Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Ham Biscuits


Malawry
 Share

Recommended Posts

Those of you who have been following the "Adam Balic in America" thread on the DC board know that Adam was visiting Washington, DC for a short while and was interested in sampling some American delicacies such as red-eye gravy and grits. One thing we'd discussed was ham biscuits, those Southern wedding-reception classic savory treats. My close friend Edemuth generously offered to acquire some ham biscuits for Adam, and promised to cart them along when we met up with Adam for the first DC area eGullet dinner.

Here begins the Saga of the Ham Biscuits:

Vidalia is a nouvelle-Southern restaurant on L Street NW in the Farragut neighborhood of DC. Chef-owner Jeffrey Buben has received extensive press accolades for the creative upscale cuisine he serves, including two James Beard regional awards from 1998 and 1999. Executive chef Peter Smith currently runs the kitchen. Vidalia is also conveniently located halfway between my office and Edemuth's office. We figured Vidalia was our safest bet for finding a good ham biscuit experience for Adam. We knew that they had biscuits in their bread basket, and we figured any Southern restaurant would have to have real Smithfield ham laying around in the kitchen. So on Tuesday, she emailed me and suggested we head over to Vidalia and see about some ham biscuits for Adam.

We showed up between lunch and dinner service and spoke to the hostess, who listened to our story politely and stated nicely that she didn't think it would be a problem but she'd have to go check. She vanished briefly and then returned with a gentleman in a suit who looked like the maitre d' or perhaps a front-of-the-house manager. I repeated our story to him: friend from out of country, foodie gathering, desire to sample a ham biscuit. He didn't seem too positive on our ability to acquire ham biscuits. I tried buttering him up, and when that failed I politely suggested that since they had biscuits in their bread baskets and ham on the menu it probably wouldn't be too hard to put a few together. He responded with a comment along the lines of, "If it's so easy, why don't you do it yourself?" Well, there's a number of reasons why I didn't want to do it myself and why Edemuth didn't want to do it herself either, but we didn't feel like getting into it with this guy. He vaguely suggested that I return around 5:30 when I get off of work and he'd see what he could do in the meantime. We asked if we could speak to Chef Smith directly and were told that he was busy setting up for dinner.

I returned to work and immediately e-mailed Steve Klc, thinking that since he's well-connected in the DC food community that he might be able to pull some strings for us. He responded suggesting I call and leave a voicemail for the chef, and said he'd do the same plus he'd try to get his wife Colleen to help out as well. Turns out he and Colleen met with Chef Smith and his fiancee recently to discuss doing a wedding cake for their upcoming wedding. Steve seemed pretty sure Chef Smith would come through for Adam and the rest of us if we asked nicely.

I called the restaurant and asked for the chef's voicemail. I left a message explaining the situation and gave him several ways to contact me. I stated I'd call back in the morning the next day since I was too busy to stop by after work as the front-end manager had suggested.

Around 11am the next morning (the morning of the eGullet dinner) I called the restaurant again and asked to speak to the chef directly. The host gave me the kitchen number and suggested I try there. I called the kitchen and asked the person who answered the phone if I could speak to the chef. He immediately got on the phone. I introduced myself and asked if he had received the voicemail messages Steve and I had left him. He said he hadn't. So I launched into the whole story again. He seemed interested in helping. However, he warned me that they no longer put biscuits in the bread basket there, so they don't generally have any laying about the kitchen. He said he'd see if the pastry chef had time to whip up a batch, but if not he suggested that cornbread-ham sandwiches might do as a substitute. He said he'd have some form of ham sandwich ready for us to pick up at 5:30pm. I was impressed that he was so receptive to my request (not to mention easy to get on the phone), particularly since he hadn't checked his voicemail and therefore had no idea who I was.

At 5:30 Edemuth and I returned to Vidalia and asked to speak to the chef. I gave the hostess my name since I'd spoken to him earlier. She vanished into the kitchen and then returned asking if I was here for the ham sandwiches. I said I was, and she smiled and said they were ready for me at the bar. So we went to the bar and there was a box waiting for us with six cornbread-ham sandwiches. We paid for them and left for dinner happily. We were a little sorry they weren't able to come up with some biscuits, and we were also sorry we didn't get a chance to thank Chef Smith personally, but it's all ok because when Adam tasted his ham cornbread sandwich and declared it tasty we knew our mission had been accomplished.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

There is something to be said for a chef who actually is in his kitchen--and answers the phone no less.  It's a testament to Peter's seriousness and professionalism that he came through for you and Adam.

Now malawry, if only you had asked for scrapple!

