In the Eastern Market at 7th Street and North Carolina Ave. SE.
Price Range: From 85 cents for a half-smoke sandwich to $4.50 for a generous crabcake or soft crab platter. Soft crab sandwiches are $2.25 and crabcake sandwiches are $2.10.
Hours: 7 to 10:30 a.m. for breakfast, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for lunch. The market is closed Sunday and Monday.
Atmosphere: Highly informal lunch spot in a working market, cooled by ceiling fans installed before they became chic.
Credit Cards: No.
Special Facilities: Wheelchairs can enter through the rear door of the market adjacent to the parking lot; parking available in free lot or at meters on street. Eastern Market Metro station is a block away.
Les Halles and its famed onion soup ritual have been removed from Paris, but there is still Market Lunch in Washington.
The ambiance makes the Market Lunch in the century-old Eastern Market a genuine treat. It helps if you like deep-fried seafood and Southern-style - a euphemism for "overcooked" - vegetables.
When Boone Market Lunch, the lunch counter at the market for several decades, closed a few years ago, habitues worried that the replacement restaurant would be cute-sy or chic. It isn't. Nor is the market itself. Although the building, a national historic landmark, is being refurbished now, the market caters to locals rather than tourists and sells cracklings and fatback as well as quail and Camembert.
The restaurant, too, is unselfconscious, consisting of one laminated plastic-topped table with five vinyl-covered chairs, counters with stools and a serving counter. Ambiance is provided by the surroundings: the fish bench, the Union Meat Company, the poultry butcher, the produce and the flower stands, and the hustle and bustle that can be observed while you eat.
Just outside the door, and also visible, is the farmers' line, where rural families set up shop on Saturdays to sell fresh eggs and chicken and, in season, fruits, vegetables and flowers.
Market Lunch is owned by the Glasgow brothers, who own both the fish market and one of the meat markets at Eastern Market. Emphasis is on fish, but there is often a meat dish - such as beef stew - among the daily specials.
At a recent lunch, I ordered the fish platter, $3.25, which consisted of two large pieces of deep-fried porgy and two side orders. Choices of side orders include potato salad, cole slaw, french fries, french-fried onion rings, a green vegetable, or hush puppies.
I chose french fries and onion rings and let my daughters, who are 3 and 6, use them to supplement their lunch: a roast beef sandwich, $1.75, cut in two pieces. My husband had the soft crab platter, consisting of two deep fried soft crab plus potato salad and the green vegetables, which turned out to be long-cooked collards, for $4.50.
An adult guest chose a cup of clam chowder, $1, and the crab cake platter, consisting of two fair-sized crab cakes plus cole slaw and hush puppies, for $4.50. We ordered lemonade for the children. No beer or liquor is served in the market.
The chowder, which we all tasted, is neither New England nor Manhattan style but a rather nice combination of the two. It is not tomato-based, but it has cut-up vegetables in it for added flavor. It is rather bland, but with the addition of some pepper, very pleasant.
The porgy, which is not a fish I would order if rock or bluefish were available, was tasty, if a little bit dry. My husband, who comes from a long line of Scandinavian fisher-folk, pronounced it "not really fresh but what restaurants consider fresh." A little tartar sauce helped counteract the dryness.
My husband's soft crabs were delicious, although we both prefer them sauteed rather than deep fried. His potato salad was obviously homemade, but he barely touched his collards.
Our guest's crab cakes were excellent, with a high crab content.He found his coleslaw overly sweet, however, and complained that there was no honey for the hush puppies.
The Market Lunch doesn't serve dessert, but lots of dessert-type things are available in the market. On Saturdays, a woman sells fresh baked goods, including delicious brownies, in the farmer's line outside. At our most recent lunch, we opted for half a pound of cherries, 99 cents, from Calomiris' produce stand. The owner insisted on giving the kids free bananas, so we got to keep the cherries to ourselves. Including the cherries, the lunch for three adults and two children cost $19.35.
We added a little aesthetic food to our luncheon experience by a stroll through the Market V Gallery in the building's north end and through a treasure-crowded antique store across the street. Adults and kids agreed that this was a fast-filling and fun way to eat lunch.