Red, Whyte & Blue: Party planner Roger Whyte shares tips for July 4 celebrations in Washington


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2013_06_Roger_Whyte Washington event planner Roger Whyte offers tips for celebrating July 4th with all-American style. (Photo: R. Whyte)

Even Lee Greenwood is tired of eating that strawberry flag cake on Independence Day.

If you’re welcoming guests this Fourth of July, you’ll want the fireworks to begin well before the sun goes down, and the way to do that is with unique pops of Americana throughout your menu, décor and even your attire.

Fresh off entertaining Washington’s elite foodies at the 2013 RAMMYs, Roger Whyte from D.C.-based RJ Whyte Event Production offers his scoop for keeping your Capitol Fourth simple, sophisticated and absolutely all-American.

You’re expecting out-of-town guests excited to spend Fourth of July in the nation’s capital. What do you serve them?

When I was growing up, my parents were the best at serving meals for large groups of guests.  One of the best things they served was a marinated flank steak. It is easy to prepare, easy to grill, and makes delicious leftover steak sandwiches. Marinate it in whatever you have in your refrigerator, and cook it a few hours before the party. Serve it with grilled asparagus, a simple pasta salad (cooked and cooled pasta, ranch dressing, and some veggies all mixed together in a large Ziploc bag) and a fresh summer salad (arugula, chunks of watermelon, goat cheese, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and salt and pepper).

Make sure you also have a great signature drink! Stick with the theme and make a drink that is red, white or blue. For the red cocktail, try a grown-up version of the Shirley Temple. Vodka, 7-up and grenadine. Garnish with some blueberries, cherries or cut up strawberries. If you can get your hands on some Mason jars, serve the drinks in them!

Your party is outside and casual. What do you recommend for a creative centerpiece that won’t wilt in the heat?

In the heat of the day, you will want something that holds up REAL well. I would recommend a big bowl, glass preferred, of Red Delicious Apples. When you put them in the bowl, place each one so they are all facing the same way and are stacked neatly. It will say to your guest that you did it on purpose and it isn’t just a fruit bowl.

If a flag cake just won’t fly, what’s your favorite holiday dessert?

You can recreate this mini ice-cream sandwich by one of Whyte's favorite caterers,  Design Cuisine for your own parties (Photo: R. Bailey) Recreate this mini ice-cream sandwich by one of Whyte’s favorite caterers for your own parties (Photo: R. Bailey)

I am a big fan of miniature versions of popular desserts, like an ice cream sandwich. To do this at home, make some silver dollar-sized chocolate chip cookies (or buy them at the store), and then throw them in the freezer. After they have frozen, take a melon baller or a small spoon and put a little scoop of your favorite ice cream between the two cookies. Then freeze everything together. Serve on a tray covered in chocolate chips for a fun and festive presentation. Also, get creative and change up the flavor of cooking or ice cream to fit your mood! Nothing says “America” like cookies and ice cream on a hot day!

Your Statue of Liberty costume is at the cleaners. What will you wear to an Independence Day cookout?

Given that it is summer in Washington, D.C., one thing is almost guaranteed: It is going to be hot and humid.

For guys:

  • nice pair of shorts
  • a fun belt
  • a button-down with the sleeves rolled up – Bonobos in Georgetown has awesome clothes that fit men very well in Americana colors; head over to the Georgetown shop and ask for Anna (she knows her stuff!)
  • closed-toed shoes – Someone once told me, “Flip-flops are for the beach or the pool,” and I couldn’t agree more.

For the ladies:

  • a simply, breezy sun dress 
  • shorts and fun top

Girls can’t really go wrong in this category, sticking, of course, to colors in red, white and blue.

Forget the grill, you’re making reservations. Where would you dine on the Fourth of July if you’re celebrating America’s birthday in Washington?

Luckily in D.C., we have no shortage of great restaurants. For true Americana, I recommend the Old Ebbitt Grill. Founded in 1856, it is considered the “Oldest Saloon in D.C.” The raw bar selections and the crab cake are great! And, nothing is more All-American than hearing that Teddy Roosevelt is responsible for the mounted walrus head in the main bar! The location can’t be beat either: it is steps from the White House and prime fireworks viewing.

If the wait is too long, go around the corner and check out the Ebbitt’s sister restaurant, The Hamilton. The food is just as delicious!

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