So what better on a Saturday or Sunday morning than brunch? Especially when you've nothing to do for the rest of the day. Here are some of our suggestions for places to go where the food is good and the mood easy. It is not a comprehensive list by any means, but shall be added to as time goes on. In the meantime, if you have any suggestions for other great brunch spots, please let us know (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Austin Grill | Bambule | Bread & Chocolate | B. Smith's | Cafe Deluxe | Cafe Luna | Carlyle Grand | Cashion's | Chart House | Georgia Brown's | Listrani's | New Heights | Old Ebbitt Grill | Rocky's Cafe | Royal Restaurant | Sign of the Whale | Thyme Square | Two-Nineteen Austin Grill, 7278 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda; 301/656-1366
Breakfast may not be the meal to substitute with a Saturday or Sunday brunch at the Austin Grill. If you prefer a gentle awakening, this justifiably popular dispenser of Tex-Mex cuisine will seem more like an alarm clock from the bright corn-chip colored tables and the lively music to the clattering of kitchen activity and young and active families confined to booths. However, choose wisely from the nine brunch selections (ranging in price from $7.95 to $9.95), and you may happily hit the snooze button.
Order comforting cornmeal pancakes served with pecan butter and pure maple syrup and eggs-any-way-you-want and watch as someone else at your table wakes up with the eye-watering Mexican omelet, loaded with chorizo sausage, Anaheim peppers, onions, cheese and tomato-chipotle sauce. (Note: Have a full glass of water handy; the juices are $2.50 a pop.) A delicious compromise is the huevos con chorizo: Scrambled eggs with homemade chorizo sausage are topped with melted cheese and served with red rice, refried beans and flour tortillas. Actually anything you fancy from the regular menu is available as well.
Public parking, free on Saturdays and Sundays, is conveniently located next door.
Bambule, 5225 Wisconsin Ave.; 202/966-0300
Your dining journey starts not far from the front door, where a chef as well as the hostess is likely to greet you. From one you get a table; from the other, made-to-order omelets and slices of salmon and roast beef. Wind your way north along the stations, taste-testing the pancakes and waffles, pastries and muffins, croissaints and crepes. More eggs await, too scrambled, Benedict and Norwegian and, of course, sausage links, bacon strips and fried potatoes.
At the back of the restaurant (in case you begin your travels there), find a healthy selection of seasonal fruits and a mix chicken Caesar, chickpeas, beans and pasta, for instance of salads. Peek inside covered pans of chicken cacciatore and rice, lamb and green beans, monkfish and carrots.
If your senses allow, show some restraint the large, decorative mirrors on the walls help (who is that woman who looks just like me and where is the small nation she's feeding?). You'll want to be on your feet again for dessert easier said than done if your seat is a large, enveloping upholstered Bambule chair or couch. Here's an idea: Think of the carrot cake as a vegetable and have it with an entree. There are no rules except for maybe one: relax.
Come in, sit down (pretty close to your neighbors) get up, get started. If you're not awake to this idea, you just may sit . . . politely waiting for an invitation that goes without saying, "don't be shy, eat something."
If you've come for brunch by car, you'll find parking (free with restaurant validation) in a garage off Wisconsin, entrance on Jenifer Street. A few steps and an elevator take you to the restaurant without stepping outside nice to know on wet and windy D.C. days. Oh yes, brunch is $14.95 per person; beverages like a medicinal Bloody Mary or mimosa (for a wet and windy day?) not included.
B. Smith's, 50 Massachusetts Ave. NE; 202/289-6188
Just like its model owner and namesake, B. Smith's is glamour and elegance. In the East Hall, it is certainly one of the finest spaces to be found in this massive, marble Beaux-Arts building. Unless you have an invitation to brunch in a gilded room at the White House, this former presidential waiting room just may be "as good as it gets" for we the people.
Served on Saturdays and Sundays from 11:30 to 3 and accompanied by live entertainment brunch at B. Smith's consists of six entree selections. Omelet choices are vegetarian, served with feta cheese; grilled fajita chicken, served with guacamole, salsa and sour cream; and Delta cheese steak, served with Creole sauce and griddled toast. You can also choose sirloin steak that shares a plate with fried onions, garlic potatoes and scrambled eggs; Bayou Benedict, which is poached egg and spinach alongside griddled potato and crab-salmon cakes; and my choice for my next visit to B. Smith's: the waffle and fresh berries (I have time to decide between pecan-banana or blueberry).
