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Off-Topic: WaPo Critic Slams Vienna Inn

We’ve probably eaten at the Vienna Inn more than any other restaurant in our lives, and WaPo food critic Tom Sietsema just gave it a half-star review.

His beef with the Northern Virginia institution famous for chili, beer and good company? “Rushed service” … “no one asks how we want ‘the hamburger’ cooked” … “the home fries are not the least bit crisp” … “chipped beef on toast is gray and industrial-tasting” … and so on.

Here’s the thing though: We’ve never ordered anything but fully-loaded dogs (chili, cheese, mustard, onions) and cheese fries. I think our dad used to get the chili mac. Our mom usually ventures off and gets grilled chicken or some shit. But it’s not about the food.

It’s about the place we and every other kid in and around the town of Vienna grew up with. Way-back prices, a laid-back vibe, hot dogs and cold beer are what keep us coming. It’s why it’s hard to find a seat in the joint.

We’ve been there to celebrate victories, take lunch breaks, pregame, postgame, watch a game, whatever. When a friend’s father died we all went there after the funeral. It’s a place to bring out-of-towners, it’s where you’ll see the same old-timers hugging the same barstools and it’s where I took my baby girl the first time we brought her back home.

The ownership is different now, and the waitresses aren’t so salty anymore, but the VI is pretty much the same as it ever was. It’s a slice of NoVa’s old country hanging in there despite NoVa’s suburban sprawl, and to rip it for its culinary shortcomings is to miss the mark by an old country mile.

D.C. sports fan and digital media guy that's been doing this since 2004. Once threw a football further than Chris Cooley.

22 Comments

22 Comments

  1. Unsilent Majority

    May 25, 2010 at 1:05 PM

    “But it’s not about the food.”

    Yes, but if you’re Tom Sietsema it kind of HAS to be about the food. I say be happy with the negative review. It means you’ll still be able to get a table when you’re in town.

  2. billb

    May 25, 2010 at 1:11 PM

    Does this call for a It’s Always Sunny-style kidnapping?

  3. Terps77

    May 25, 2010 at 1:40 PM

    Sounds like the kind of place that would wear it’s half-star proudly.

    Unsilent, I disagree about it having to be about the food especially when reviewing “institution” kinds of places like Vienna Inn.

    History, atmosphere, tradition and community standing count for something. We see it all the time, Ledo’s pizza being the best example I can think of, its terrible pizza, but it serves as connection between generations of people. Hell, even the Redskins are trying to reconnect old players to the “fans of today” by going back to the familiar and tried and true.

    The food may be terrible, but the place is obviously more than bad food, hopefully he wrote that into the review.

  4. ATBechtold

    May 25, 2010 at 2:16 PM

    I was just there last night drinking beers in the keg cooler because there wasn’t an empty seat in the joint! We were celebrating another Madison baseball district championship!

    This place is a landmark, if you want your burger medium well go to TGI Fridays. What a douche.

  5. D. Friedman

    May 25, 2010 at 2:53 PM

    Well said.

    There was nothing better than skipping first period in HS and getting 3 eggs over-easy, home fries, sausage (or bacon) and toast. Best $3.50 you’ll ever spend. Also, it was hilarious to see those guys on the bar stools at 7 a.m. getting the Tuesday started right.

  6. Dustin Fox

    May 25, 2010 at 3:35 PM

    Screw that guy

    I’ve been going to Vienna Inn for over 25+ years and still love it. The new ownership. (Marty) has coached and been a big part of the Vienna for years.

    The first time I took my wife, she wanted to send her sandwich back because it was cold and I had to let her know that it wasn’t that type of place. That’s the type of thing we all love about it.

  7. Jamie Mottram

    May 25, 2010 at 4:42 PM

    If one of you guys would be so kind as to print this post out and tape it to the wall next time you visit the VI I’d appreciate it.

  8. ATBechtold

    May 25, 2010 at 4:44 PM

    I’m on it.