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

Link to comment
Share on other sites

A few thoughts:

Are there no Hardee's in greater Washington DC?  They actually prepare a very good, very authentic ham biscuit and most likely with a lot less hassle than an uptown restaurant with nouvelle southern airs.

Be it Nouvelle Southern (is that a restaurant where Dixie has indeed risen again as in the New South?) or plain ol' down home Southern, any restaurant claiming Southern heritage and not having a biscuit on their premises deserves a trip behind the woodshed and a good ol' fashioned whalloping from Pa or Pere as they say in in the Nouvelle South.

While I like the idea of a corn bread and country ham sandwich, I have never come across one in my Southern treks.  Mr. Balic probably got a tasty sandwich, but not the classic savory he desired.  I'd say mission semi-accomplished.

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

Twitter

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Funny, Edemuth was lamenting the lack of Hardee's around here. She kept saying we woulda succeeded if there had been one. I responded by saying I missed Biscuitville.

I have no idea why Vidalia took biscuits out of their bread basket. Their biscuits were pretty darn good, and weren't as yuppified as some of the other things on their menu.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Great story.  Ham biscuits are a staple here in North Carolina, but there are actually two different types.  Most of the restaurant/fast food places will serve the traditional biscuit made with self rising flour, soda, buttermilk & milk/cream, butter/shortening, and salt.  However, when done for catered events or brunches, you typically see angel biscuits, which are a bit lighter and less savory.  Angel biscuits also contain yeast, which transforms them tremendously.

Regardless, they're all yummy.  If there is ever a North Carolina eGullet get together, I'll be sure to supply the group with biscuits galore!

I hate catching typos after the fact!

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm a native of North Carolina, and resided there until I moved to DC in October 1996. When I came here I experienced culinary culture shock. Nobody makes a proper biscuit, "sweet tea" gets you a strange look, "iced tea" gets you a bitter, cloudy brew, and people pronounce the first "r" in "cornbread." Now, there's some wonderful ethnic food in DC...I challenge any North Carolinian to find a Vietnamese meal that compares to our experience last night at Minh's...but sometimes a girl just wants some down home food.

The worst part of this tragedy is what passes for Southern cookin' around DC. I like the gussied-up versions of classic dishes served up by the likes of Vidalia, but if you're jonesing for the real thing that's not the place to find it. There's also Georgia Brown's which commits offenses such as flavoring their iced tea with some kind of peach nectar. And then there's a few places you can get soul food, which is nice but which isn't exactly able to fit the same need as my craving for Southern food.

One of my favorite places to eat growing up was Fran's Front Porch in Jillian, NC. Fran's was across the road from Jillian's airport, where rural hobbyists would go barnstorm in their biplanes and small Cessnas. The sound of little planes taking off and landing were the only noises you'd hear out in the yard at Fran's, with the exception of the usual crickets and katydids. Fran's yard had a couple big ancient oak trees and a wraparound porch reminiscent of the house in the movie "Forrest Gump." When you walked in Fran's front door there was a little room with homemade crafts (I wanted a country Raggedy Ann doll) and a small table carrying Fran's church-type cookbook (which I should have bought but never did). There was a small room off to your left with a couple steam tables. You'd pick up a tray and order whatever caught your fancy. Salisbury steak, ham with red-eye gravy, simple country meats. The best Parker House rolls in the universe...I could babble forever about their yeasty, buttery, flaky goodness. I didn't eat cooked veggies as a child, so I usually ate a salad with housemade thousand island dressing using homemade pickle relish. The highlight was always dessert. I never strayed from my devotion to Fran's chocolate chess pie. The sweet top would crackle when you put your fork blade against it, and then your fork would sink through the silky, rich filling until you got to the perfectly flaky (probably lard-enriched) crust. Ohmy. So you'd take your laden tray to a table in one of Fran's side rooms and sit and eat. And eat. And eat. Those were happy days.

You can't get that kind of food here in DC. But part of what does appeal to me about DC is the way it's a bridge between the Southern states and the Northern cities. My personal beliefs and my lifestyle fit the pace of life in the Northern cities, but my hospitality and generosity move more to a Southern frame of mind. Part of the reason I moved to DC was because I could enjoy most of the good with less of the bad of each region. Still, there are times when DC just cannot satisfy. Ham biscuits seem to be one of the things that fall through the cracks.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Interesting saga.  It never would have occurred to me to try Vidalia for takeout ham biscuits.  Kudos for original thinking and kudos to Vidalia for accomodating (as best they could anyway).  I've said it before, but the best ham biscuits I've had in DC are from Wagshal's gourmet deli on Massachusetts Avenue in Spring Valley (just before you get to Westmoreland Circle on the way out of DC - go to the deli not the market, thought the market is good too).  Wagshal's is a neighborhood treasure in many ways - it is also a great place to get frozen prepared meals to tuck away for nights when one doesn't want to cook.  

