Blame it on Paula Deen. With her recipes including four sticks of butter and enough cheddar cheese to keep Wisconsin’s economy going, Deen has likely convinced many that Southern food is the culprit in America’s obesity problem. Yet while Southern food may not be the best for America’s waistlines, the comfort stemming from its home-style preparation and flavors is undeniable.
Boasting its Southern hospitality in the nation’s capital, Georgia Brown’s seeks to persuade diners that southern cuisine’s bad reputation doesn’t mean it’s not classy. Offering gracious service and succulent fare since 1993, this restaurant on K and 15th Streets cares as much about the dining experience as it does about the food.
Exhibiting the warmth typically associated with the South, the wait staff is welcoming and friendly. From the moment diners walk inside, they’re transported to the low country as they sit under the branches of live oak trees that similarly stretch over Southern streets. The walls’ orange and yellow hues create an at-home feeling for a comforting and relaxing ambiance.
As patrons browse through the menu selections, they can get a taste of what is to come by sampling the complimentary biscuits and cornbread. Unlike traditional biscuits, these are fluffy than flaky. The cornbread, too, is a variation on tradition. Taking a bite into the finger-shaped breads, one can taste the corn kernels and the sweetness of the added sugar.
Between bites of biscuits and sips of sweet peach tea, choosing an entree can be difficult. The menu includes soul food staples like fried catfish with blue cheese coleslaw, shrimp with Andouille sausage and stone-milled grits and jambalaya with dirty rice, duck confit and Etouffee gravy.
Arguably the signature of soul food, the buttermilk-fried chicken is not to be missed. Each plate includes one dark-meat and one white-meat piece of chicken that have been marinated in buttermilk and fried golden brown. The skin provides a crisp, crunchy contrast to the moist and tender meat, and the accompanying collard greens strike the right balance of salt and acidity. The macaroni and cheese, a substitute for the mashed potatoes typically served with the chicken, is far from the processed product with which many diners are familiar. Bathed in a cheddar cheese sauce, the serving is just the right size without being too rich, but it could benefit from some spice to add a depth of flavor.
For something less heavy, the salmon is grilled with Creole spices and topped with watermelon rind pickles and a sassafras barbecue sauce. The vinegary tang of pickles contrasts nicely with the slightly oversweet sassafras sauce. The fish is a thick portion, carefully cooked to ensure it is heated throughout.
As with many of the plates on the menu, a cheese-based side dish and a type of greens accompany the salmon. Not as loose as traditional recipes, the cheddar grits resemble a thick porridge. Because of the cheese’s sharpness, it has less moisture when melted, which makes for a slightly grainy mixture. While its texture might be off-putting to some, the dish embodies the stick-to-the-ribs comfort of soul food without being overly greasy. Similarly, the spinach is sauteed until just wilted to avoid absorbing too much oil.
If dessert is too much of a temptation, diners should avoid the sweet menu at all costs. Banana pudding is a Southern classic, but Georgia Brown’s adds its own twists: caramelized vanilla cookies and a salted caramel drizzle over the banana custard. Despite the name, the peach cobbler resembles more of a crisp with its warm oat-and-vanilla wafer topping. Melting into the nooks and crannies of the brown sugar and butter-sauteed peaches, a scoop of vanilla-bean ice cream tops the dessert.
On a regular visit, dinner costs upward of $30 per person. For those looking not to stretch their budgets, consider signing up for the mobile app Scoutmob, which currently has a Georgia Brown’s deal for 50 percent off, or up to a $25 discount. The app won’t save diners any calories, but it might convince them that Southern hospitality is worth embracing.