July 26, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

A Tale of Two Chickens: Capitol Dining Remains Separate and Unequal

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call
House fried chicken should look familiar to fans of the Members’ Dining Room and the Capitol Market carryout.

The magnificent crust — bearing its clearly imprinted patchwork of seasonings like a badge of honor — shrouds the underlying chicken in a craggy shield of bronze, a shell that shatters with an audible crunch when pierced. Once exposed, the aromatic flesh is easily separated from bone via the forceful yank of opposing digits or a gnashing of bared, saliva-slicked incisors. The juicy spoils are then ushered forth into the gaping maws of Southside diners who, at least in that intoxicating moment, are more primal urge than reason and virtue.

White or dark, Senate bird delivers flavor in spades. Each bite is infused with proprietary spices, their essence penetrating to the core of every piece. A lifelong thigh and leg man, Southside has made me a convert. Their breast meat wants not for juiciness or finesse; paprika and garlic gush through in every electrifying bite, a testament to the loving attention heaped on each batch of deep-fried fowl by the Southside kitchen.

And, oh yeah, it’s all you can eat.

But don’t take our word for it.

We spotted former Sens. John B. Breaux, D-La., and Trent Lott, R-Miss., plotting strategy with some fellow lobbyists at Southside on the same day the White House finally rolled out its long-awaited 2014 budget blueprint. The true Southerners, who are no strangers to fine dining courtesy of their plum positions in Congress and ongoing star turns on K Street, both had remnants of devoured bird on their plates (spotted drumstick bones on each; we checked).

On the plus side, an order of House fried chicken from the Capitol Market is roughly half the price of a seat at the Southside buffet (less than $7 to $16, respectively).

And, at least according to Dan Weiser, spokesman for the Office of the House Chief Administration Officer, House diners are pretty loyal to their bird, estimating that said chicken outsells other daily specials 2-to-1.

Customers also seem to appreciate the utilitarianism, if not the panache, of House dining.

“This room is just so unattractive. It just shows a complete lack of aesthetics — but it’s faster to come over to this side, you know?” a colleague overheard congressional staffers waiting to spirit away a meal from the Capitol Market. “Over there, they’re just so gosh darn slow.”

A Soupçon of Accommodation

Both chambers have, rather famously, been serving similar bean soup for well more than 100 years. (More on that in a moment.)

But there’s another battle brewing among those who crave less salty slurping opportunities.

An aide to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee told CQ Roll Call that panel Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, spent the past few years trying to convince Restaurant Associates to return low-sodium soup options to Senate eateries. Weiser confirmed that low-sodium soups are offered across the House dining operations. But, for whatever reason, Senate restaurants dumped those dietary alternatives a while back.

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