A pleasant, refreshing surprise on our plates was a small bowl of fresh fruit. It lightly complemented our stick-to-the-ribs entrees and satisfied my need to see a dessert menu. Unless you intend to do laps around the station, or run to your next destination, I'd be careful of Southern cheesecake and cherries.
Bread and Chocolate, 5542 Connecticut Ave. NW; 202/966-7413
On a recent Sunday afternoon at the Bread & Chocolate on Connecticut Avenue, tables were full (yes, even children were drinking their milk and eating their rosemary-roasted potatoes); the room open and inviting with the addition of large mirrors and a mural (a flower-lined cobblestone-street scene) was bustling with conversation. How the gentleman at the table next to us could focus on Sunday's editorials is beyond me.
My own reading distraction was a list of breads available from the bakery corner of this European eatery. On the weekend, choices grow with such additions as fougasse provencal, black olive, onion, and walnut raisin. Of course, behind the glass showcase are some cakes and French pastries to take home as well napoleons, fruit tartlettes, a caramel triangle, a chocolate eclair. Just another perk when brunch is the bakery kind.
Start your Sunday Champagne Brunch (served between 10 and 3) with mimosa, a Bloody Mary or just plain juice. Pick something interesting from a brimming basket of bread to accompany a plate of salad (Caesar or house) or cup of soup (while the gazpacho is a fine choice for a warm day, don't wait until winter to try the potato leek or Hungarian goulash).
Your entree can be as naughty as crepes banana strawberry or strawberry chocolate or as nutritious as eggs benedict, smoked salmon , a vegetable or salmon frittata; and an omelet Western, mushroom, spinach and chevre, or ham and cheese.
For dessert sip an espresso the raspberry truffle or the chocolate mocha and in no time at all you'll be singing "The Bak'ry Brunch" to a '70s sitcom tune.
What nicer than a morning's stroll around the National Cathedral grounds followed by brunch at Cafe Deluxe? Take the elevator up to the top and look out over the city, or go to the little cathedral garden center and buy yourself a potted herb. Cafe Deluxe's a la carte brunch is a good value with entrees ranging from about $5.95 to $8.95. Choose from omelets, eggs and salmon, lox and bagels, pancakes, fresh fruits and berries. The deluxe breakfast is hash browns, scrambled eggs, bacon, and so on.
Alexa Beattie Cafe Luna, 1633 P St. NW; 202/387-4005
Whether you're talking about furniture, clothes or food, Dupont Circle often falls victim to the rule of "If it's good, it's not cheap, and if it's cheap, it's not good." This makes Cafe Luna on P Street all the more welcome an exception for weekend brunchers whose wallets don't match their palettes.
Brunch at Luna will not dazzle with its variety, but the kitchen makes sure to turn out "old reliable" dishes with fresh ingredients and a modest amount of flair. The shining example among these is the French toast that other restaurants render as a bland, eggy affair. But Luna avoids culinary cliche by using hunks of bakery-fresh bread fried up in a perfect blend of spices, arriving at the table with a confident, comfortingly cinnamon-y aroma. Add some butter, syrup (unheated, sadly) and a bottomless cup of coffee for a most satisfying first meal of the day.
The other dishes on the menu are solid, if not as original as the French toast. The eggs benedict are resolutely average a more piquant hollandaise would serve them well but with a side of chunky potato-and-onion home fries, they are tasty and filling. If you're not a fan of Canadian bacon, Luna does three other variations on the eggs theme: eggs florentine (with spinach instead of bacon), eggs hussard (with tomato) and eggs tomato florentine. And like most brunch places, Luna offers the requisite build-your-own-omelet. But no matter what you get, it is sure to be fresh and prepared with a minimum of greasiness.
In the heart of image-conscious 17th Street, Luna's outdoor patio is a prime place to see and be seen. Indoors is dark and homey with gaudy works by local artists hanging on exposed brick walls, although the comfort level is lessened by the "pack 'em in" feel of the many small tables squished into the dining room.
