Andrene’s Cafe

It’s a Thursday when I find myself returning to “up and coming” Kennedy Street for a place that’s been on my list since…well, since the last time I was sorely let down by a Jamaican carry-out (looking at you, Spice). During the summer, my husband frequently badgers me to come visit and bring him a tasty lunch, like his own personal Red Riding Hood, and it’s our last day before another vacation, so I needed a break.

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Kennedy Street may be deserted during the day (and night–let’s be real), but inside Andrene’s it is hopping! The cashier manages to stay warm and friendly even while simultaneously taking my order, taking a phone order, calling out the food that’s ready, and gossiping with another West Indian man from the neighborhood. It’s pretty impressive. And, even though the combo menu specifies that there are no substitutions to the side orders of rice, plantains, and cabbage, she still gives me the option to change all of those. I leave with a bag, not knowing what magic is in store for me, and venture off through the woods…I mean…I-95…

I have to sit in traffic for close to an hour, so by the time arrive, I’m sure someone is about to comment about what big teeth I have because I am ready to eat anything that crosses my path. We pop the big platter in the microwave. Here’s how we made out for $27:

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Huge piece of coco bread, two beef patties, stewed green cabbage, rice and beans, plantains, oxtail, and jerk chicken. I will be upfront and let everyone know that we didn’t even come close to finishing this. The coco bread was mildly sweet, fluffy, and warm. The beef patties, although tepid by the time I arrived, were very savory with a sweet, flaky crust and a moist interior. The cabbage was a new thing for me. It was cooked so far that even Red Riding Hood’s toothless grandmother could have chewed it, but still had shape and a rich flavor. Plantains are always a winner in my book and these were no exception. The chicken was mostly moist with a few dry spots and a lot of bones, but had a good level of spice and a delicious sauce. The oxtail sauce was beyond delicious, and good for dipping bread in, although the meat itself was gristle-y in more than a few spots. Rice, as always, is rice, and there was a lot of it, although we barely ate any and still walked away from this meal overstuffed and with meat and bread left over.

Price: $10-15 per person.

Bottom Line: Andrene’s is good, and you can definitely get your money’s worth here, but I won’t rest until I find a truly awesome Jamaican restaurant. I know it’s out there.

BBQ Bus

I’ll get right down to it because I don’t want BBQ Bus to steal any more of my time than they already have. I ordered the 3-meat sampler platter to split with my husband: halfsmoke, turkey, and brisket. Of these three meats, two of them had an up-charge. Why do you even offer a three-meat sampler if you’re going to up-charge me? Also, extra cost for turkey? Do they charge more for making things un-delicious now?

Before I get to the real horrors of this lunch, I’ll speak briefly about the sauces. I sampled four because I was in a time-crunch and that was all I could find. The “Spicy” sauce was…not. Why you gotta lie, BBQ Bus? The Memphis-style was decidedly the most interesting, the smoky-sweet was fairly standard, and Teriyaki…what is this even doing here?

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Does this look like $22 worth of food to you? No? Maybe that’s because it wasn’t $22; all the extra charges made this $25! I actually checked the bag multiple times because I was sure they had forgotten something. How could this be lunch for two people?

You will see on the left side, from top to bottom: turkey (remarkably un-smoky, this totally came out of your grandma’s Thanksgiving leftovers), brisket (passed the pull-test but unflavorful and again, not smoky), and the halfsmoke (okay, do I really need to tell them that this sausage has the word “smoke” in its actual goddamn name? It was a bratwurst covered in BBQ sauce). The collards were cooked down but meh in flavor–not even bitter, just overcooked, and the mac and cheese was like…mac and flour or something. No cheese. Just mac, bechamel, and yellow number 5. Super blah. Then I got two pieces of “Texas toast” aka soggy bread. So I guess BBQ Bus really is charging more money for making terrible food now.

Listen, guys. Nobody’s holding a gun to your head and forcing you to make BBQ. If you can’t make it right, don’t do it.

Price: $25 per person. Yeah. This was still only one person’s amount of food.

Bottom line: I haven’t had great BBQ anywhere in DC except, notably, DCity, but everywhere else is better than the Bus.

Jackie Lee’s

Tipped off by a friend about the burgeoning Kennedy Street/Manor Park/Super-Sketchville food scene, we ventured out tonight to Jackie Lee’s. A quick note: when anyone talks about the burgeoning Kennedy Street food scene, what they mean is “we have one restaurant that isn’t a front for a money laundering scheme!” That one restaurant is Jackie Lee’s.

Walking up, I felt like we were about to check out Freddy’s place in House of Cards. If anyone dares challenge me on my assessment of Kennedy Street, tell me one other restaurant that is even open. Exactly. But walking in, the vibe definitely changed. Was it divey? Yes, but in a manufactured way. It was dark and vaguely smokey-smelling. A vending machine at the back was selling candy bars but giving away condoms for free. We were the only people in there without nose rings. White hipster parents bounced babies on their laps.

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We sat at the bar and ordered a couple of drinks. I got the Sweet and Spicy rickey because it was a very reasonable price. They have no beer taps but a huge bottle list that includes some actually good beers. My cocktail was everything I hoped: nothing super fancy, but solid, strong, and spicy.

We ordered some barbecue from the food menu. I had the smoked turkey with collard greens and some hush puppies to share. My husband got the brisket (no big surprise) and coleslaw.

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Hush puppies: crispy and sweet, and not overly greasy. They served them with spicy mayo that was not really spicy. The turkey was incredibly moist and very, very smokey. I don’t know how they got it this smokey. It was maybe slightly over-salted but I am willing to overlook that. The collards were tender and juicy.

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Pulled brisket is not the best way to eat brisket, but this was still solid. Very moist, but somehow blander than the turkey. The coleslaw was really crispy and peppery. When we finished these, we were still hungry. So we had to hang our heads in shame as we ordered yet another meat/side combination (this time the pork with a single corn muffin). Yet again, the pork was second to the turkey, but still moist and flavorful. The corn muffin was incredibly sweet. Jackie Lee’s gives only one barbecue sauce with their meals–a very molasses-y tomato-based sauce that paired well with everything but was not unique (nor, I’m guessing, house-made).

Price: $25 per person.

Bottom line: Not life-changing barbecue by any means, but still pretty good! I would come here again for a cheap, easy, solid meal and drinks of a similar nature. Just make sure you order more than one meat and one side; they’re smaller than you think!