In Search Of Lost Meals: D.c.'s Food History (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

Transcripts

In Search of Lost Meals: D.C.'s Food History

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

13:20:57
I'm Rebecca Sheir and welcome back to "Metro Connection." Before the break, we were chewing on the history of the government's role in what we eat. Well, now we're going to sink our teeth into history of another sort, one that might ring a few gustatory bells if you happened to live in the Washington region, say, 50, 60 years ago.

MS. SHELIA COFFMAN

13:21:17
Go to Pop's Pizza right up here off of University. That was the best pizza.

MR. RAMON ZEENDER

13:21:22
I have a different opinion. I always thought Gusty's was the best pizza.

COFFMAN

13:21:24
But they had a sweeter sauce and were you here when the polar bear custard was here on Georgia Avenue?

ZEENDER

13:21:30
Yes.

COFFMAN

13:21:30
And in Silver...

ZEENDER

13:21:31
Yes, and...

COFFMAN

13:21:32
I wish somebody would find out how to make polar bear custard again.

SHEIR

13:21:35
That's Shelia Coffman, a D.C. native who's just a wee bit into food.

COFFMAN

13:21:40
I'm the author of 26 cookbooks. I'm a cooking instructor, food editor and a culinary lecturer, just eating my way through life.

SHEIR

13:21:49
And Ramon Zeender, a long-time Washingtonian who helps run Blair Mansion.

ZEENDER

13:21:54
My family's restaurant since 1959, but we go all the way back to Gusty's restaurant back in 1949.

SHEIR

13:22:02
I sat down with Shelia and Ramon at Blair Mansion in Silver Spring, Maryland..

COFFMAN

13:22:05
I used to come here 40 and 50 years ago.

ZEENDER

13:22:09
So did I, still do.

SHEIR

13:22:12
...to hear about the local food scene when they were growing up.

ZEENDER

13:22:15
You had French, you had Italian, Chinese.

COFFMAN

13:22:18
Steakhouses like...

ZEENDER

13:22:20
Blackey's.

COFFMAN

13:22:20
…Blackey's.

ZEENDER

13:22:21
Like Blackey House of Beef.

COFFMAN

13:22:23
And cafeterias, Sholl's Cafeteria downtown.

SHEIR

13:22:25
These days Blackey's and Sholl's are gone but as we heard earlier in the show, last year the District boasted nearly 2,000 eateries of all culinary stripes. So both Shelia and Ramon agree we've come a long way.

ZEENDER

13:22:39
But you didn't have the varieties of food that you can go out and eat at. It's unbelievable, it's wonderful.

COFFMAN

13:22:43
There's a country, there's a restaurant. That's how I feel about what's happened.

SHEIR

13:22:48
Shelia, who's also a food historian of sorts and helped found the Culinary Historians of Washington or, I love this...

COFFMAN

13:22:55
CHOW.

SHEIR

13:22:56
...says this variety came with the arrival of more immigrants.

COFFMAN

13:22:59
You had the Russians, Vietnamese, huge Indian communities and then you began to see the Ethiopians. So none of this...

ZEENDER

13:23:07
Hispanics.

COFFMAN

13:23:07
Yes, none of this was here.

SHEIR

13:23:09
And as a pro in the restaurant biz, Ramon Zeender says another reason D.C.'s become this diverse dining destination is plain and simple, more of us are going out for dinner.

ZEENDER

13:23:20
The discussion was how can we get people to go out to eat? And just about every restaurant except for Chinese was closed on Monday.

SHEIR

13:23:26
Because after all, Monday was considered the slowest day of the week. But now, of course, all sorts of restaurants are open on Mondays and the dining scene here is always changing, which Shelia and Ramon say is good, though there are still plenty of things they miss from the early days.

SHEIR

13:23:41
Whether it's strawberry shortcake from the Blue Mirror.

COFFMAN

13:23:44
The coconut cake from Paul Young's.

SHEIR

13:23:46
Danny's Bakery on Grub Road.

COFFMAN

13:23:48
With the best bran muffins and the best glazed doughnuts.

SHEIR

13:23:53
Not to mention that polar bear custard.

COFFMAN

13:23:55
Chocolate vanilla. I tell people I was born a sugar addict and a chocoholic.

SHEIR

13:24:01
For Ramon, it's the more savory things he misses like Italian food at the Roma.

ZEENDER

13:24:05
With its back garden that you used to be able to sit back.

SHEIR

13:24:08
Fish Thompson's super fresh seafood.

ZEENDER

13:24:11
You know, you felt like they just brought the boat up behind the restaurant.

SHEIR

13:24:14
And the sliders or belly bombers at Little Tavern.

ZEENDER

13:24:17
After a night out, you really didn't want to go home quite yet, you know, you had a date and maybe you wanted to spend a little more time. You could always go to the Club LT.

SHEIR

13:24:25
But he also says the beauty of these memories is, well, in a way they never disappear.

ZEENDER

13:24:31
You know, how you taste something and it brings back a memory or smell something and you remember it, you know?

SHEIR

13:24:36
Ramon Zeender and Shelia Coffman both say every now and again they'll taste something reminiscent of an old favorite. It's just peppered and spiced with a new modern twist. So in a way, it's like having your cake, Paul Young's coconut or otherwise, and eating it too.

SHEIR

13:24:52
If you have a favorite eatery or food from your early days in Washington, we'd love to hear the delicious details. Send us an email at metro@wamu.org.
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