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D.C. restaurants often name dishes after politicians, particularly around election time. Both Good Stuff Eatery and BGR: The Burger Joint, for instance, whipped up competing Barack Obama and John McCain-themed burgers during the last presidential race.
The latest local addition to this culinary-political gimmickry is a bit more neighborhood specific: “The Jim Graham,” a plate of “[s]ucculent, wild caught salmon” sauteed with onions and peppers and served with your choice of sides, at Ma-Ma’s Southern Cuisine on Georgia Avenue NW.
The revelation of this fishy tribute to the longtime Ward 1 D.C. councilmember sparked enough snarky commentary on the Prince of Petworth blog this week that I decided I had to go try it. Luckily, the tiny mom-and-pop shop had not run out of the stuff. “It sells out very quickly,” chef Sabrina Kenney tells me—a turn-of-phrase that critics of the local politico are certain to adopt as a punchline.
Kenney is no such critic. She says the council member was instrumental in helping her family open the tiny eatery. (The place is named after Kenney’s elder sister, Kimberly, nicknamed “Ma-Ma,” who passed away last December and whose potato salad recipe the younger Kenney is still trying to match. A colorful portrait of the deceased hangs behind the cash register.) She adds that Graham was also supportive of her prior work with at-risk youths in the neighborhood. It’s a way of paying thanks, she says.
Why Salmon? “Salmon is Jim’s favorite,” Kenney says, noting that she had previously catered for the council member. “Once he sees it, he’s going to be floored,” she adds. “I’m going to have to fax over a menu.”
Cooked in olive oil, fresh garlic, and light seasonings, the pink filet arrives skin-side up, topped with slightly caramelized onions, and sweet yellow and orange peppers. The meat is tender, not too salty and nowhere near as rare as it might be served at some of D.C.’s fancier seafood restaurants.
The only thing missing, in my mind, is the obvious—bowtie pasta. It would be the perfect homage, given Graham’s penchant for that particular style of neckwear.
When I bring it up, Kenney laughs but quickly warms up to the idea. She wonders how to sauce it. Then it dawns on her. “We could make a fish gravy and pour that over the salmon and the bowtie pasta.” She also considers another option. “I could make mac and cheese with the bowtie pasta.”
The possibilities are endless.
Ma-Ma’s Southern Cuisine, 3118 Georgia Ave. NW, (202) 722-6262
Photo by dbking/Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License