Dispatch from DC: Thank God Thomas Jefferson was a Foodie

I first heard about Founding Farmers via an article in Rachael Ray’s Everyday magazine which depicted a cheerful Mrs. and President Obama dining at the communal table at the back of this hipster-infiltrated newcomer in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of Downtown Washington, DC. When I found out I would be spending a five full days there in July, I started frenetically reaching out to local friends to find out where to take my colleagues for dinner, and Founding Farmers came up several times as a don’t-miss-it favorite. That was that, I chose it for my first night in town, and dragged along co-worker L, who is new to our company and whom I had just met that afternoon, for an evening of groaningly good farm-to-table cuisine.

We started as one should, with a proper cocktail. Hoo boy, is FF making some serious likker, you guys! I mean, they’re infusing premium liquors with all kinds of cool stuff and making fruit juices and mixers by hand, with organic ingredients. It’s funny how you get a little older and suddenly, neon green Jose Cuervo margarita mix out of a jug doesn’t taste quite so epic anymore. What you really want is called Bone, and it’s a much-celebrated star on Founding Farmers’ cocktail menu: Knob Creek bourbon (which I didn’t even know I liked), lime juice, Tabasco, and a candied bacon lollipop. This drink was explosively spicy, which accounted for the sweet, sugar-encrusted meat candy balanced atop its seductive surface. Our adorable waitress, Claire, instructed me to take a nibble of the bacon with each sip. I’m sure it’s not surprising that she didn’t have to tell me twice. It was a homerun – the boozy, tart, fire-in-the-hole liquid disintegrated the sugar surrounding the terrifically tender bacon in each mouthful, leaving me with a little woozy to go with my boozy, and a huge grin on my face.

I am putting Tabasco in all cocktails, henceforth!

Later on I had the Clementine, which also rocked the spice, and was equally delicious if not as sinful as Bone. Also note the chunky, square ice cubes. I read an article several years ago in one of the last Gourmet issues about serious mixologists and their love of mammoth ice cubes, which I’m now happy to report, really do help keep the drink cold without watering it down. This is a place to skip your usual Bud Light and really go crazy with the demon liquor. Speaking of demons, I have scribbled at the top of my notebook this is demonic meal. I meant that in the best way possible, as everything I’m about to lay down was scrumptious to the point that we both ate too much of everything, then complained about being stuffed while still furtively shoveling tiny, last morsels of different courses into our pie holes. That’s how you know it’s good.

We started with a whole plate of the bacon lollis as an appetizer, because once I had one with my drink, I needed more, and because if L had tried to take a bite of my Bone garnish, I may have accidentally bitten her, which is frowned upon in our company’s employee handbook. As I’ve already mentioned, these bacon lollis are instruments of the devil, blessed by the most cherubic of angels: thick-cut bacon, unbelievably tender, as if the crust of brown sugar and cinnamon had somehow marinated it before baking. This is salty/sweet at its best, and deceptively simple, somehow tasting like bacon cooked over a campfire. There’s no reason you couldn’t make them at home, but it’s more fun in hip DC, gushing to your colleague about how naughty it is to simply split a plate of bacon. BACON!

Equally appealing, but maybe less scintillating, was the trifecta of dips, green goddess, romesco and pimento cheese, with slabs of thick, charred, white country bread. The pimento cheese was from-another-planet good, in a way that I knew even as I ate it I would find a hard time describing. It was cheesy, yes, but also smoky (some of that came from the bread), spicy, deep and salty. I tried to map out what ingredient could have leant the usually simple mixture of cheddar cheese, mayo, pimentos and Worcestershire sauce the incredible depth this dip had, but it was beyond my reach. Maybe FF makes their own Worcestershire sauce? By contrast, the green goddess was a cool customer, all smooth avocado, basil and cream, equally peppy, creamy and acidic smeared on that hearty bread. The romesco, a Spanish-influenced sauce made with roasted red peppers and marcona almonds, was my least favorite at first, but then grew on me as I shoveled in bite after bite of adorned bruschetta. The sauce can be overly sweet sometimes, but this one had strong almond flavor and had a pleasing, mouth-coating texture. I might skip the bacon lollis on a return trip in favor of sampling something else, but I will never overlook that fabulous pimento cheese.

