My sister Mara, the brilliant historian, knows where to go and what to do and who to see and what to eat in DC. And I don’t mean the usual thing. She has no interest in the usual thing.
Mara is at work on an Anacostia Heritage Trail, for Cultural Tourism DC (www.culturaltourismdc.org). The trail will tell the neighborhood’s stories, including the pre-Civil War Uniontown, St. Elizabeths Hospital, the post-Civil War Freedmen’s village, Frederick Douglass, Barry Farm Dwellings (built during World War II), and much more, on 19 illustrated signs. In July Mara and colleague Jane Freundel Levey were in the neighborhood siting the signs when they stopped for lunch at Mama’s Kitchen.
When she found Mama’s Kitchen at the corner of Maple View Place and Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, SE, in Anacostia, she was looking for a little lunch. The usual thing looked likely. She found treasure instead. PAYDIRT!
A few weeks later we met at Mama’s Kitchen for lunch. One of the owners, Musa Ulusan, sat down with us. Fatma Nayir, Mama, and Musa’s partner, was behind the counter shaping the wonderfully chewy handmade bread that carries all the sandwiches and pizzas.
Originally from mountainous eastern Turkey, Musa‘s ethnic background is Kurdish and Jewish, although he says that it’s food that runs in his blood.
While Mara and I tried not to wolf down the terrific garlic-spinach sandwiches Musa amused us with his life story. From the sounds of things, the man has nine lives.
I admit to being distracted – we did go there for lunch, after all, and I was starving, but I did catch a fair bit of the action. Musa and Fatma (who were then married) once owned an extensive string of restaurants in New Orleans until they were wiped out by Katrina. They relocated to the DC area and built up a new string of restaurants, only to be wiped out again by the bad economy.
With a tiny nest egg of $13,000, they sublet the spot on Maple View Place and set to cooking. Giving it to you straight – the food is fabulous.
Musa and Fatma have their eyes on a larger spot and perhaps another dynasty. Stay tuned. I wouldn’t put it past them. Perhaps they could get some ovens roaring a bit closer to me.