle soupçon of put-down that permeated not just the headlines but the whole story. Still, in all honesty, it IS flattering to have your neighborhood’s eateries written about in the NY Times.

  • Kyra

    Wow, I guess if John is right then I can’t write for THIH anymore. I live on G Street NE. Wait, am I still a writer for THIH?!

    I respect John’s right to disagree, but this is my problem with our society: us versus them. NY v. DC. Junk food v. comfort food. Hill v. non-hill. Can’t we all just get along?

  • Kyra

    Kim, I felt the same. “Hey, they are talking about some of my favorite places!?” But I see Maria’s point of view, and I think she spoke well for the Hill at large.

  • Joe M.

    One point that the NYT article raised in my mind is DC’s poor showing for cheap, authentic ethnic food.

    Really, does DC need more burgers, pizza and hot dogs?

    How about some more pho restaurants? Why does the capitol of the greatest nation on earth not have a single solid Korean restaurant (Don’t mention Mandu, Ehwa or Adam Express)? Or even ANY single Japanese ramen house? Why do we have to eat at faux dimsum like Ping Pong instead of the real thing?

    I know that things are getting better and there’s certainly no shortage of fine dining and star chefs in DC — but in light of the shortage of cheap ethnic places I mentioned, it’s sad when I see articles about more burgers, pizza and hotdogs cropping up in DC.

  • http://twitter.com/nicholeaileen Nichole Remmert

    @Joe M. it’s b/c in DC, all of the people who make that food mostly live in the burbs which is why you find all the awesome Korean in Annandale and the Vietnamese out in Eden Center at 7 Corners. (though, the Korean place in the FL Ave Market complex is awesome and my Korean friends back that up) But hey, it’s not all bad – we’ve got the best Ethiopian scene in the country!

  • Topher

    When people tell me they want to move to the hill we have a long discussion about the neighborhood and its several submarkets (lincoln park, h street, eastern market, stanton park, barracks row, hill east, to name a few) and what each has to offer, how it affects pricing, etc. thats how i break down the neighborhood to people who go to eastern market one weekend and decide they want to move to Capitol Hill. One other point: I understand that CHRS is in the process of expanding the Historic District north to Florida Avenue- if they are sucessful then we can agree to agree with regard to H Street being on the Hill?

  • C

    Joe M., I think the reason we don’t have cheap, authentic ethnic eateries in the District is because all the ethnic enclaves, with the exception of the Ethiopian, are located in the suburbs. A Korean will open up a new restaurant in Annandale before attempting to do so in DC, simply because Anandale is the hub of the Korean community. Go to any strip mall in Northern VA and you’re bound to see a few hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese, Indian, Pakistani, Afghanistani, Peruvian, Salvadorian restaurants.

  • C

    Nichole beat me to it. :)

  • Joe M.

    I understand that ethnic communities will establish their restaurants in the areas where they work and reside. But that doesn’t seem to tell the whole story.

    Is there a large Thai community in DC that is anchoring all the Thai restaurants here? Where’s the large Japanese community that forms the basis for all the great Japanese restaurants in the East Village and Lower East Side in NYC? There are many Koreans who commute from Staten Island and Queens into Manhattan to work in the mini Koreatown on 32nd, why can’t Koreans and Vietnamese folks commute from Annandale and Centerville into the city? (Ok, that last rhetorical question was unfair and unrealistic, just venting).

    I feel like NYC and LA are so saturated in great ethnic restaurants while DC lags 10 years behind them. If someone opened up a solid ramen house on U St., in a cold weather city like DC, I think it would flat out dominate.

    Ultimately, I just want a tasty $2 taco al pastor with onions and cilantro and not have to trek to Columbia Heights or Ballston for one.

  • Joe M.

    Thanks for letting me vent . . . the lack of tasty food can sometimes make me want to go on a rampage.

  • Rich C

    Okay, I’m going to dare to be a bit “non-Hill” here and defend the NYT headline. It didn’t mention anything about fast food, but rather “junk food”. In reality what we have PCed as “comfort food” would traditionally fall under that junk food category. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Mark on An Off Day as much as the next guy, but I will agree that the NYT is absolutely astute in their observations about what we’re eating. It doesn’t mean that you can’t love it – but let’s embrace it for what it is.

    As for me, I’ll just be spending an extra hour at Results this week after my Nutty Professor milkshake.

  • Leah Stern

    This is a great post! I read that article this morning and these were my sentiments exactly!

    It’s funny how everyone seems to think that the president, white house staff and congresspeople contribute to the hill culture (besides making occasional purchases in the short time they live in our town – if they even do live here; many do not). It’s just silly to juxtapose local restaurants with the white house garden – as if one has anything to do with the other. Yes, we are neighbors, but I can’t really say that most hill residents have anything to do with the white house garden or the obama push for healthy eating.

  • http://www.thehillishome.com Jon Penndorf

    I think we do have great cheap ethnic food choices (though not always on the Hill but elsewhere in DC). Tacqueria Nacionale? Amsterdam Falafelshop? Chinatown Express (where they still make handmade noodles from scratch)? Burma? We may not have a ton of Korean barbeque places but there are lots of Thai, Vietnamese, Mexican, El Salvadoran, etc.

  • Kim

    Maria, you’re totally right! In fact, it seems like everyone else who commented (at least before my initial comment) seems to agree with you on the article! I just wanted to offer my contradictory opinion.

    And I do see what you’re saying about the undertones in the article, but I still liked it!

  • John

    fair enough. Anything east of the capitol and west of the anacostia is the hill so long as it isn’t gallaudet, trinidad or anything above.

    Last I looked my original post had nothing close to an “us vs. vs” them sentiment.

    Oh and last time I checked noone cares about residency requirements for local blog writers.So live on g, f or p and you can still have a job and perspective to share. That being said, I am now less interested in yours. disagreeing with neighborhood boundaries is one thing, being a jacka** is another.

    I continue to say yay for more food options!

  • William Mohring

    I will say one thing about the NYT article: They are absolutely correct about the Chicago 7 at DC-3. It is done to near perfection, and I felt right at home eating it.

    -Born and raised Chicagoan

  • http://distcurm.blogspot.com/ IMGoph

    this reminds me of what amanda hess wrote about at TBD earlier this week—bogus NYT ‘trend’ pieces. seems to be their MO.