Market Lunch: More than just breakfast
By Justin Rude
Friday, Oct. 7, 2011
Despite its name, the Washington institution called Market Lunch is most famous for a breakfast dish: its Blue Buck pancakes.
The light and fluffy blueberry-and-buckwheat-dappled flap-jacks are available only on Saturday mornings and draw lines that have become as famous as the pancakes themselves.
If you know the spot only as a busy market-day breakfast destination, you owe it to yourself to pay a weekday visit and learn why this place, in the South Hall of Capitol Hill's historic Eastern Market, is worth a visit.
The small counter-service restaurant is open every weekday but Monday. It draws a steady crowd of blue- and white-collar workers as well as neighborhood folks just stopping in for a bite while they shop.
One long table and a couple of small, low two-tops provide all of the restaurant's dining space: about two dozen seats. But single diners and pairs should have no trouble finding a berth most days. The routine is simple: Stand in line, order at the register, wait patiently for your number to be called to get your food, then take a seat. The long table is suffused with a wonderful communal vibe, so don't be surprised to find yourself chatting up your neighbor about the plate of fried seafood in front of you. Holding places, in line or at the table, is generally frowned upon.
On the menu: Market Lunch has a surprisingly varied menu that features a decent burger and competent barbecue along with griddle favorites such as hot dogs. Skip those in favor of the seafood options.
First off, Market Lunch serves a great crab cake. Generous patties of filler-light jumbo-lump blue crab (what else?) are well seasoned, served with a light crust and come by the platter or sandwich. Oysters and shrimp show off how well this kitchen handles its fryers. The plump shrimp are perfectly cooked, and the briny Chesapeake Bay oysters are still juicy and pliant beneath their thin coat of breading. Just as telling of the quality of the cooking is that neither bivalves nor crustaceans are weeping grease. Our paper plates remained pleasantly opaque beneath a hearty pile of the fried seafood.
And always worth a mention: When they are in season (May through September), the soft-shell crabs are a real treat. Dress them with the house-made tartar sauce for a little tang, and you get one of the city's best sandwiches.
You have plenty of options for sides, too. The french fries and fried green tomatoes continue the kitchen's streak when it comes to cooking in hot oil, but if you've had enough of the fried entrees, take refuge in the coleslaw and potato salad. Both are mayo-based classics, likely to incite picnic flashbacks.
At your service: While often rather harried during the mad crush of Saturday breakfast, the staff at Market Lunch is downright affable in the middle of a relatively slow weekday. But one sure way to quickly turn the crowd against you: Pull out a credit card. The line behind you at this cash-only institution will not take to it kindly.