Hours: 7:30 a.m. to midnight, Monday through Saturday; 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday.
Atmosphere: Contemporary French Quarter.
Price range: $2.75 to $3.95 for salads and sandwiches.
Credit cards: No.
Special facilities: Accessible to patrons in wheelchairs.
My memories of New Orleans include wrought-iron balustrades in the French Quarter; tiny offbeat hotels with hidden inner gardens; freshly made beignets by the wharf for breakfast; po' boy sandwiches, turtle soup and creole seasonings.
There is no mistaking the New Orleans Cafe in the bustling Adams-Morgan neighborhood for a scene out of the French quarter. There's not even a token of wrought iron; instead, the highly polished blond wood is very contemporary. But it nonetheless manages to capture some of the flavor of a New Orleans cafe.
Inside, it's small and cozy, with cafe-sized tables and bentwood chairs. Ceiling fans whirr and the cook works in full view in an enclosed pen. There's a feeling that you can drop in for cafe au lait and beignets, or a glass of wine or beer, and stay to read your newspaper.
The New Orleans Cafe provides light meals. It doesn't flirt with turtle soups or jambalayas, but stays with salads, po' boy sandwiches and beignets. After our family dined there on a recent Friday evening, we came away feeling that what the cafe did, it did well. Though our dinners consisted of sandwiches, beverages and beignets for dessert, the sandwiches were substantial, the beignets superb and no one left feeling hungry.
The first thing we liked about the cafe was the choice of beverages. In addition to soda there was fresh orange juice: 75 cents for a small glass, $1.45 for a chilled mug. Three of us ordered a glass and watched the oranges being squeezed by machine in the rear of the cafe. It came to the table frothing and delightfully full of pulp.
For our main course we had a choice of four salads and 11 sandwiches. The po' boy sandwiches, with inviting names such as Fat City, Plantation and Hurricane, contained inviting combinations of meat, fish, cheeses and vegetables.
The Delta ($2.95) for instance, consisted of salami, ham, havarti cheese, olives, lettuce, tomato, onion and hot peppers. The French Quarter ($3.50) was a simple roast beef sandwich with lettuce, tomato and onions.
Our waitress narrowed down the selection process by announcing there was no roast beef that night. When pressed for advice, she admitted that the Creole ($2.75), filled with barbecue chicken and cole slaw, was her favorite. We went with one of those and one Bayou: $3.25 for hot corned beef, pastrami, cole slaw, Russian dressing, chopped tomato and onion.
Our daughter and her friend were not feeling adventurous and wanted something familiar. They both chose the St. James: $2.75 for Danish ham and Swiss cheese. As a special request they asked to have the cheese melted. Since we were the only patrons in the cafe at the time, our waitress didn't see any problem with filling that request.
A sandwich dinner doesn't often seem special. But these sandwiches were unusual. All ingredients were fresh and of top quality. The submarine-length French bread was excellent. The fillings were plentiful.
The barbecue chicken, for instance, was tender chunks and shreds of chicken cooked gently in a pleasantly hot barbecue sauce. The crisp coolness of the cole slaw was a perfect counterpoint. There was so much chicken in the sandwich it was difficult to eat without nibbling at some of the filling first.
The pastrami and corned beef were well-seasoned, lean and surprisingly good. There were no complaints about the ham and cheese.
For dessert we shared two orders of fruit-filled beignets ($1 for an order of two beignets), one each of apple and pineapple. (Plain beignets are three for 65 cents.)
As soon as we ordered the beignets, the cook broke off four squares of dough he had just made and placed them in hot oil. They arrived at our table filled with sweetened fruit and covered with powdered sugar. The crisp hot dough, sweet sugar, and fresh fruit were wonderful. If the sandwiches hadn't been so filling we would have ordered another round or two. As it was, we promised ourselves we'd come back some Sunday morning for a breakfast of beignets and cafe au lait.
The check was a sweet ending, too. Four of us ate dinner for $17.70, including tax.