by david bass | October 10, 2011 | Food & Drink
Nothing says power lunch like The Palm
Funny face: The famous caricatures
The main dining room at The Palm
Like most things in Washington, the dining landscape is an ever changing one. Our gastronomic options have grown exponentially, in both number and variety. From gastropubs to the advent of food trucks, it is this eclectic range of offerings that makes our city such a vibrant place to live. However, some things, for good reason, do stay the same. And there is no better representation of this than The Palm on 19th Street.
Opened in 1972, the restaurant has seen its share of change, but on a much smaller, softer scale than the city. Sure, there is now a bento box on the menu, and the steak pizzaiola has disappeared, but the “Palm Tradition” remains—consistent and excellent food served with a healthy dose of attitude. The restaurant was born of this jaunty demeanor some 85 years ago in New York, where, at one time, cartoonists managed to trade their handiwork for meals. Here in Washington, there is one man who embodies the collective Palm experience.
Tommy Jacomo came to The Palm at its inception, quite literally—“I actually built this place, hammer and nails,” he says. He is now as much an institution in this town as anyone, having even been referred to as, among other things, the 101st Senator. Fresh faces in management have appeared, but among key clientele, Jacomo remains the undisputed majordomo. The executive director, as a sort of ambassador for The Palm, holds the keys to your food, your drink, and your seat—and, if you are not careful, your friends as well. The true answer to achieving immortality via wall caricature lies with him, and him alone.
This charming commitment to The Palm extends to the waitstaff as “Fever” Stauch (his nickname an ode to his doppelgänger from the ’80s sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati), and Tim Glynn—boast a combined 65 years of service. These guys know everyone and everything. If you think you have secrets, think again; they will even remind you of ones you have forgotten about (or would like to). They know their menu, they know their restaurant, and they know their audience. The interaction for regulars is more like dining with an old friend. In fact, it would not be the least bit surprising to find one of these fellows straddling a backwards chair, regaling the table with the latest gossip while extracting more for later use. It is a tight cycle, and they have mastered it. And while a handful of the faces have changed, the attitude remains the same. If you are looking for a subservient sycophant to wait on you, put on a skirt and head down the street. These are tenured professors of steak au poivre and shrimp sauté.
The appeal of The Palm comes down to one thing, really: size. It is big on portion, and it is big on overall experience. I found it necessary to discuss with Jacomo the notion of needing to dine elsewhere with some out-oft-own clients, the reason for which I cannot recall. He gave me a firm admonishment that I will never forget: “Eat at home.” And I did. The Palm is home. And this is precisely why it has no peer. 1225 19th St. NW, 202-293-9091
photographs by Andrew Kahl