Like a Bugs Bunny cartoon, Generous George’s plays to the kids while winking at the grown-ups. As though it were scripted, twice I enter this spectacle of helium balloons, Betty Boop paintings, and oddly tinged stuffed animals to the sounds of “It’s My Party”; each time I notice a birthday girl wet with tears, defiantly broadcasting her displeasure. For the most part, the waiters seem oblivious to such commotion, although before the perturbed one who points me toward the basement chimes, “Welcome to Generous George’s!” to some customers walking in, he utters under his breath what sounds like, “annoying little shits.”
The downstairs seems twice as big as the main floor, perhaps because it’s empty. On a weekend night, G.G.’s stairway is like a tunnel in Pee-wee’s playhouse, connecting the family fun upstairs with a downstairs that is equally animated, though provided with the auxiliary pleasures of a big-screen television. On this Monday, with the lights off and the chairs vacant, the basement is ominous. As I stand in the dark observing a turquoise lion, a pole in its back indicating it was once part of a carousel, I nearly bite my tongue when I realize I’m not alone. I never see the kid, but a child runs behind me, its shriek fading with the sounds of its footsteps.
Maybe that cheesy burger pizza was funnier than I thought. Maybe I’m hearing things. Maybe it’s too late to heed the call emblazoned on the urinal drain: “Say no to drugs.”
“We’re popular with everyone,” a waitress assures me, flipping hair away from her face. “Everybody loves our pizza.” While the waitress’s pride is admirableand I’ll admit to falling for George’s sausage-and-onion pie
I take exception to her use of the term “pizza” in this context. At Generous George’s, nearly everything is pizzaeven
There’s a brashness to George’s redefinition of pizza, one that doesn’t extend to the place’s safe renditions of subs but certainly informs the daily specials, which sometimes include ostrich. George’s doesn’t modulate much when turning once-dissimilar recipes into pies. This means that the cheesy burger pizza comes with everything you’d find on a Whopper, including dill pickles. The taco cha cha is covered with a healthy layer of sour cream.
Other specialty pizzas are infinitely more appetizing. The vegetarian delight is topped with a salad’s worth of spinach, onions, tomatoes, mushrooms, and green peppers, all of it firm and fresh. The California Dreamin’ you’ll recognize as typical of more “gourmet” pizza joints, with its garlic-and-oil spread and melted melange of ricotta, parmesan, and mozzarella cheeses.
But surprisingly enough, George’s pies aren’t so much hurt by their recipes as by their execution. The “Generous” in G.G.’s name denotes a heavy hand in the kitchen, and while I’m never one to bitch about large quantities, there is such a thing as knowing when to say when. On the pizza à la chicken, there’s a family-size portion of broccoli but hardly a trace of cheese. On the European combo, the ham and mushrooms are enough to make me full, but the pesto is a virtual no-show. You could argue that the skewed sense of proportion is a house theme. I order a glass of beer that’s bigger than my friends’ pitcher of iced tea. And if the stuffed flamingo hanging from the ceiling were to fight the purple elephant standing on the dining room’s bar, I’d bet on the bird.
Thanks to a sturdy, altogether awesome crust, George’s traditional pizzas and somewhat less conventional pastas survive the overindulgence. A colleague claims that a simple cheese pie at George’s is the best pizza in town, so I order it. The crust is thick but not deep-dish. It’s hearty, like bread, but behaves as it should, rising pillowlike around the edges and staying firm even at the center. The simplicity of the cheese is nice, but I prefer a few supplementary ingredients. The pastas are all treated as if they’re pizzas in that they’re served over a plain, personal-size crust. A corny idea, I know, and the pastas themselves are nothing special. But think of the crust as a round focaccia and you’ll understand how the combination works.
The question raised most often when I’m dining at George’s has less to do with food than with the taste with which everything is presented. The tone of the place is one of relentless optimism (it is, of course, Generous George’s Positive Pizza and Pasta Place), not irony, so I doubt G.G. is going for camp. In the entranceway there’s a display of the day’s recommended dishes, all of which are grossly discolored from having sat out for hours; the sign saying they’re for “display only” and aren’t to be eaten is hardly necessary.
While I never make sense of the place, on successive visits to G.G.’s I am reminded that tackiness is relative to perspective, and the kids I see sucking helium and the older couples out on dates always seem happy enough. As well they should be. It’s their party.
Generous George’s, 3006 Duke St., Alexandria. (703) 370-4303.
Despite its inconspicuous basement home, the Caravan Grill has acquired a fairly rabid cult following among Y&H readers. “It’s pretty wild, because it’s an all-you-can-eat buffet,” says one Caravan devotee who claims to “taste, like, 10 [dishes] everyday.” How someone could dine here so frequently and still retain enthusiasm is best explained by the buffet’s daily rotation of Iranian offerings. The cuisine at the buffet, which you won’t find among the Middle Eastern items on the menu, can be fascinating. Debbie Hicks was introduced to the place by friends “suspicious of anything that doesn’t look like a hot dog, hamburger, or pizza,” and they all found Caravan “dynamite.” “I just got back from their Saturday buffet,” Alex reports. “It’s really outstanding.” Look for a smoked eggplant, egg, and garlic spread called miiza (great on the rough and puffy bread called babari) or the aash, a thick tomato, rice, and bean soup.
Caravan Grill, 1825 18th St. NW. (202) 518-0444.
Eatery tips? Hot plates? Send suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or call (202) 332-2100 and ask for my voice mail.