But as with all restaurants, Luna isn't without its quirks. Service can be spotty, and it's not uncommon for your water glass to be dutifully and repeatedly refilled by busboys while your server is nowhere to be seen. And brunchers with a taste for decent hot sauce are almost sure to be disappointed Luna inexplicably skimps on bottles of Tabasco for plastic cups of some acrid orange stuff, almost guaranteeing that you'll spill too much of it on your food, and possibly yourself.
These minor gripes, however, take little away from the meal. The food is consistently tasty; the atmosphere pleasant; the prices a steal. Brunch for two with tax and tip came to $16. And the many health-oriented and vegetarian options on the menu make Luna ideal for those who don't want to sacrifice choice or quality for the sake of saving a few bucks.
Cashion's, 1819 Columbia Rd. NW; 202/797-1819
While Ann Cashion's menu is guaranteed to change with her seasonal whims, there are certain standards that the place exceeds year-round. Eggs-any-way-you-want are joined with crispy little cubed potatoes and your choice of wood-cured bacon or homemade links for $7.95. But, if you're going to wait in line for the chance to relax in one of Adams-Morgan's finest restaurants, you're diner enough to look beyond bacon and eggs.
The brunch menu is small in the best sense. There is something sweet: challah French toast with apple compote and maple syrup ($8.95); something light: yogurt with grapefruit and tangelo, homemade granola and wildflower honey ($6.95); and something Southern: grilled pork chops with cheese grits and sauteed spinach ($9.95). The delicious extras that appear on Cashion's dinner menu are in abundance. Grilled rainbow trout arrives with a tomato-mustard beurre blanc and reed-thin green beans ($10.95) looking so fresh and clean it's easy to imagine that time-share in Tahoe. Fresh horseradish with the Bloody Mary is enough to consider early, early retirement.
On occasion, Cashion's falters on the niceties. When the mixed green salad aside a croque monsieur arrived swampy with dressing, it was replaced efficiently with nary a hesitation or a smile. The house rule: that no party may be seated until all members are present is tough to swallow at any hour of the day. But when three of a table for four are encouraged to wait at the bar where morning cigar smoking goes unstubbed, one of the rules has got to go.
Sunday brunch at Cashion's Eat Place is a delicious reason to get up and at it Monday to Friday. Earn your daily bread, then, eat it among the beautiful people between 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on Sundays. Brunch for two is no more than $40.
The Chart House, 1 Cameron St., Alexandria; 703/684-5080
For some, the appeal of the Chart House might come from its clubby atmosphere. There are 63 restaurants in this chain, many of them in sun-kissed Floridian or Californian resort spots. All boast a view which only a daytime meal can fully appreciate. The brunch menu has recently changed. No more bottomless mimosas thrown in for the $19.95 set price, (a crying shame), but still the salad buffet wows.
Try as you might, it's a challenge indeed not to be greedy. There are bagels and warm muffins, plates of lox and lemon, vats of cream cheese, red onion, capers, lumpfish caviar, pasta salads, the wherewithal to make-your-own-Caesar and fruits galore. All this before you've even ordered from the menu.
Then come the waffles, the New York steak and eggs, a prime rib hash, the day's frittata, eggs Benedict, a crab cake, a seafood quiche. It's enough food to set you up for the week. After three or four drinks you can start to fancy that you motored here by boat and dropped anchor beside all the other pleasure craft in dock.
Georgia Brown's, 950 15th St. NW; 202/393-4499
Talk about hospitality, sugar. Everyone is a given a menu, a cautionary roadmap urging you to stay the limit. Start with freshly squeezed juice, iced tea, coffee, or up the morning's ante with one of four special cocktails: a Bloody Mary, a Mai Tai, a white chocolate martini and something green and frothy called a "Savannah Dew Drop."
The groaning buffet calls like Bali Ha'i: carved ham, inches-thick biscuits with sausage gravy, French toast with real maple syrup and pecans, fresh fruit, warm sausages, salads. The stone-ground grits are as delectable with a puddle of warmed pecans as they are with the crumbles of apple wood-smoked bacon. It is easily the lifeblood of this table and not too soon forgotten.
