Five Gross Things I Ate in Our Nation’s Capital

by Heather Whaley

A recent family reunion trip to Washington D.C. did not provide the culinary excitement that one sometimes anticipates while traveling. Perhaps this was because we were a group of 10, four of whom are under the age of ten, two of whom are under four, four of whom are vegetarians, and one person never orders off the menu. It’s hard to reach a consensus on where to eat with a large group, so the answer is usually “Here’s a restaurant. Let’s go in.” This spontaneity leads to some dining disasters and late night runs to the drug store for Pepto Bismol, or Dulcolax, depending on which way the wind blows. Here are five gross things I ate in our nation’s capital.

Egg White Death Omelet

I could begin and end this list right here, because I was in Washington for five days and ate this same omelet every morning for breakfast. Why would I eat disgusting food over and over, you ask? Because it was free, of course. We always stay at the Embassy Suites when traveling, because the rooms at the Embassy Suites have a bedroom and a living area, as is typical of a suite, but they also have a door between them that closes, so we can put the kids to bed in one room, and get loaded on cocktails while watching Bravo in the living room, and other things typical of married people. Also on offer at the Embassy Suites is an enormous free breakfast buffet, complete with Fruit Loops, donuts, sausages, and an omelet station. I’ve had lovely omelets at Embassy Suites in Portland, Maine, and in Syracuse, as well as in sunny Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. But the crankiest egg flipper on the eastern seaboard mans the omelet station at the Embassy Suites in Tyson’s Corner, VA. He uses too much of a liquid butter-type lubricant, and once the eggs have just begun to set, he mashes them all up, basically scrambling them, and then dumps them on a plate and mounds the mess into an omelet shape with his spatula, all the while yelling at you that the breakfast buffet closes at nine thirty, even though it’s only nine twenty-five. I added salsa and jalapenos to give it some flavor.

Fried Macaroni and Cheese Gonads

If you live anywhere near a California Pizza Kitchen, chances are you’ve tried these tempting morsels yourself. I say “tempting” because they sound so freaking good. Who wouldn’t love panko-crusted macaroni and cheese that’s been deep-fried and served alongside some sort of sauce? They would be good too, if they weren’t also wrapped in thick dough that doesn’t cook all the way through and sticks to the roof of your mouth. My daughter liked them, though.

Enchilada Bleh

Leesburg, VA, just outside D.C. sounded like a good place to visit for a dose of Americana, and we found it in the picturesque rolling hills that hosted the Loudon County Fair. After viewing prize pigs and blue ribbon pies, we had worked up an appetite that fistfuls of Kettle Corn would not tame. Anita’s promised “New Mexican Cooking” and I had high hopes due to the festive red and green flags hanging in the windows. But I think “new” referred to the microwave that churned out our food in under two minutes. I didn’t even have time to finish the word search on the back of the kids’ menu, and I love a word search. What you see in the photo is supposed to be an enchilada, but it’s a thick corn tortilla covered in red sauce, and served with a side of rice and beans that I ate before I took the photo. I couldn’t help myself. They were playing Duran Duran and I got all excited.

Ravioli Revoltina

Filomena’s in Georgetown has a little window through which you can see old ladies making ravioli right before your eyes. The menu boasts of the celebrities who have dined there: “When U2’s Bono ate here he enjoyed these raviolis so much he ordered a second helping!” If they’re good enough for U2’s Bono, a man who has surely eaten the very best raviolis in the world, they’re good enough for me! Maybe they would have been if the raviolis weren’t swimming in a pool of tasteless white sauce. Look at them! They need goggles! Was it someone’s idea of a joke to drop whole cherry tomatoes in there? Gordon Ramsey would have spit them out and called the chef a donkey. I didn’t though, because the waiter was really nice and I was drunk from the three glasses of pinot grigio I had before the raviolis even got to the table.

Sickly Salad

OK, the Burger King at the Joyce Kilmer Rest Area is on the Jersey Turnpike and not in our nation’s capital, but we stopped there on our way home, so I’m including it on this list. I waited patiently on line behind a busload of Japanese exchange students in matching t-shirts as they ordered salad after salad. Caught up in the spirit of the moment, I abandoned thoughts of a burger and onion rings, and followed suit. I even asked for fat-free dressing, and felt really smug and superior as I sat down to eat my greens amid all the other travelers stuffing their faces with greasy, paper-wrapped, grade D beef, until I opened the container and saw elderly iceberg lettuce topped with “cheese” and croutons. It wasn’t even worth eating. Not even after I smothered it in ranch dressing. I hovered over my kids, hoping they wouldn’t finish all of their pizza from Sabarro, “Are you done? You going to eat the crust?” Which, by the way, tastes amazing dunked in ranch dressing. Just so you know.

Heather Whaley is the author of Eat Your Feelings: Recipes for Self-Loathing and the blog She is currently working on her second book and lives in New York City with her husband and two children.