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I’ve always been a bit of a food snob. Thanks in no small part to a mother who could cook Southern-style food well enough to open her own restaurant (well, thirty years ago, anyway), as well as nearly three decades’ worth of experience in the kitchen myself (see my post “Top Cook” from May ’09 for more). After fourteen total years of living in the DC area (or “the DMV,” as some dummies and promoters say these days), I can safely say that the food in this town — from Rockville and Silver Spring, to Suitland and College Park, from Alexandria and Falls Church, to all eight of DC’s wards — sucks, sucks, sucks. There’s no one who can convince me otherwise.

I’ve tried. I really have. Over the years, I’ve been to restaurants near my former jobs in Dupont Circle, on K Street, in Old Town Alexandria, Adams Morgan, Foggy Bottom, U Street and Georgetown. On the recommendations of friends, I’ve eaten at dozens of joints, fine eateries and diners, pizzerias and bars, crab shacks and cafés. Here’s my list of the places I’d recommend to my best friends as places to enjoy a good meal or dessert: Ruth’s Chris Steak House (Dupont Circle), Cheesecake Factory (Alexandria and Friendship Heights) and Original Pancakes (Rockville Pike). That’s it. Unfortunately, they’re all national chains and you pay through the nose for the food at all of them. As much as I love strip steaks and chocolate cheesecake, who can afford to eat like that every day?

Mineo's Pizza, Pittsburgh, PA, circa 2010, February 20, 2013. (http://flickr.com).

Mineo’s Pizza, Pittsburgh, PA, circa 2010, February 20, 2013. (http://flickr.com). Oh, how I’ve missed thee!

Otherwise, the food here is both overpriced and prepared as if my nine-year-old son was the master chef. I find it appalling that there are restaurants (including one that calls itself a “diner”) that charge $10 and $12 for a burger! What? Are they using Kobe beef flown in from Kobe, Japan or something?

You can’t even find good pizza in this area. We’re talking pizza, folks! My latest attempts at finding even decent pizza have been Pete’s Apizza (New Haven-style that’s overcooked, even for New Haven-style) on Wisconsin in DC and — get this — Whole Foods. At least at Whole Foods, they get the sauce right — but only the sauce! I’ve officially given up on this too. The best pizzas I’ve had here over the past five years are the ones I’ve made from scratch and put in the oven on my own stone implement.

If you think I’m being hard on DC’s food, understand this. For those of you who knew me when I was at Pitt and Carnegie Mellon, I used to complain about Pittsburgh’s food. That was, until I finished graduate school, and then had two and a half years (’96-’99) to truly explore the city’s cuisine. Spring Garden for Chinese (Squirrel Hill), Pasta Piatta for Italian (Shadyside), Max & Erma’s for Americana, Rosebud’s for true old New York-style deli sandwiches — not that crap Primanti Bros. makes (Downtown, or Dahntahn), Gullifty’s for dessert and Mineo’s for pizza — especially their Sicilian slices (again, Squirrel Hill). Now, some of these eateries no longer exist. What I can tell you, though, is that while typing the previous sentence, my stomach began to growl wildly.

Hollywood East Cafe, circa 2002 and 2012, from hole-in-the-wall to the middle of a mall (how bigger isn't always better), Wheaton, MD, February 20, 2013. (Donald Earl Collins).

Hollywood East Cafe, circa 2002 and 2012, from hole-in-the-wall to the middle of a mall (how bigger isn’t always better), Wheaton, MD, February 20, 2013. (Donald Earl Collins).

That’s friggin’ Pittsburgh, not exactly a hotbed of haute cuisine. Here in the DMV, even when I’ve found a good place for food, it’s turned out to be a one-time thing. Hollywood East Cafe, the best Chinese/Asian cuisine I’ve had on this side of the Potomac, has changed so much since ’08 that I’ve bought my own wok and traditional steamer to make my own stir-frys and steamed rice. Cake Love’s (or Cake Loathe, as I call it these days) desserts were always icing top-heavy. Now, I could used them as mud bricks to build a sugary-smelling shantytown in Silver Spring and off U Street. Sweet Georgia Brown’s is a sour place of Southern style fused with soul-less additions, and Hogate’s (now closed) was always over-hyped, even when it did have above-average seafood.

Even the raw materials for the food that we’re supposed to prepare at home tend to suck and cost more than they’re worth. Whole Foods’ chickens and chicken parts — organic and free range as they are — look like they’ve been on a Slim-Fast diet their whole lives. They and the kosher butchers I occasionally shop price their beef as if they slaughter a cow one at a time, out behind their stores. The vegan alternatives are such that one would think Whole Foods was growing tofu cultures in a lab above the shopping area, as much as half a pound of vegan chicken costs!

I need another outlet for the foodie in me, and soon. My food can’t continue to be the only best food I can eat, because that means ever more time in the kitchen, and maybe even getting a permit to start slaughtering my own meat. Perhaps, maybe, Baltimore? My suspicion is, not much better, but I’m willing to give then a try.