Longworth Cafe

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Longworth Cafe

Grade: A

There was plenty of debate in 2008 when, at the behest of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the House made over its cafeterias. Out was the Salisbury steak. In were fair-trade coffee, locally sourced produce and biodegradable and compostable containers. Immediately, some Republicans labeled it elitist.

Quality did improve. All of the meat now comes from animals raised without antibiotics, and when possible, fruits and vegetables come from local farms. But the Inn at Little Washington, it ain't. The burger ($3.25) was well-done -- and that was before it sat under the heat lamp on the line. The international station, which changes cuisines daily, featured a buffet of Chinese dishes (55 cents per ounce) on the day we visited. The beef with broccoli should have been called "beef with green specks" for all the vegetable that was included.

Over at the barbecue station, an enormous platter of pulled pork ($6.25) was respectable, but side dishes were a mixed bag: The mac and cheese was golden brown and crisp on top and delightfully gooey underneath; the predominant flavor of the spaghetti squash was salt.

The good news: At Longworth, the best options for your palate and your BMI are at the salad bar (48 cents per ounce). The usual suspects -- greens, cucumbers, carrots, etc. -- were crisp and fresh. The prepared dishes were stellar. The red bliss potatoes in one salad were roasted till their edges had crisped and caramelized. The fennel and orange salad should be adopted as the official substitute for fatty, bland coleslaws.

The bottom line: We can nitpick. But Longworth serves reasonably good, responsibly sourced food at fair prices. Exactly what federal cafeterias say they aim to do.

-- Jane Black

Longworth House Office Building (at Independence and New Jersey avenues), B-223. Hours: weekdays 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Open to the public.

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