I ordered the chicken and waffles. It was an embarrassment of riches. I have no business ordering a dish that decadent; that sugary, fatty, salty and cholesterol-laden. But I did it anyway, because once you’ve downed a bacon-topped cocktail, do you really have any shame? Exactly. So let me tell you how good it was. It. Was. Awesome. I mean, I went to school for two years in rural North Carolina; sister’s had some fried chicken. Somehow, impossibly, this was the best I’ve ever had. Better, even, than Mrs. Rowe’s illustrative masterpiece in Staunton, VA. Each juicy piece was redolent with a good amount of black pepper, and I think…I think, it was fried in lard. WhoaMG. The waffle was light as air, just slightly malted, and served with two tiny, metal box o’ milk-shaped pitchers, one for syrup and one for a very milky, buttery chicken gravy. As if this ridiculous accumulation of the richest treasures of any kitchen ever weren’t enough, I ordered macaroni and cheese and summer squash with peas alongside. Does it alleviate you to know the mac and cheese was NOT the best I’ve had? It did me, because that was one less thing I had to concentrate on in order to avoid licking my plate in public in front of L. I actually felt emotional about this dish, it was so good.

L ordered halibut pan fried in hazelnut brown butter, which was certainly less embarrassingly depraved than my choice, but no slouch in the “yum” department. The butter was robust and nutty without overpowering the delicate flavor of the fresh fish. The okra and tomatoes she received as a side were true southern beauties – earthy, rich, and deep with lip-smacking umami flavors. Yes, the okra is a bit slimy, but the flavor of the cooked-down savory, sweet vegetables is so satisfying, you won’t even notice. That is some soul food, right there.

I love it when they grill the lemon
 I will happily admit my gluttony and eagerness to try dessert, despite the fact that for the integrity of my waistband, I should have quit eating somewhere around the time a tiny milk carton of gravy hit the table. I will not comment on why L encouraged me and suggested the beignets, but I’m glad she did. These treats are much-lauded on Urbanspoon and other blogs, and for good reason: they were spectacular. Like tiny doughnut holes delivered from Utopia, the little fried dough balls managed to both be crunchy when one bit them and collapse in on themselves once in the mouth, disintegrating into sugary, fatty lumps of delight. Because of the bacon, booze, cheese, bread, chicken, waffle, pasta and yes, vegetables I had already crammed in my cramhole, I think I only ate one. Or two. Whatever, the amount isn’t important. What’s important is that L and I barely had time to talk to each other in between moaning and groaning about how good everything was.

There are some additional notes, of course. While the bathroom door was adorable:

…L ordered espresso with dessert and did not enjoy it at all, even making faces whilst drinking it. I was two cocktails in at this point and feeling no pain, so I didn’t ask her what was so terrible about it, but the faces did not spell delicious. Also, the nice lady at the table next to us was missing the grapes from her farmer’s salad, which isn’t cool. You order a salad with grapes in it, you probably want your grapes. This is probably how the term sour grapes was coined. That’s about all I have to say negative about this meal, which made me stupidly happy and had L and I both waddling to the nearest cab when we left.

Note the mason jars full of customized liquor

If you’re visiting the land of our forefathers soon, put Founding Farmers on your list, and enjoy the bounty of farm-to-table gastronomy. It’s a fact that many of the actual founding fathers were farmers, and the mission of this joint to celebrate the foods harvested near to our nation’s capital may be a little corny, but it rings true to me. Plus, they’re treating those ingredients with respect, creatively transforming them without torturing them into submission. I gave FF a nine on the BHS scale, but L was reserving higher scores for later in the week, perhaps, and came back with just a seven. I don’t know, maybe she was still mad about the espresso. When you go, score it yourself and let me know what you think. This is, after all, a free country;) My hunger is big; my personality is bigger!

Founding Farmers on Urbanspoon


  1. yeah, I'm not a tobasco fan in the least. Like the heat but just way too vinegary. It tends to overpower everything it touches. I prefer Cholula or Tapatio.

  2. I like Cholula, too, and that's what we use at home unless we're making something "Buffalo," in which case, Frnak's wins the day. But I'm telling you, between the Tabasco ice cream at Eat! and the Tabasco cocktails at FF, I'm coming around.

  3. I am just now getting around to reading this but let me say that I am a huge Tabasco fan and an even bigger bacon fan (as you well know). Even though it is before 7, I find myself wanting one of those cocktails something bad and frantically searching Pinterest for candied bacon recipes. I am also checking my calendar to see when I can squeeze a trip to DC!! Thanks for entertaining me this morning and making my mouth water uncontrollably! :)

    1. Mouth-watering entertainment is what I'm out to provide, so I guess I did my job this week;) Thanks for the comment, Katie!