  9. Nate Tackett

    May 25, 2010 at 5:54 PM

    Its my second home…

  10. Jon Forrester

    May 25, 2010 at 7:16 PM

    I read the scathing review too and hated it. I was there Sunday as a local (town of Vienna/within town limits) boy born and raised. Every single week I’d be in there with my dad or all my baseball teams. It’s a little different since Marty took over and the fire, but I still love it. If Tom S. went to Vienna Inn to get anything other than loaded dogs or chili macs or gravy fries, then he shouldn’t have reviewed it in the first place. Those other menu items are only their for the lame friend who has never come there/a pussy who doesn’t want the town hall staple and shouldn’t be allowed in there in the first place. A second nod should be given to Vienna’s second baseball institution which went downhill fast, but was the hot place from the 80’s and early 90’s. I’m talking about Neighbors.

  11. Jon Forrester

    May 25, 2010 at 7:19 PM

    Ohh, and Sunday when I was in there I asked where Marty was. The waitress said he was taking the entire Madison Baseball team out to dinner at the Palm. Because Marty is a great guy and that’s the kinda love the Inn has in the community. Sometimes I wish you could only gain entrance with a town limits ID card or be vouched for by another local in your party.

  12. JGP

    May 25, 2010 at 8:12 PM

    My favorite thing was heading there drunk after I’d graduated from Madison and seeing old teachers and coaches getting shitfaced and chain smoking.

    Also, that happened when I was still at Madison.

  13. Steve Andricos

    May 25, 2010 at 9:12 PM

    I really cannot fathom why Tom Sietsema would do a piece on the Vienna Inn. I think Terps77 has it right, as far as the badge of honor…the review is probably already tacked up on the wall. I’ll take one for the team and head up there now to investigate.

  14. CAS3

    May 25, 2010 at 10:25 PM

    They serve Chipped Beef?!? What kind of an jackhole orders chipped beef at the VI?

  15. deepvalue

    May 25, 2010 at 10:54 PM

    Two guys went to the VI and ordered the same exact thing. The second guy was charged like a dollar more than the first guy. Second guy says, “why did mine cost more when we got the same thing?” Cashier points to the first guy and says, “his was on sale.”

  16. wesley h

    May 25, 2010 at 10:56 PM

    does this douche know what the vienna inn means to vienna? does he know about the fires that have happened there and the regulars would help out and get the place back in order in less than a day?

  17. Jon Forrester

    May 26, 2010 at 1:08 AM

    I remember when the hurricane hit a few years ago and most of nova was without power for a week. After the first day I drove to the inn thinking they might be open on a generator. I found myself there just in time for their first opening without power. Next thing you know the place was packed at 9AM even with no power. They said, “we have no power and no power to serve food, but the beer taps are still working.” That place was packed for days without power and only beer to be served. You just went to the counter and paid what you thought you owed.

  18. T.J. Thrasher

    May 26, 2010 at 7:58 AM

    Bullshit!

  19. alvinwalton40

    May 26, 2010 at 11:44 AM

    we bought our house in Vienna a couple of years ago for two reasons: 1) so our daughter will have a top-notch education from K-12, and 2) so I can walk to the Vienna Inn. Whenever I have family/friends come to town, I immediately take them to the VI and proudly state (almost as a badge of honor), “It’s not about the service.” And I have never, ever had “rushed service” while eating there. What I do appreciate it is that each and every waitress there will stop by and ask if we need another beer or if we want anymore food. If that’s his definition of being “rushed” then he’s missing the communal feel of this joint.

    The place is a dive. Always has been, always will be. And that’s the way we like it. Did this tool think he was visiting some chic diner? You just can’t beat 2 loaded chili dogs, fries and two Bud Lights (got to make up for the chili and cheese somehow, right?) for $10.

  20. Russ

    May 26, 2010 at 6:37 PM

    Life sure was tough on the mean streets of Vienna.

  21. Domenic

    May 28, 2010 at 10:20 AM

    I’ve been going to Vienna Inn forever, and while the critic was right on in what he said, that’s also part of the charm of the place. That would be like sending some critic with his thumb up his rear to Fenway or Wrigley to get his review of the park. The guy would probably say that the seats are uncomfortable, the views aren’t perfect, and that the place is old. Um “hello, McFly…anyone home?!” If the critic wants quality service, food, etc, he should go to Morton’s, and the rest of us can “slum it” at the greatest beer joint in the world.

  22. Maggiee

    June 22, 2010 at 5:54 PM

    I’m freaking out! I grew up in Vienna and am getting back there for my first real visit in years and what’s this? New owner? Are they still closed on Yom Kippur? Are the chili dogs as good as they were? What do you mean the waitresses aren’t as salty? Should I be worried?

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