My brother and Me
1700 K ST. NW. 296-6686.
Open Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. AE, BA, MC. No reservations.
Prices: Sandwiches, salads and hot entrees average $3 to $4.
My Brother and Me calls itself "A Fabulous Eating and Drinking Establishment." That, too, is going a bit far, but at least one could settle for calling it A Good Eating and Drinking Establishement. This basement room looks and sounds like a disco: dim lighting, low ceiling, little globe bulbs and a mirrored wall. The long bar keeps a steady couple of lanes of drinkers. But it has its Contekporary Chic Luncheonette characteristics, as well. Serving people wear beige and brown aprons, carrying out the color scheme of the walls and crockery. On the tables are plastic mats with caricatures of famous brothers and sisters, keeping you occupied with a guessing game while you wait -- sometimes interminably -- for the nice young man or woman to bring you your sandwich.
Service is the most inconsistent feature of My Brother and Me. The food seems pretty stable, most of it very good, some of it reliably worthless. But the service, though always well-informed and eager, can be rapid or maddeningly slow. Try to avoid the height of lunch hour.
As for what to order, concertrate on the periphery of your meal. Soups are distinctive, one day a light, fresh minestrone, another day a thick vegetable puree. Desserts also are home-made and could star at any community bake sale. One day I found a buttery, creamy Boston cream pie with a glorious bittersweet chocolate sauce drizzled over it; another day the banana cream pie was of fine homespun quality and the cheesecake a soft, smooth pleasue. There are some very flawed sweers -- an overambitious pina colada tart that is heavy and cloying, and a too-dense bread pudding -- but they are outnumbered.
In between your appetizer and dessert, try the french fried onion rings, a mountain of them in a light batter the falls apart at the flick of a fork. Surprisingly, the other fried foods are not nearly as good. French fries are standard frozen ones, and the cocktail fare of fried shrimp, fried chicken wings and fried clam strips are the heavily armored sort that you expect in turnpike chain restaurants.
Even with the main dishes, the accompaniments are their highlights. The sandwiches -- corned beef, turkey, brisket, shrimp, cheese combinations -- have good fillings piled high on flabby breads. The turkey has a meaty bite to it, and the brisket and corned beef are of good pedigree, though they would be better if sliced to order. Shrimp salad sandwich is an imprressive thickness of whole shrimp in a light textured and well-spiced kayonnaise dressing. Hamburgers are half-pound, thick patties cooked accurately to your request, though they are handled too much in the making so that they are compact and have lost some juiciness. Still, they are imposing, and served with a choice of cheeses or chili or guacamole. Don't bother with the hamburger topped with sauteed onions, mushrooms and green peppers, for the vegetables are sufficient only to turn the bun soggy.
To discuss the sandwiches themselves is misleading. They are sandwich plates, bright still-lifes filled out with crisp salads under tangy dressings, piled high with freshly made piled high with freshly made potato salad or those everyday french fries. A sandwich is a meal, and ka very pretty, generous, well-balanced one. The menu also has hot entrees: quiche, omelets, eggs, fish, sliced steak, and fried shrimp and chicken. But the match for those sandwich platters is the selection of salads. A chef's salad here is monumental, its greens crisp and its meats commendable, its dressing made with flair. A fruit salad is arranged with considerable artistry, all of the fruit fresh, topped with very good yogurt and chopped nuts in profusion.
Attention to detail carries through the beverates. Michelob is on tap, and a choice of wines -- one day including a satisfying white burgundy at $2 -- is available by the glass. The lemonade is fresh, though weak, and the coffee is good stuff served in big cups.
Consume three courses and some wine or beer, and still you would be unlikely to leave more than $7 or $8 lighter. And on the way out you can finish with very good hard candies at the door. It is nice to welcome new blood like My Brother and Me into the American family restauant tradition.