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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

DIG IN, EVERYBODY: Veteran restaurateurs Andy Shallal and Michael Babin are teaming up to open a tribute to author and folklorist Zora Neale Hurston. Eatonville, named for the African American community near Orlando where Hurston grew up, is expected to dish up "African Atlantic cuisine" at 14th and V streets NW sometime in late summer or early fall.

Eatonville marks the first time the entrepreneurs have worked together. Shallal is the owner of the socially minded Busboys and Poets, with locations in the U Street corridor and Shirlington; Babin is a co-owner of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, which includes five establishments in Northern Virginia.

Shallal, an Iraqi-born artist and activist, thinks the collaboration makes great sense: "I'm not a foodie. He is." And far from competing with himself, Shallal jokes, opening another restaurant across from Busboys and Poets will let him "control the competition."

Eatonville will feature a bar, an outdoor patio, space for private events and a dash of inspiration from Vertamae Grosvenor, the National Public Radio correspondent, actor and poet. Among the dishes on Eatonville's menu -- which Shallal describes as "low country and bayou food that is African-influenced" -- will be Grosvenor's versions of hoppin' John (black-eyed peas), limpin' Susan (okra) and tilapia with peanut salsa.

-- Tom Sietsema

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