Anyone who’s ever conversed with me knows I ADORE my old Kentucky home. I adore our college basketball tradition (Go Cards!), Derby, beer cheese, biscuits, but most of all, I adore the bourbon. Spending an entire fall on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail is one of my life’s most beautiful experiences, so this past September (Bourbon Heritage Month) and this fall (my first away from KY) have my heart aching for bluegrass.
I’ve learned, however, that Washington is the best home away from home. You can find a little taste of nearly every state, and many countries, somewhere in the district. In just nine months here, I’ve noticed bits of bourbon culture all over the city. What a perfect way for me (China Rae) to follow the advice of fellow Kentuckian (Billy Ray) and mend my achy, breaky heart.
The first stop of my Urban Bourbon explorations? Southern Efficiency in Shaw.
Inspired by JFK’s famous quote – Washington, D.C. is a place of “Northern Charm and Southern Efficiency” – Southern Efficiency has been on my radar since January. When I saw they had a Kentucky-themed menu for Bourbon Heritage Month, I galloped there faster than American Pharaoh running for the Triple Crown.
Don’t let the name fool you, though. This small space with only 26 seats stays packed, as bar manager Paul Taylor is incredibly efficient at keeping your whiskey glass full. In his spare moments between masterfully mixing cocktails, Paul explained Southern Efficiency’s story and its three Kentucky-themed specials.
First Course: Louisville Chips N’ Dip
My appetizer was a twist on Kentucky’s classic Benedictine spread, made famous in the early 1900’s by Louisville tearoom, Benedict’s. The original recipe is a simple mixture of cream cheese, cucumber and seasonings. SE, however, jazzed it up by adding jalapeños, a dash of sugar, house-made mayo, charred local peppers and garlic confit. Served up with Virginia’s own Route 11 potato chips, this dish is the perfect balance between KY and the DMV.
Entrée 1: Owensboro Sandwich
BBQ aficionados likely recognize the name Owensboro, home to famous eateries like Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn (a favorite of Bill Clinton, who we all know can be trusted with food, not females). In place of Kentucky mutton, SE piled braised BBQ goat on a potato bun and served it alongside phenomenal thick-cut house pickles. Sheep, goat, po-tay-to, po-tah-to, if it’s braised BBQ meat, it’s good.
Entrée 2: Rolled Oyster “Hot Brown”
PERFECTION. BRAVO, SOUTHERN EFFICIENCY. BRAVO.
The Hot Brown is Kentucky’s classic open-faced sandwich, invented at The Brown Hotel in Louisville. The original recipe consists of turkey, bacon, cheesy mornay sauce and is often topped with a tomato. I’ve had hot browns across Kentucky. I take pride in my own recipe for hot brown bites. This heavenly stack of delicious goodness, however, is better than anything I’ve ever tasted. Bread, bacon mornay sauce (which I shamelessly scraped off of my plate), rolled oysters (Louisville’s own deep-fried take on seafood) and cheddar cheese, all topped with a local heirloom tomato. I pleaded with both Paul and general manager Kelly Follmer to keep this on the menu past Bourbon Heritage Month – it’s that good.
Cool Cocktails (Named After Country Stars!)
In addition to amazing eats, my meal started and ended with a superb cocktail. Paul – who’s been in the beverage industry for 11 years and who also was featured in Northern Virginia Magazine for his vintage glassware collection – is the mastermind behind many of these delectable drinks.
While I awaited my first dish, Paul fixed me up with an Efficient Old Pal, SE’s take on this rye whiskey-based classic.
My favorite, however, was “The Persistent Mistress.” Inspired by my fellow Kentuckian Loretta Lynn, whose philandering husband attracted many a persistent mistress, this was SE’s take on a Louisville Seelbach (a citrusy, bourbony, champagney cocktail). While I sipped on this beauty, I browsed through the rest of the cocktail menu, with names inspired by country greats like Patsy Cline. Kudos for creativity!
Overall, I give Southern Efficiency five barrels for not only its stellar rolled oyster hot brown, but also for its appreciation of classic Kentucky eats. Although Bourbon Heritage Month is over, America’s spirit can be celebrated year-round at this urban bourbon oasis. You, hungry (and perhaps thirsty) reader, are a thoroughbred Derby horse and this is your trumpet sound – race off to Southern Efficiency, Shaw’s own little patch of bluegrass.
Be sure to follow my regular Urban Bourbon adventures on The Hungry Lobbyist, my Instagram (@chinaraeriddle) and my Twitter (@chinaraeriddle). Use #UrbanBourbon to share your DC bourbon adventures with me!