Hey this is cool. I've never been on a message board before. I read the New Yorker article and since I greatly admire Mr. Trillin, as he is a fellow Missourian who thrills in the hunt and acquisition of great street food; I signed on to Chowhound.com and realized I am a closet chowhound.
We took our only daughter out to DC last week to attend college. We stayed up by the National Cathedral and just before leaving town, we had our "last" lunch. Not familiar at all with the town, we wandered a little south down Wisconsin and a few restaurants and retail appeared. We parked and strolled along and looked in a few windows and read a couple of menus. Mama Maria's seemed to fit the bill. We entered into a small cafe, 8 or 9 tables maybe, with one table still occupied by an elderly lady weighing in at about ninety pounds, finishing her dessert and her glass of red; with the other occupied table holding a card game and Mama Maria. The lone waiter who was Mama's son came over to us and was professional and proficient. They had Peroni and that set me into a better mood as it was hot and muggy outside. We ordered; the ladies, the ravioli, and I the shrimp marinara. Drinks, salad and garlic bread came quickly and soon everything was AOK. Mama Maria had gotten up from the card game and gone to the kitchen. Shortly, lunch arrived. Since I eschew "Interstate Italian", I don't eat it often. I took a few bites of my shrimp marinara (oh yeah, it had mussels in it) and thought I saw a thinning of the marinara but realized a tear had just fallen on to my plate (just kidding). We savored our lunch and chatted with the waiter (son). Mama Maria had returned to her card game but was eavesdropping about our daughter going off to college. She got up and went to the kitchen and then returned with a cannoli and set it in front of Kate. She also took her business card and wrote her home phone number on the back under the heading "Mom". "You call me any time", she said. Now that's Italian and this time the tears were real.
I've been to Enzio's many times, mostly between 1986 and 1990 when I lived in upper G-town. It's not much to lok at with a few cramped tables and torn vinyl seats. In fact, I didn't even recognize the name Mama Maria's. I just assumed that this wonderful southern Italian joint had become the victim of redevelopment.
In my experience, there are three things you need to know about Enzio's. First, the back table is always reserved for Mama and her family as the original poster so eloquently stated. Second of all, if the waiter does manage to hand you a menu, don't bother accepting it. He probably won't let you order from the menu anyway. On every one of my visits, he would simply tell each diner what they would have while pulling the menu back...unseen. But the third and final thing to know is that the bill is often just a single figure on a scrap of paper, served with a reminder that Enzio's only takes cash. Just another novelty that adds to its charm.
Awesome chowhoundish report. I'm glad you've never before wasted your talents on mere foodie message boards, and beg you to promise you'll stick around and post more here.
I get ticked at Washingtonians. I've met more than a few of them who tell me it's a lousy city for chowhounding. But when I ask them to tell me what sorts of places they've been trying they recount the same dreary, Zagatish choices. They don't go off their beaten track. DC has a LOT of places like this (well, not literally "like this", but in terms of being great soulful finds). The chow fruit hangs off the tree low to the ground.
I feel incredibly unhip asking this, but I'm gonna take a deep breath and type away anyway....what exactly do you mean by "interstate italian", at least in this context? I ALMOST get it, but not quite.