We’ve been fans of the Florida Avenue Grill since the first edition of Roadfood in 1978, but it opened before we were born. In the time we’ve known it, it barely has changed. The only significant difference — and this is always changing — is the celebrity picture assortment on the wall. Some retired senators, congressmen, and members of the White House cabinet have been supplanted by current office holders. Curiously, though, entertainers and big name sports stars seem not to go out of style and most of their images remain long past their renown.
If by the preceding description of its famous clientele, you’ve gotten the notion that The Florida Avenue Grill is hifalutin or high-priced, do reconsider. It is anything but. A humble diner with a counter and booths, it serves meals that barely make it into the double-digit price range. As for being fancy, you’ll see taxicab drivers and blue collar workmen here shoulder to shoulder with the capital’s power players. Delicious cooking such as this knows no bounds of class or status.
We remember stopping by for lunch many years back and asking the waitress what was good that day. “Pig feets,” she answered. Yes, you can come for seriously soulful soul food such as feets or chitlins, but you also can begin with more more mainstream things to eat. Spare ribs, for example, glazed with breathless hot sauce, rugged and satisfying: these are not yuppie baby back ribs; they are food that make you work, and when you do, they deliver tidal waves of flavor. Pork chops are like that, too: highly seasoned, meaty, and substantial, encased in brilliantly seasoned batter and fried to utmost succulence. For a tender meal, how about meat loaf? This meat loaf, particularly with a side of mashed potatoes and a heap of pungent collard greens, is one of the kitchen’s unexpected triumphs, its coarse-textured meat shot through with potent spice. True to southern custom, there are lots of vegetables to accompany the entrees: candied sweet potatoes, macaroni and cheese, potato salad, rice, beans, peas, and always cornbread muffins for mopping up a plate.
For many fans of the Florida Avenue Grill, the prime meal of the day is breakfast. That’s when you can have stacks of cinnamon-dusted pancakes, squares of scrapple and buff lengths of grilled half-smoke, corned beef hash, salmon cakes and grits, crusty fried potatoes, stewed spiced apples, buttermilk biscuits, and, of course, gravy.
If you value honest eats, this humble restaurant with its sprung-spring booths, pink counter, and red plastic stools is choice. It is cheap, fast, and the oh-so-hospitable waitresses make even us pale-faced strangers feel right at home.