THE FANCIFICATION of Washington recently was denounced by capital curmudgeon Sam Smith in a City Paper story titled, "It's No Place Like Home: How the Fast-Trackers Trashed My Washington."

There was a lot of homey truth in his diatribe, but I take exception to one point: Smith sees a threat to people "who eat at the 537th-best restaurant in town and honestly believe they have had a good meal." I, on the other hand, see much less threat to them than to those who eat in the top 10 restaurants.

To prove the point I asked Smith which was the 537th best. Hodge's was his choice, at 616 New York Ave. NW.

Huddled between Lee's Brake Service and Kim's Auto Body Shop, Hodge's is a self- service sandwich shop with a few shiny metal tables outside under the green plastic awning.

Inside you'll probably have to wait in line with all the neighborhood workmen, but that gives you a chance to figure out what to order. The menu on the wall lists various sandwiches, plus soups and side dishes, but if you are sharp you'll notice that nobody orders anything but the roast beef sandwich.

And what a roast beef sandwich! A whole steamship round is being carved to order, in slices thick enough to leave some juice in them. And seeded kaiser rolls are sliced -- also to order -- and quickly dipped in the pan juices (not some factory-concocted "au jus," just plain meat juices) before they're stuffed with the beef. And that's it, for just over $3.

At the checkout counter, too, everything is done the old-fashion way. No electronic cash register; individual items are added up by hand on a brown paper bag. And behind the cashier are dreary-looking pie slices in sandwich bags, above them a selection of he-man cigarettes -- unfiltered Luckies and the like.

537th? Hmmph. Even the City Paper voted this roast beef sandwich the best in Washington, says the framed certificate on the wall. And the coffee was better than at the lunch counter near my office, even when Hodge's manager declined to charge me for it because it wasn't fresh enough. "It was made an hour ago," he confessed.

Well, Sam Smith, I ate at the 537th-best restaurant and honestly believed I had a good meal. My companion didn't, however. But that was because I finished her half of the roast beef sandwich before she could get at it.


Dancing feet haven't had many places to go when they were hungry in Washington. But things are looking -- or sounding -- better this summer. Chardonnay in the Radisson Park Terrace Hotel, 1515 Rhode Island Ave. NW, has dining and dancing to a live orchestra on its garden terrace this summer, Friday and Saturday evenings from 7:30 to 11:30. And for just plain listening and drinking rather dancing and dining, L'Enfant Plaza Hotel Garden Cafe has the Annapolis Jazz Trio on Fridays and Saturdays, 8:30 to 12:30, through July, with no cover or minimum.