Raise a bottle to Southern favorites
By Fritz Hahn
Friday, Mar. 30, 2012
If you want to make a Southerner's face light up, take them to
after work next week. Not for Jeffrey Buben's exquisite shrimp and grits with tasso ham or the seafood stew, but for the nonalcoholic drinks in glass bottles behind the bar: Cheerwine. RC Cola. Blenheim Hot Ginger Ale. Frostie Root Beer. Ale-8-One Ginger Ale.
These regional delights are nearly impossible to find in Washington - especially cult favorites Cheerwine and Blenheim Hot - but they're starring at Vidalia's new happy hour and even featuring in a few cocktails.
Start with the Tobacco Road, a sunny cocktail that pairs South Carolina's own Firefly Sweet Tea vodka with cherry-flavored Cheerwine, Boyd & Blair potato vodka, and a couple dashes of bitters. It's sweet and mildly fruity. You can taste summer after the very first sip. Just watch out, because one thing you don't taste is booze.
The other happy-hour option is the Blonde and Stormy, a twangy Dark and Stormy variation that mixes the smooth, mellow Prichard's Rum (made in Tennessee) with the cinnamon-and-ginger notes of Kentucky's Ale-8-One. Cocktails cost between $8 and $8.50.
(If nothing catches your eye, the bartenders seem more than happy to experiment; in something that will come as no shock to Kentuckians, Ale-8-One blends beautifully with Makers Mark bourbon.)
Those who aren't drinking cocktails are just as lucky, since Vidalia has one of the better beer happy hours in the city: Only $3.50 a pint for Allagash, Lagunitas and locals Port City and 3 Stars. One sour note: The wine list is good, but it doesn't feel very "happy" when the by-the-glass choices are $8 to $9.
The focus shouldn't be only on liquids. Grab a seat in front of the bar's "exhibition kitchen," where a chef cooks on hot plates before your eyes. Among the treats: a large pickled pork trotter, so tender that the meat slides off the bone, is served atop a mound of tangy bacon potato salad; delicious deviled eggs with savory duck confit in the yolks; crispy house-made potato chips with spreadable tasso ham. With the "bar bites" going for $3 to $5 each, you'll want to grab a few to share.
Monday-Friday from 5 to 7 p.m. Vidalia, 1990 M St. NW. 202-659-1990. www.vidaliadc.