Editors' pick

Matchbox

American, Pizza
$$$$ ($15-$24)
Matchbox photo
(washingtonpost.com)
'

Editorial Review

Brunch Review

Juicy sliders and thin-crust pizzas have been driving the hordes to Matchbox for years, but for my money, brunch is the meal worth ordering. Cast-iron skillets loaded up with eggs, potatoes and proteins including smoked salmon or steak make for hearty options -- in addition to bringing a down-home touch to the table. I always go for the stromboli-like roll of goat cheese, chorizo, asparagus and scrambled eggs; a zippy chipotle sour cream brightens the dish.

For dessert, tuck into cinnamon-dusted "doughnuts," deep-fried puffs served with an espresso-Kahlua dipping sauce. It's indulgent for midday, but a fun dish to share with friends. The bloody marys are not to be missed, especially for those who like a morning beverage tinged with heat. Skip the "bloody beer"; only a die-hard Pabst Blue Ribbon aficionado could drink the stuff when swirled with the house-made bloody mary mix. (For the record, co-owner Drew Kim says the drink "does very well for us.") Capitol Hill-dwellers take note: The Eighth Street location has live jazz during Sunday brunch.

-- Julia Beizer (Feb. 19, 2010)

Sietsema Review

Still Faring Well

By Tom Sietsema
The Washington Post Magazine
Sunday, April 29, 2007

Some diners are drawn to Matchbox for its adorable, charcoal-grilled baby burgers. Others show up for its crackling, New York-style pizza. Then there are those who are seduced by the design details -- embedded in the resin-and-wood tables here -- that inspired the Chinatown restaurant's name: matchboxes, gathered from all around the world and representing all manner of tastes. Not a week goes by that the owners say they don't get asked by fellow enthusiasts if they'd like to add to their extensive collection, and hardly a day goes by when the hostess isn't asked by customers if they can sit at the "Redskins" table, the "Star Wars" table or the "Elvis" table, among the other matchbox-inspired hot spots here.

If there's a best time to drop by, I haven't found it. At high noon, crushes of worker bees and tourists keep the place hopping, and at happy hour, suits and strollers bump up against one another in the cramped bar leading to the dining rooms. And this is despite a recent 7,000-square-foot addition (including a new kitchen and an outdoor patio) to the three-story townhouse. The original space, all brick walls and wood floors, is fun; the addition, which looks similar but has the advantage of a tented glass ceiling and a party room, is cooler still.

"3-6-9" read the floor mats and some of the server's black T-shirts. Fans recognize the mantra as the number of mini-burgers you can request by the plate. The bite-size sandwiches, lavished with a mound of sweet onion strings and tucked into brioches, are as juicy and well-seasoned as I remember from my first encounter four years ago; the burgers are so popular that they get a designated flipper. Small wonder they decorate so many of the tables. So do pizza stands, and with justification: Matchbox bakes some of the best pies in the city. The crusts, charred from their minutes in a wood-stoked oven and crisp from a dusting with cornmeal, make a pleasing canvas for toppings that run from the mellow (mushroom-artichoke-mozzarella) to the meaty (pepperoni-Italian sausage-bacon).

Customers can sip as well as they snack. The beer and wine lists show more thought than is probably necessary in this Zip code near the Verizon Center, and the cocktails hint at the owners' sense of humor: The martinis are divided between "girlie" and "manly" drinks. Guess which category the pink Cosmo falls into?

The rest of the menu isn't nearly as compelling, and it seems not to have changed much from its last review in this space two years ago. Patrons can still find a baseball-size crab cake bundled in crisp ribbons of phyllo, and it's still rich and awkward to eat. Chicken breast sprinkled with nuts and poised on a mesa of mashed sweet potatoes is good, but it's enough fuel for lunch and dinner; the entree's buttery moat of sauce also seems excessive. A 10-ounce steak is reportedly Matchbox's bestselling entree, which mystifies this carnivore, who quit slicing a few bites in and filled himself up on the accompanying hand-cut french fries. The beef I got was bland and overcooked; its tart topping of shallots, garlic and red wine overwhelmed the cut. Someone needs to tell the chef to go easy on the sauces. Resist the urge to give the salt shaker a workout. A little white space on the plate can be a good thing.

Still, the bigger Matchbox counts plenty of charms. Three cheers for the fetching salad of greens, sliced pears and goat cheese-slathered toast, tossed with a vinaigrette that's breezy with basil. And kudos for a properly cooked sea bass served with buttery carrots, tangy tomatoes and coins of fingerling potatoes. The "sweet and tangy" calamari salad remains an option, and it lives up to its description, with olives, banana peppers and balsamic vinegar. Most of the servers act like cheerleaders, and even the hostess manages to smile when the umpteenth arrival is asking for a table or an ETA. As in its infancy, however, Matchbox is best at three things: Burgers, pizzas and design -- handcrafted at a cost of about $350 a pop, the tables are works of art that can compete with the cooking.