Their ham biscuits are great and are a cocktail party staple.

Edit:  BTW, lovely description of that Fran's place, Malawry, makes me want to go!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Funny, Edemuth was lamenting the lack of Hardee's around here. She kept saying we woulda succeeded if there had been one.

From the Hardee's Corporate Site:

Locations in Washington

WASHINGTON

1005 First St, Ne

Washington , DC 20002

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

Twitter

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Got me.  DC's street layout and all the compass reckonings that are incorporated into its addresses are a mystery worthy of Rand AND McNally.

Unfortunately Ben Franklin limited his logical approach for city planning to Philadelphia, our great nation's first capital.  

The same guy who laid out Boston must have done DC's streets.  Either that or the street layout logic was overseen by a joint congressional committee.

Where's Northeast DC? I'm sure it's somewhere around here...

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

Twitter

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Holly, I assume you're being facetious in comparing DC's ever so convenient grid to the nightmarish tangle that is Boston.  1st St. NE is one block off of N. Capitol Street, the 1000 number puts it at K (OK, OK not having a "J" Street is weird, but "j" and "i" were the same letter in Latin and thus redundant to the classical-minded L'Enfant).  This puts the Hardees in question over by the Trailways Bus station not far from Union Station - an area also known to those who bother to contest parking tickets for having the parking adjudication center.

DC is easy, 4 quadrants, letters and numbers, then two syllable names in alphabetical, then three syllable names in alphabetical.  States = diagonal avenues.  Even the occasional irregularities are usually close in alphabetical to where they would otherwise go.  

What could be simpler?  Try negotiating the wilds of Northern Virginia sometime!  :wink:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I find DC fairly easy to navigate, especially compared to unplanned cities like Boston. I could conceivably have swung by that HArdee's if I'd known about it since it's not too far out of the way of the route I take downtown every morning. But I didn't know about it. Sigh.

BTW, DC was designed by Pierre L'Enfant. We actually discussed this over dinner last night. (See, we really did talk about things besides chicken berries!)

Jillian, NC is about a half hour from Greensboro in the general direction of Asheboro, NC. I don't think Fran's is open any longer, though. I should hunt around eBay for her cookbook though. Thanks for the compliment, the food really was incredible and authentic.

edit disclosure: forgot to add additional detail on Fran's.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Well I am now back in sunny Scotland after my adventures in the USA. Firstly, I would say what a pleasure it was to meet all concerned at the DC dinner and thank everybody for their kind efforts towards me. Those cornbread/ham kept me fuelled for another round of gallery/museum stalking the next day! The ham was excellent, I know we had some debate about its origins (local or Italian), my hosts in DC were quite sure that it was Virginian ham, so maybe it is. Anyway, its saltiness went very well with the sweetness of the cornbread. I also gifted the excellent chocolates to my hosts (who adored them), but not before I had picked out the red wine versions (sure, ungenerous, but I?m not made of stone). In the absence of an Asian meal I could detect more of the individual flavour components and realised just how good they were. The meal itself, as others have mentioned, had some very good dishes. I particularly enjoyed the soft shell crab, which I was fairly loath to share, but for the sake of manners, managed to overcome this impulse. The only real disappointment was that after being told that there was not BYO, finding out that they had sold out of all but three types of white wine. But this was of minor consequence in the grand scheme of things. Beer helped. I was most likely slightly subdued that evening as I had been walking around the Smithsonian for about seven hours. That and the conference I had attended were quite tiring. So sorry if I was a bit lacklustre.

Additional items that I ate while in the USA:

1. Biscuits and Red eye gravy. Actually rather good, but three days in a row is about my limit.

2. Pork ribs. Good, but the artificial (?) smoke flavour was a little sickly after a while.

3. Crab cakes. Truly delicious. The crab?s flesh was in large pieces, so you could taste the natural sweetness of the meat.