Here's the kicker: You've got two more acts to go. Georgia Brown's knows it's hard going, so you can order your second course straight off the abbreviated lunch menu to go. Choices include salmon, fried chicken, meatloaf, and catfish. Hint: The Carolina gumbo reheats particularly well. Only my eyes could feast on the assortment of house-made sweets: tiny lemon tarts, a peachy charlotte, cakes both chocolatey and spiced that accompanied coffee or tea.
Even plate-lickers leave the restaurant like yuppies after a sale at Bloomingdale's: loaded with discrete big brown bags and self-satisfied smiles. The place is fabulous but it's no secret. By 11 a.m. every table was spoken for and the wait was at least an hour. The gracious dining room overflows into the bar where brunchers indulge on high, low-backed chairs. Picnics can't become a habit, as much for the high cholesterol as for how drab it'll make weeks spent elsewhere seem.
Note: In the interest of maintaining an air of restraint, I have failed to mention the omelet station master who makes lacey eggs to order filled with onions sauteed in white wine, spring onions, bacon, ham, chicken, cheese, bacon, peppers and mushrooms.
The "picnic" at Georgia Brown's is $21.95, beverages not included. Special cocktails are $7.95; juice is $5. The wine list featured 46 bottles from an Oregon Pinot Noir ($31) to Krug, Cuvee Brut champers ($140). To make a reservation, call 202/393-4499.
Lucky you. It's Sunday afternoon, you're hungry and hovering close to one of Washington's lovely neighborhoods, the Palisades. You may be bound for Chain Bridge and Virginia or Great Falls in Maryland; but if you have the opportunity, stop for brunch at Listrani's.
Light-filled and welcoming, Listrani's is red-checkered tablecloths; large, enveloping wooden chairs (you may need to sit on a telephone book); and generous portions. It's home, without the questions ("Why aren't you married yet?") or the guilt ("Mrs. O'Leary has six grandchildren"). Just like home, leave with a "care" package of leftovers, especially if you're meal ends over coffee and an Italian pastry. Hard-to-resist desserts cannoli, tiramisu, fruitti di bosco, selva nera temptingly wait in a glass case until you're ready.
While you can order from the regular menu as well the time is always right for Listrani's pedestal-worthy pizza the brunch menu (noon to 3) offers such choices as eggs, shrimp or salmon Benedict; French toast; spinach quiche and house salad; and an omelet "stuffed" with three selections from a list of cheeses, meats and vegetables. Depending on your additions (Italian sausage, for instance), this impressive dish requires a knife and fork to handle the chunky filling. You may also be surprised if you weren't expecting the Italian sausage to be "hot."
Do expect whatever you order to be satisfyingly delicious. Just ask the neighbors, lucky them, who only have to walk to Listrani's.
New Heights, 2317 Calvert St. NW; 202/234-4110
Old Ebbitt Grill, 675 15th St. NW; 202/347-4800
Even at 11 a.m., the inside, with its wood-paneled walls and plush, hunter green banquettes, is dark enough to require the gas lamps to be lit. One glance at the crisp white linen tablecloths and the freshly cut flowers in front of you clues you into the fact that you are in for an elegant dining experience.
The brunch menu, available Saturdays and Sundays from 8:30 till 4, changes weekly. On a recent visit, choices and prices ranged from the "lunchy" jumbo lump crab ($24.95) to the more "breakfasty" eggs Benedict served with Canadian bacon ($8.95) and "upside-down French toast" ($8.95).
The aforementioned toast, which was baked with pecans and bananas, was divine. Made with thick chunks of egg bread and liberally bathed in maple syrup, it was wonderfully homey and satisfying.
The cannelloni di casa ($9.95), which our waiter called the restaurant's signature dish, was extremely rich. Billed as "homemade sheets of pasta, stuffed with spinach, mortadella ham and three cheeses," this creamy creation was almost too heavy to finish.
The Old Ebbitt obviously prides itself in seafood dishes seven of the 15 menu options included underwater fare. The Atlantic salmon ($13.95), which was encrusted with onion and horseradish, was perfectly grilled. The roasted new potatoes were flavorful, and the sauteed peapods and carrots crisp.
One low note: the Clyde's strata ($9.95), a brunch staple apparently borrowed from Old Ebbitt's sister restaurant. The egg dish, baked with bacon and spinach and served with homefries and fruit, was overly oily. I could feel my cholesterol rising with each bite.
