Avignone Freres 1777 Columbia Rd. NW.265-0332, 265-7273.Price Range: Salads and cold platters for $3.50 and $4.50, appetizers from 95 cents to $3.50; dinners from $3.75 to $10.75. Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Kitchen closes half an hour before closing time. Special facilities: Highchairs and booster chairs; wheelchairs can be accomodated. Credit cards: Master Charge and VISA
Longtime Washington residents remember Avignone Freres as a seedy but genteel restaurant run in conjunction with the catering service that has been located on Columbia Road since 1918. When the character of the Adams-Morgan neighborhood changed after the 1968 riots and many expensive shops left the area, the restaurant was closed.
The catering service and bakery remained, and its display window with a majestic wedding cake and seasonal displays of mouth-watering goodies fascinated children on their way to Kalorama Park. Neighborhood residents still dropped in on Sunday mornings to buy freshly baked crossants or French bread.
As the neighborhood continued to change, with more middle-class families moving in, the restaurant was reopened. It will celebrate its third anniversary in its new reincarnation May 27.
On a recent weekday visit, we made reservations for 6 p.m., but found that they were not necessary at that hour. The restaurant was empty when we arrived. During the meal more people drfited in, some for pastries and coffee and others for dinner.
Small tables-each with a flower in a cut-glass vase-are lined up in two rows between a well-stocked delicatessen counter and a bakery coutner. Natasha, 7 1/2, and her classmate, Imoni, found a wealth of things to explore while waiting for their meal. There was a rack displaying small toys, a shelf with birghday cake decorations, displays of imported crackers, coffees and preserves, and-best of all-the bakery shelves loaded with pastries, breads and candies made on the premises.
Once the downstairs had been explored, Natasha and Imoni ran up the worn red and gold carpet to the mezzanine where, they reported, there were more tables and a grand piano.
The menu listed a large variety of appetizers, entrees, sandwiches and salads, but Imoni's and Natasha's eyes kept wandering to the dessert list.
When they were persuaded to look at the daily specials, they settled on scallops for Natasha, $5.25, and spaghetti with Italian meatballs, $4.75, for Imoni. I ordered sole almandine, at $4.95.
The waitress brought a basket of French, whole wheat, pumpernickel and rye bread and a salad of fresh iceberg and romaine lettuce for me.
Although the waitress forgot that I had ordered consomme, the main dishes were served promptly. The sole was piping hot, perfectly cooked and buttery. Natasha's scallops looked delicious but disappeared before anyone else could taste them. Imoni said the meatballs were hot and "better than the ones at school." I found the light seasoning excellent and noticed that Imoni left very little on the plate.
All there of us had the fresh green beans and the girls had light and tasty whipped potatoes. For our two vegetables we could also have chosen french fries, rice or zucchini Provencale.
Natasha and Imoni had small glasses of juice for 85 cents and I had a tumbler of somewhat flat Perrier water for 95 cents.
Other dishes on the menu included chicken Kiev, $5.95 a cold meat platter for $4.50 and a lobster tail for $10.75.
When dessert time arrived, Imoni and Natasha briefly checked the pastry cart, with offerings at $1.35 each, then zeroed in on the ice cream. There was no hot fudge that day, so Imoni chose vanilla ice cream with walnut topping, $1.50, and Natasha had a chocolate ice cream soda, $1.50.Both dishes lived up to expectations, and we bought two pints of ice cream to take home. My rather ordinary capucchino was $1.40
The check for the three of us came to $21.90.