Home Cooking: Southern Fare Up North

Posted April 13, 2011 at 4:45pm

Washington, D.C., might seem like a Southern town at times, but anyone from Dixie knows how tough it can be to find real sweet tea and barbecue this far north. 

Luckily for hungry Southerners, Saturday marks the 29th annual Taste of the South Gala. The event, which is hosted by Members of Congress from 13 Southern states, raises money for Southern charities. 

This year’s proceeds will go to the Children’s Safety Center in Springdale, Ark., to help fund the group’s mental health programs for abused children. A portion of the proceeds will also benefit charities selected by each of the participating states, as well as a local organization.

Arkansas Sens. Mark Pryor (D) and John Boozman (R) spoke at a Congressional reception Tuesday in support of the event’s charitable efforts. The two couldn’t resist poking a little fun at each other while they were there. 

“I’m going to get out of your way here because I feel like I’m standing between you and the food and I don’t want to do that,” Pryor joked. 

Boozman didn’t let his state’s senior Senator get the best of him. 

“We are both patrons of the buffets, not only in Arkansas but throughout the country and throughout the world,” he replied.  

The Taste of the South started in 1982, when a group of Southern natives waxed nostalgic and decided to throw a party to remind themselves of home. Twelve states hosted a party with beer and fried chicken, and tickets cost only $15.  

Saturday’s event will feature a much larger variety of Southern food, including barbecue, gumbo, Krispy Kreme donuts and fried catfish. Each of the participating states will sponsor a table filled with regional cuisine and specialty products donated from home-state vendors and organizations.

When there’s not a food-focused gala to attend, Members from down South look elsewhere in D.C. for their fill of pulled pork sandwiches or jambalaya. 

Rep. Stephen Fincher doesn’t have to go far — he’s a big fan of the hot dogs sometimes served in the cloakroom. The barbecue served in the Longworth House Office building isn’t too shabby either, the Tennessee Republican said. But when he really needs to eat well, he heads to Ruth’s Chris Steak House.

Rep. Louie Gohmert misses Mexican food and barbecue when he’s in Washington — although he said the Capitol Hill Club puts out some tasty Texas treats from time to time. The Texas Republican also gave props to Ben’s Chili Bowl.

“What they’ve got is good for D.C., but I’m so spoiled by the food back home,” he said.

Newly elected Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) knows exactly where to find good Southern food.  “It’s at my condo, where my wife makes it,” he said. 

Boozman, a big fan of chicken-fried steak and cheese grits, likes Southside 815 in Old Town Alexandria, Va. A trip there will skyrocket his cholesterol, he said, but the food is worth it. 

Rep. Rick Crawford (R-Ark.), a big fan of Memphis-style barbecue, hasn’t yet found a barbecue restaurant here up to his standards. He does say Horace and Dickie’s on H Street Northeast makes a mean catfish. 

That should tickle the fancy of Sen. Thad Cochran, who loves Southern-style catfish. He was the least dismissive of the District’s Southern offerings. 

“Washington really is a Southern city,” the Mississippi Republican said. 

Nevertheless, quite a few Southern Members miss home. 

“It’s the food, the warmth, its people, the friendliness, and the idea that no one’s tense and going forward real fast,” Rep. Francisco “Quico” Canseco (R-Texas) said. “Here in Washington, it’s a different world.”