Hours: Monday through Thursday, 6:30 a.m. to 2 a.m.; Friday and Saturday, open 24 hours; Sunday, closes at midnight.
Atmosphere: Simple but cheerful.
Price range: Entrees, $4 to $6; sandwiches and salads, $2.25 to $3.95.
Credit cards: All major cards.
Special facilities: Not accessible to wheelchairs; free parking in side lot; highchair for infants.
In one corner, two men waiting for friends to join them were chatting over cups of coffee. On the other side of the room, three women, still wearing their convention badges, were nibbling at carrot cake and ice cream. A family of six--visitors from Alaska, if their lettered parkas were any indication--were polishing off dinner.
Chevy Chase Cafe, the glass-enclosed restaurant that sits on the busy corner of Wisconsin Avenue and Bradley Boulevard, is the very essence of a cafe: It offers a meal or light refreshment at almost any hour of the day.
Because it's almost in the front yard of a motel, it serves the needs of a transient clientele who may want breakfast early in the morning and a cup of tea late at night.
The cafe, located near a populous residential area, in a busy commercial district and on a well-traveled commuter route, used to be a rather plain diner called Roberts. The new owners covered some of the glass with attractive shutters, filled the interior with hanging plants and potted trees, and installed an indirect lighting system that leaves a purple glow.
In short, Chevy Chase Cafe is doing everything a diner does, but with the more sophisticated style and more elaborate menu of a cafe.
My husband, my son and I visited the cafe on one of those snowy nights that are becoming much too typical this winter. The streets were icy and the parking lots thick with snow. It was not surprising that few people were dining at the cafe that night, except for those housed in the motel next door.
The menu, featuring Italian food, is a good one for family dining. There are hot entrees plus hot and cold sandwiches and main course salads. Small children with small appetites can order hamburger ($3.50 for a chopped sirloin patty with french fries) or grilled cheese ($2.50) while older children and adults who are hungry from shoveling all that snow can feast on veal parmigiana ($6) or chicken cacciatore ($5.50).
We tried a little bit of everything, starting off with a beef vegetable soup ($1 a cup, $1.75 for a bowl) that was excellent. A rich, tomato-based broth was loaded with lima beans, corn, potatoes and chunks of beef. The soup and the chili, our waitress told us, were made from scratch. We weren't surprised to hear it.
House salads, which accompany dinner orders, were fresh and crisp with large chunks of sliced carrots and cucumber perking up the iceberg lettuce. Some undistinguished dressing was served on the side.
Two of us ordered main courses from the Italian dinner selections. Lasagna ($4.95 a' la carte, $6.95 for dinner) was meaty and rich. Although not the best lasagna we've ever tasted, it certainly was edible.
Spaghetti with tomato sauce ($4 a' la carte only) came off less well. The noodles hadn't been al dente for quite a while, and the tomato sauce was harsh. A sprinkling of Parmesan cheese improved the taste somewhat, but not much. An accompanying order of garlic bread ($1.10) took up some of the slack.
In the interest of testing other skills in the kitchen, we also ordered a steak and cheese sandwich ($3.95). Paper-thin slices of meat that had been sauteed, then covered with cheese, were served on a good, crisp roll that had been properly warmed. Overall, it was a credible sandwich for a cold, snowy night.
For dessert, our waitress mentioned carrot cake, coconut cake, apple cake, apple pie, and cheesecake. We ordered coconut cake and apple cake, but our waitress returned with word that the kitchen was out of both.
We turned, instead, to homemade apple pie a' la mode ($2) and carrot cake ($1.25). The carrot cake was exceptionally light and crumbly with a delicate taste. The apple pie was excellent if you like very sweet apple pie. The desserts were good enough to hold their own in a cafe where many people come in for a chaser of coffee and cake.
The tab for our dinner for three came to $22.05, including tax.