Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Old Ebbitt Grill - Washington, D.C.

As we planned our visit to Washington, D.C., one restaurant that came up a number of times was Old Ebbitt Grill. One of my partners, who has visited Washington each year for about 30 years, told me that it is a place where the politicians and business leaders of the city go to eat. The food is not always great, but the atmosphere is fun. 

I find that it actually has its own reference in Wikipedia.  Some interesting tidbits: It was established in 1856 and is the oldest bar and restaurant in Washington. Presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Andrew Johnson both dined there frequently. Presidents Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt and Warren G. Harding drank in the bar there. In 1977 it was the location where a Soviet spy ring operated. In 1986 it was the location of a discussion among Reagan administration officials, including Oliver North, seeking to protect President Reagan from fallout from the Iran-Contra affair. President George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush had dinner with Sting there in 1989, followed a few weeks later by the Rolling Stones. In 2013 it was ranked third in the nation in terms of revenue for a restaurant with revenues of $26.7 million. It turns away 800 to 900 customers a day. One of the two restaurants that beat it that year (with revenues of $35.3 million) was Joe's Stone Crab in Miami which we happened to visit that same year.

My sister-in-law, Mary Cannon Smith, and her husband, Doug Smith, joined us for dinner there. They are serving an LDS mission in the area and took time out of their busy schedules to be with us. The place was packed. I'd made reservations for the two of us several weeks in advance and Doug and Mary were able to get reservations after some people cancelled and the hostess was able to seat us together. 
This photo was taken by our waiter.
We arrived during oyster hours (before 6:00 p.m.) when the oysters are half price. So we ordered a dozen oysters (they go through about 14,000 oysters a week). They provided cocktail sauce with horseradish that could be added in. They were very good, but King's Fish House still does the best job with oysters for my taste. King's seems to have more of the salty clam juice that really makes or breaks the raw oysters for me, plus they are nicely chilled and their pre-mixed cocktail sauce is a perfect amount of heat to my taste. 
Doug and Mary had eaten there once before and Doug said that the crab cakes were the best he'd ever tasted. So Judy ordered them and shared a bite or two with me. I have to agree that they are the best crab cakes I've eaten. The cakes were large, moist and succulent. 
Crab cakes
I love soft-shell crab which are blue crabs that have recently molted and their new exoskeleton is still soft. They are removed from water to prevent hardening of the shell and the entire crab, other than the mouthparts, gills and abdomen can be eaten. The edible part of the crab is deep-fried or sauteed. Given our proximity to the Chesapeake Bay, one of the primary sources for blue crabs, and being the right season, I had to have soft-shelled crab (I ordered two). These were coated in cornmeal and flash fried, and came with new potatoes, asparagus and a Cajun remoulade. The crab was wonderfully moist and the body was thick and juicy. The thick remoulade was a very nice addition. Perhaps the best soft-shell crab I've ever eaten. 

I wanted to get this view as well - it shows the crab legs. 
My experience was that the food was excellent and reasonably priced by Washington standards. I would love to go back again some day.


  1. I was stunned by how crowded it was for how early in the evening it was. It's obviously the in place to be. I can also totally see how a spy ring could operate here. It's loud and noisy and jam-packed with all kinds of people. It would be easy to just blend in.

  2. That's an astonishing amount of customers turned away in a day. Amazing that your sister-in-law and husband got in.