WASHINGTON (AP) -- This is a city of monuments, for sure -- both to history and to restaurants.
There are the stone-faced tributes to Lincoln and King, as well as the Washington establishments that are shrines to culinary ego and ingenuity alike. But to appreciate this capital city and its true character, get away from both categories and venture to the quickly developing stretch around the 14th Street corridor.
There, discover the best tribute to the ultimate American comfort food: Stoney's grilled cheeses.
Yes, grilled cheeses.
While other restaurants in Washington deservedly earn high praise from foodies for their longevity, tradition and innovation, the low-key vibe of Stoney's is the embodiment of what folks who call Washington home know better. The wood-floored, high-ceiling neighborhood bar captures the flavor that suburban chain restaurants try to replicate in mall parking lots, without the kitsch or glaring fluorescent lights. No high-energy script, just vintage-style, low-intensity bulbs.
Stoney's menu is genuinely casual and its signature grilled cheese menu doesn't carry a celebrity chef's endorsement increasingly common in Washington and its environs in Maryland and Virginia. It's a city where tourists often wait hours to sample plates prepared by bold-faced kitchen whizzes such as Jose Andres or Michel Richard and reality show veterans such as Mike Isabella and Spike Mendelsohn. And weekend lines at Georgetown's feuding cupcake stores often stretch around blocks.
At Stoney's, it's seat yourself, no host or hostess. Menus are already on the tables. Water and soda glasses are plastic. Draft beer trumps craft cocktails.
There are multiple varieties of grilled cheese, all delicious. There is the classic, with melted American between two thick slices of buttery Texas toast, crispy on the outside but chewy in the middle. The "super" variety adds juicy tomato, break-your-tooth-crunchy bacon and plenty of onions. Another option includes thick and salty slices of ham to the mix.
These are the kind of dishes Mom made to ward off the cold, coupled with tomato soup.
None tops $10 and each comes with fries -- though the onion rings are an option with far more texture. During happy hour, the price dips as low as the remarkable $3 in a city where meals' costs climb at a ridiculous clip.
Which is why at Stoney's, high-priced consultants, political operatives and blue-collar residents alike slide up to the wooden barstools without any of the class distinctions that leave Washington open to fair criticism that the capital is among the country's most segregated based on income. Pictures of famous Washingtonians are on the wall -- there's Colin Powell! And Bill Clinton! -- near framed cases of police and fire badges from departments that visit from around the country.
Stoney's opened in 1968 at a spot a few blocks away but moved to its current location in 2006, just as the neighborhood's development got humming. And while the clientele has shifted as the neighborhood has grown -- a Whole Foods is across the street, and other neighbors on the block include two solid farm-to-table restaurants, a running shop and a yoga studio -- the menu has not.
And that menu remains rooted in cheese. Not the fancy, expensive kinds that are sold by the ounce at froufrou specialty shops. No, Stoney's appreciates the classics: American, cheddar, Parmesan. Best when melted, of course.
The grilled cheese offerings are the must-try dishes. But the mac and cheese with bacon, the meatloaf sandwich and Reuben all are laden with melted cheese and earn rave reviews. They're the kind of plates that, with one look, make it clear you'll need extra napkins.
Paper napkins, of course. This is not the place for cloth ones. Those are available at the other places.
If You Go...
STONEY'S: 1433 P St. NW, Washington, D.C., 202-234-1818. http://www.stoneys-dc.com/
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