Final observations: The service was quick and friendly. Our waiter was attentive. Our water glasses stayed perpetually full. We felt just as important as any political big shot.
Rocky's Cafe, 1817 Columbia Rd. NW; 202/387-2580
Sign of the Whale, 1825 M St. NW; 202/785-1110
Trust your friendly Nightlife editor. I still believe in the restorative power of a Bloody Mary. And, after a Sunday morning at Sign of the Whale, you will, too. From 11 a.m. until 4 p.m., you'll find the largest "make your own" Bloody Mary bar in Washington. Order one, and your server will bring over a pint glass half-filled with vodka and point you toward the rack of ingredients by the door.
On a recent visit, we counted 94 different bottles of stuff to play with. While some may just reach for the bottles of pre-made Bloody Mary Mix (there are numerous brands and spice levels), purists can choose from a variety of Worcestershire sauces, hot pepper sauces (from Tabasco to extra-super-hot), cayenne peppers, garlic salt, mustard salt, meat seasonings and so on. Add a huge twist of celery and you're ready to go.
The staff encourages experimentation: "Hey, if you screw up, dump it out and order another," our server told us. (For the record, a basic Bloody Mary includes vodka, tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce, and dashes of black pepper and Tabasco. But feel free to vary ingredients according to taste.)
Oh, and did we mention that the food is good. The eggs Fitzpatrick weren't overdone; the filet mignon, served with a nice bearnaise, was perfectly firm and done to order. And waffles, big and thick, come with eggs on the side. But honestly, this isn't about the food. Or it shouldn't be
Thyme Square Cafe, 4735 Bethesda Ave., Bethesda; 301/657-4505
In fact, a seared red chile salmon is one of the four choices on the cafe's three-course Sunday brunch menu, served from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Your first decision, the first course, is between a soup lover's must-have wild mushroom and leek soup with goat cheese crostini, tomatoes and chives or a heaping plate of tender greens lightly dressed.
Whatever you choose as your main course the salmon; the omelette with grilled asparagus, roasted Yukon gold home fries; the cinnamon and brown sugar French toast with fresh berries; or the shirred eggs, Lyonnaise potatoes and grilled vegetable ratatouille expect your eyes as well as your taste buds to be delighted. Picture-perfect vegetables and fruits are respected here and it shows, in their preparation and presentation.
In case you think this is all far too healthy for you, there's decadence ahead. Your third course is a choice between lemon-berry pie keeping company with strawberries and cream or double chocolate mousse cake with burnt orange creme anglaise and a drizzle of raspberry sauce.
Thyme Square's Sunday brunch is $18.95 per person and includes a glass of juice, wine or champagne and bottomless coffee or tea. Free public parking is available in an open lot across the street.
Two-Nineteen Restaurant, 219 King St., Alexandria; 703/549-1141
Classy among these is Two-Nineteen in Alexandria. Set in a colonial-era brick building on the tourist end of King Street, the restaurant plausibly suggests a romantic destination from the Vieux Carre of New Orleans. At crowded tables set with pressed white linen and heavy stainless cutlery, brunchers sit on sumptuously upholstered Queen Anne chairs. Above them, chandeliers hang from a looming ceiling. A custom antique bar, beautifully detailed and maintained, boasts an ornate gold mirror.
The wait staff, dressed in rumpled black, are entirely gentleman. Foreign in accent (some Bayou, some Asian) and old-fashioned in manner, they serve customers with a severe "Excellent choice, Sir" dignity, as if accustomed to serving royalty, not tourists. On a recent brunch visit, they were treating everyone to complimentary appetizers of strawberries and cream.
The menu is split: Cajun on the left, the usual on the right. Of course, the best entrees are Cajun, especially those with shellfish, such as the jambalaya ($7.25), a stew of rice, tomatoes, shrimp, and Andalusian sausage. Mildly spicy, it will appeal to most tastes but may disappoint hard-core aficionados of cayenne, that secretive, compounding hotness. Tip: Request a bottle of Louisiana-style hot sauce and drizzle to your liking. Other choices sure to elicit "Excellent choice, Sir" are the Cajun oysters ($10.95), breaded and deep-fried, or the eggs Benedict ($11.75) with crab meat.
For anyone requiring a tonic, the house mimosa will satisfy.
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