Every American Cafe Market fan has a favorite dish; we have a favorite branch, the Georgetown one, where classical music plays in the second-floor glass and wood-trimmed shop. Ropes of garlic, herbs, country hams and flowers hang overhead, and the catering operation is right there for the watching. A display table is set with pretty china and today's menu. Who could not buy? The croissants (big enough for meal-size sandwiches, buttery but sometimes too doughy), muffins and very good chocolate chip cookies are set out for the plucking. The platters of salads are appealing -- full and fresh. Only the cheeses look unattractive, wrapped in plastic and piled helter-skelter.
Among the packaged goods on shelves are some real finds: vanilla bean for 69 cents, wild pecan rice, those wonderful biscotti di vino in brown paper bags. You can buy seasonal produce -- melons, bunches of herbs -- or farm-fresh eggs, country butter, fresh pasta. There are oils and vinegars, of course, teas and coffees (a very good house blend brewed and hot). Breads are from The French Bread Factory, the best choice being available in the afternoon. The meat counter has Schaler and Weber cold cuts, Citterio salamis and pates from California, as well as just-cooked turkey and roast beef, and the best corned beef so far in Washington. Smoked bluefish comes from North Carolina.Ms. Desserts and Country Epicure stock the pastry case, along with the Market's own fudgy brownies, pecan pie and carrot cake (good but no cigar).
There is always something new -- and good -- at The Market at the American Cafe. This season it is homesmoked meats; roast beef, chickens, cornish hens, turkey, sausage.
The restaurant connection benefits The Market so that salads, for instance, need not be left from one day to another. The Market even gives away bread left at the end of the day.
The salads have a few downs among the ups: the seafood and chicken are first-rate goods but have lacked seasoning; the sesame noodles are generally marvelous, but can be pasty. Usually they are excellent; even the tuna is interesting. Dilled potato, broccoli with garlic, eggplant and garlic and capers are delightful side-dish salads. We can skip the coleslaw -- pretty but dull -- but never the quickes (called pies here), especially if it's the day for egg-and-sausage (with bacon, potatoes, cheese and onion, like an omelet in a crust). Watch out for leaky, soggy crag and spinach pie, but don't pass it up if its crust looks fresh and crisp. And anything in puff pastry, whether ham and broccoli or just vegetables, is worth the struggle to find a parking place, even on Capitol Hill. Open 8 a.m. to 12 or 1 p.m. Mon. through Fri.; 8:30 until midnight Sat.; 8:30 to 11 p.m. Sun. and 1219 Wisconsin Ave. NW 337-360l Open 8:30 to 10 Sun. through Thurs.; 8:30 a.m. to midnight Fri. and Sat. Expensive.