Travel: Three helpings of American Pie in Washington DC
From lamb kabob to chocolate peanut terrine, calories are no concern for Roger Crow on an epic food tour of Washington DC, Baltimore and Alexandria.
The Capitol Building looked like a giant wedding cake against Washington DC’s skyline.
While marvelling at arguably America’s most beautiful building, and wondering if those majestic columns were made from solid icing, I realised I might be taking my epic food tour a little too seriously.
I could have blamed jetlag for my condition, though a blissfully easy United Airlines flight from Manchester to Washington’s Dulles International Airport a few days earlier felt more like a luxurious train journey than a trip across the Atlantic.
The weather was glorious, which made touring neighbouring Baltimore on a Segway (two-wheeled electric transports, care of Segs in the City) an unforgettable experience.
A harbour cruise, and walk round the National Pinball Museum were also great ways to spend a Sunday as the temperature in Maryland soared.
I enjoyed many intriguing dishes in Baltimore, from fried pickles at Leinenkugel’s Beer Garden (an acquired taste); a rustic dinner at Sabatino’s in the historic Little Italy district, and a mouth-watering breakfast of eggs benedict and pulled pork at my favourite Baltimore diner, Miss Shirley’s Cafe.
Breakfast at our hotel, Fairfield Inn & Suites, wasn’t bad either, and even a simple cup of Earl Grey at the inspired American Visionary Art Museum’s cafe was as uplifting as its outstanding artworks.
After a 45-minute train trip, I arrived in the more serious DC, and it was time to start sampling Washington’s remarkable eateries.
Of course, parts of America are notorious for serving epic portions and, as I was in the country’s capital, I knew I may as well stop counting calories right now.
First there was the gut-busting pasta and tiramisu at Carmine’s Italian restaurant, then the excellent fish dishes at Johnny’s Half Shell. However, the biggest threat to my waistline was the food trucks, which provide tasty lunches and snacks for around 10 US dollars.
Alerts are posted on Facebook and Twitter, so you can find out where they’re going to be.
I could have eaten my weight in lamb kabob (yes, kabob), but feared too much gluttony would lead to my bike ride round Washington ending in a buckled frame and flat tyres.
Guided Monuments Bike Tour do a great job of showing you around the monuments and memorials on the National Mall and Potomac Tidal Basin.
It was leisurely enough to avoid exhaustion, yet we managed to take in historic sights, like the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial and the new Martin Luther King Jr Memorial.
Of course, on any food tour, there is bound to be one mouth-watering meal which eclipses the rest. In this case, Charlie Palmer Steak won hands down. Tasty halibut, delicious steak and chocolate peanut terrine, complete with stunning wines, proved unforgettable.
It wasn’t hard to see why the place is favoured by the likes of Harrison Ford and Angelina Jolie when they’re in town.
After feasting on so much food, I was in need of a lie down, and Capitol Hill Suites proved very welcoming.
My spacious apartment was a treat, with a comfortable bed, two TVs, lounge and a kitchen area, should I have wanted to rustle up something in between courses. Unsurprisingly I didn’t.
Thankfully, acquired calories can be burned off with long walks around DC, especially the assorted museums.
Being a 007 fan, I couldn’t resist a trip around The International Spy Museum, the only public exhibition in the United States solely dedicated to espionage.
However, if you only have time to see one museum in DC, I’d recommend The Ford’s Theatre.
It’s chilling seeing the spot where former US president Abraham Lincoln was shot in 1865, along with the house where he later died.
Macabre elements aside, it remains a compelling destination. And if you really want to clock up some miles, the Smithsonian offers incredible artefacts in abundance.
I only had time to speed-walk round a small part, the National Museum of American History, but the fact it’s free means your precious dollars go a lot further. Kids will (hopefully) be fascinated by the wealth of displays on offer.
Next morning, after devouring my last continental breakfast at Capitol Hill Suites, I took the Metro tube train to Alexandria, Virginia, and within 40 minutes arrived at another of America’s hidden gems.
Although I was glad of a walk, the free and elegant King’s Street Trolley bus can take you from the station to the offbeat Hotel Monaco, a luxurious hostelry boasting bold interior decoration and comfortable beds.
Alexandria, formerly a British Colony, was once a stomping ground of George Washington, so American history fans will have a field day seeing how he left an indelible mark on the place.
They may also want to look round The Carlyle House, the first stone residence in the area, constructed by Scottish entrepreneur John Carlyle.
However, as a music history fan, I was more interested to see where The Doors’ frontman Jim Morrison spent his formative school years.
A favourite memory of my three-city trip was a walking food tour of Alexandria’s picturesque Old Town, which revealed many great eateries and restaurants, from Bilbo Baggins’s Global Cafe, to my favourite, The Columbia Firehouse; their scallops and cous cous are outstanding.
With my final few hours in town, I fed my creative hunger at the Torpedo Factory Art Center, a hub for craftspeople.
Alas, all too soon my odyssey was at an end.
Following a quick trip courtesy of Alexandria Seaport Cruise, I returned to Dulles International Airport.
With the Metro set to take travellers straight to Dulles’ door in the next few years, getting from Manchester to Washington and beyond will eventually be easier than ever.
I, for one, can’t wait to try it out.
Travel facts - Washington DC
:: For more information on the region, visit www.capitalregionusa.co.uk
:: United Airlines (0845 8444 777; www.united.com) operates a daily non-stop service from Manchester to its hub at Washington/Dulles. Return fares in economy start from £825.80 including taxes. Flights also available from London.