FORAGING
An All-Day Soul Food Buffet

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

SAINT'S PARADISE CAFETERIA NEAR MOUNT VERNON SQUARE

The shiny golden dome of United House of Prayer near Mount Vernon Square is a beacon for churchgoers looking to feed the soul. But those with a less metaphoric hunger head for Saint's Paradise Cafeteria in the church's basement. Here, a light-filled and cheerful room holds several long tables set up like pews in front of a steam-table buffet of soul food.

"It started out just for the members, but it's to help raise funds for the church, also," says assistant manager Mary Barbour, a church member who has worked at the cafeteria for 47 of her 64 years. The cafeteria draws diners from the neighborhood -- doctors, lawyers, police officers, business people and charter school students all eat there; about 250 people can be seated at a time. "I tell you, I just love it," Barbour says. "I'm a people person."

She's also a yams and collards person. The collard greens are tender without being mushy, and the smoked turkey and garlic flavors meld into a sweet sharpness. Come summertime, Barbour adds a shot of vinegar to counteract the toughening effect she says the sun has on the greens. The yams are prepared with the usual guilty-pleasure ingredients of butter and brown sugar, but they are brightened and balanced by strong hints of ginger and orange.

Breakfast is served until 11 a.m. The most popular offering is the bacon breakfast ($4), which comes with two eggs prepared any way plus two breakfast sides: grits, applesauce, fried apples or potatoes.

Dinners come with two generous sides and a square of salty-sweet cornbread. The fried chicken dinner ($7) was well seasoned with a thin layer of breading covering a connected leg and thigh. The pork rib dinner ($8.75) was enough for two meals -- four meat-laden baby back ribs with meat falling off the bone, coated with a mild house-made barbecue sauce.

Budget- and waist-conscious diners can order the daily blue plate special ($5.99), which has smaller portions. Monday is Pork Chop Day. And for those who aren't watching their waists, the mostly homemade cakes, cobblers and pies ($2 to $3) served from this humble kitchen are, well, heavenly.

Saint's Paradise Cafeteria, 601-A M St. NW. Open Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Call 202-789-2289.

-- Rina Rapuano

Freelance writer Rina Rapuano last wrote for Food about authentic Mexican tacos in Columbia Heights.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company