The Brunch Bunch
Hungry? Hungover? Out with the guys? Out with the girls? Out with the family?
Let's do brunch.
It may once have had a slightly stodgy, even pretentious reputation, but brunch has become a Sunday staple for many Washingtonians. And why not? It's a peculiarly American tradition, quite distinct from the cold suppers of England or "the good woman's chicken" -- poularde bonne femme -- of France, with sentimental ties to Creole New Orleans and Gilded Age New York. You could even call it the rock 'n' roll of meals because, like that famous blend of Saturday night roadhouse blues and Sunday morning hymns, it succors both the late-night celebrant and the post-sermon growling stomach. (Consider those two long-running Sunday productions, the Corcoran's gospel brunch and Perry's drag show.) And in a rat race world, it offers the exercise generation a chance to run and eat rather than eat and run.
Brunch is so popular these days -- whether because Friday night partying is as heavy as the next or because it's a good way to squeeze an extra social gathering into the busy week -- that more and more restaurants are offering Saturday brunch menus as well. Still, for most people, brunch has a Sunday inflection, and the only real puzzle is where to start. Almost every hotel restaurant of any size has some sort of brunch options, many quite elaborate, and there are a number of attractive brunch destinations within a couple of hours of town. But if something a little different sounds appealing, and you don't feel like driving far -- or driving at all -- here are some closer-in choices, many Metro-accessible and most with an extra twist of fun.
It has been one of those favorite not-so-secrets of Washington for a long time, the sort of place to take the in-laws or out-of-towners who have done the Mall and seen the obvious sights, but the gospel brunch at the Corcoran Gallery of Art (17th Street and New York Avenue NW; 202-639-1786) is still a hoot. The buffet is laid out in the museum's elegant atrium beginning at 10:30, and the music, supplied by a rotating list of area groups such as the Queens of Faith, the True Believers, the Stars of Hope and Zion Hill, begins at 11. If you want to walk off the meal afterward, you can tour the museum; general admission is included ($24.95). Gospel is also on the menu at Zanzibar on the Waterfront (700 Water St. SW; 202-554-9100), but there the buffet comes with bottomless mimosas as well (11-4; $24.99).
The drag brunch at Perry's in Adams Morgan (1811 Columbia Rd. NW; 202-234-6218) has been a big draw for years, and the food is increasingly a draw as well: Local celebrity and Washington "Iron Chef" Morou is consulting on the restaurant's dinner and brunch menus, giving them a new edge and character, and the sushi bar is upscaling, too. Seating begins at 10:30, the show about 11 ($22.95).
If Perry's entertainment sounds a little too swinging, or if you'd prefer to do the swinging yourself, put your pumps on and head for the Ballroom at Sandy Spring at the Sandy Spring Volunteer Fire Department (17921 Brooke Rd., Sandy Spring) where, on the second Sunday of each month, the 18-piece Olney Jazz Troupe plays the music of Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Woody Herman, etc. The buffet is supplied by Olney's B.J. Pumpernickels (301-924-1400), and proceeds benefit the fire department. Brunch begins at 9 and music at 10 ($12).
Live jazz background music is soothing to the soul and gives a little relish to the meal. Among the many area restaurants offering jazz at brunchtime are Ellington's on Eighth (424 Eighth St. SE; 202-546-8308); Tony & Joe's (Washington Harbour; 202-944-4545); Columbia Station (2325 18th St. NW; 202-462-6040); the Market Inn (200 E St. SW; 202-554-2100); JoJo (1518 U St. NW; 202-319-9350); and Chef Geoff's (1301 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; 202-464-4461; and 3201 New Mexico Ave. NW; 202-237-7800).
But even compared with most all-you-can-eat brunches, the jazz brunch at Georgia Brown's (950 15th St. NW; 202-393-4499) has an advantage: Its "three-act" brunch begins with one buffet and ends with another of desserts. But if you can't make it through the Act 2 entree -- and many customers can't -- the servers will pack it up and you can take it home.
FLAVORS TO SAVOR
The all-you-can-eat buffet has many advantages, at least if you have a big appetite, but in a way, they're all pretty much alike. Dim sum has been the primary ethnic alternative for brunch for so long it's not much of a surprise. In fact, the concept of little plates for brunch is so familiar that several other restaurants in Washington serve what they call "Thai dim sum," "Latino dim sum," etc. But there are other cuisines to sample at brunch, enough to send you back to that omelet station in a couple of months with your palate refreshed.
The classic Irish breakfast, for instance, is a much heartier version of the all-American eggs and bacon, featuring not fatty belly strips but the leaner, hamlike Irish (think Canadian) bacon, sausages, grilled or broiled tomatoes, beans, toast and eggs, black and white pudding and sometimes oatmeal. Flanagan's Harp & Fiddle (4844 Cordell Ave., Bethesda; 301-951-0115) opens by 11 at the latest and earlier (sometimes a lot earlier) when Gaelic football or soccer is being televised. The Irish Inn at Glen Echo starts at 11 (MacArthur Boulevard at Tulane Avenue, Glen Echo; 301-229-6600). Ri-Ra (4931 Elm St., Bethesda; 301-657-1122) opens at 11:30, and Pat Troy's even tosses in soda bread and Celtic harping for atmosphere (111 N. Pitt St., Alexandria; 703-549-4535). Fado serves Irish breakfast all day, every day, starting at 11 (808 Seventh St. NW; 202-789-0066), making it a sort of Irish diner.
The stylish Tandoori Nights (106 Market St. in Kentlands Market Square, Gaithersburg; 301-947-4007; and opening March 15 in Clarendon Market Commons) serves a special brunch menu starting at noon featuring such twists as a spicy Indian omelet with paratha and Punjabi chickpeas with fried fluffy white bread. Cafe Spice , which offers one "industrial" view -- the exposed kitchen -- and a more bucolic scene of the Rio Center lake out front, adds an extra brunch station for Indian street foods and Indochinese dishes such as garlic chicken, chili paneer and hakka noodles (9811 Washingtonian Blvd., Gaithersburg; 301-330-6611).