4. Buffalo wings. Neither Buffalo nor wings.

5. Italian sausage sub-sandwich. Excellent, but huge and calorie laden, nearly died trying to finish it.

6. Southern fried chicken. Actually, exists outside of KFC, enjoyed in with sweet corn, felt very American.

An observation I would make about the food I ate was that there seemed to be a great deal of sugar in the bread, even just plain rolls etc. Is this common in the US? It surprised me, given all the bad press given to salt and fats in the diet. Oh, scrapple doesn?t actually exist. It?s part of American folklore, like elves, pixies and faeries in Europe. Everybody has heard of it, some claim to have seen it out of the corner of their eye, but nobody has actually eaten it. Based on what scanty information is available, I am going to make some. Will serve it with a crawfish foam and bitter green sorbet.

I did buy a pizza-stone from Sur-la-Table, which was a very good store, much better, in terms of what was offered, then W-S. Unfortunately, it caused me some problems at Dulles airport, as it as a large X-ray opaque object in my suitcase, so it caused some panic. I was taken to a special little room and made to un-pack. I was asked, ?What was in the box??. ?A pizza-stone?, I said. They were very puzzled about this until I pointed out that British pizza was terrible, so I was going to make my own. That little bit of racism resulted in smiles and backslapping and I was then free to leave.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

An observation I would make about the food I ate was that there seemed to be a great deal of sugar in the bread, even just plain rolls etc. Is this common in the US?

I think so, but not in NY or SF, just in America.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

adam, almost every quick bread i make calls for a spoonful of sugar--and, you know, i have no idea why.  i personally don't like sweet cornbread and in some recipes you can really taste the sugar--i make it savory myself, and when i'm feeling really frisky i add some minced roasted hot peppers and a little grated cheese.

sunday evening for our mothers' day brunch [we ended up eating a littel late due to the, ahem, mimosas] we ate buttermilk biscuits and baked ham--not exactly the best way to do Hm Biscuit [fried salt-cured is my favorite], but we stuffed our faces.

no scrapple?  for crying out loud.  next time you come you'll have to find a church or kiwanis breakfast.  or call me.  i'll get you some scrapple.

and, adam, DON"T try to make it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think so, but not in NY or SF, just in America.

Egads Bux.  Is there no end to a New Yorker's gastronomic myopia?  

Do New Yorkers believe that, along with being the New World's pinacle of culinary and all other civilization, they and perhaps San Francisco are the only refuges from supermarket white bread?

I'll put some of the local Philadelphia breads against New York's breads any day o' the week, except perhaps Sunday when our bakeries close.

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

Twitter

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Do New Yorkers believe that, along with being the New World's pinacle of culinary and all other civilization, they and perhaps San Francisco are the only refuges from supermarket white bread?

No, but New Yorkers - real ones, born and raised  here -  will tell you that New York ain't New York for nothin', and if you don't like it, well, fuggedaboudit.

There is, however, a very good community of artisinal bakers in New York and surrounding areas, specializing in breads made without commercial yeast. What are some examples of local Philadelphia breads, Holly? Do they bake sourdough there? What are the names of some of the bakeries?

Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I have to say I'm with Robert on this one--help show us the way Holly.  I'm also interested if you are aware whether higher end Philly restaurants outsource, buying bread from their local bread artisans. As justly celebrated as a few of Washington DC's breadbakers have been--and we have had excellent bread for a decade ever since Furstenburg opened that first Marvelous Market store on Connecticut Ave--it has almost always paled alongside the artisinal NY bread scene.

Now we seem to be undergoing another stage in bread evolution--a kind of backlash--with the more commercial imitations outpacing the artisinal product.

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It's not all Wonderbread and Sunbeam here in provincial Philadelphia.  We have access to some great bread.

My regular haunt is Metropolitan Bakery.  All sorts of whole grain and sour dough based breads.  You'll be glad to know that they ship to New York.

Their website:  Metropolitan Bakery

There's also Le Bus which has been around for decades.  Pretty much on a par with Metropolitan but no website.

Both sell their breads, rolls and sweets to many highend restaurants and gourmet food shops.

For Italian bread as good as anywhere in the country:  Sarcones in the Italian Market.

No, but New Yorkers - real ones, born and raised  here -  will tell you that New York ain't New York for nothin', and if you don't like it, well, fuggedaboudit.

Yeah, New York is big.  I have no problem granting that New York City has more great resaurants and more lousy restaurants, more great bakeries and more lousy bakeries than other US cities.  It's no big deal.  Just a math thing.

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

Twitter

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 4 months later...
Funny, Edemuth was lamenting the lack of Hardee's around here. She kept saying we woulda succeeded if there had been one.

From the Hardee's Corporate Site:

Locations in Washington

WASHINGTON

1005 First St, Ne

Washington , DC 20002

I know where that Hardee's is. It's in The greyhound station, about 7 minutes walk from Union Station. I've never eaten there.

-Jason

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...