Atmosphere: Quaint, old-fashioned confectionery and cafe.
Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday until April 26, when it will be open until 9 p.m. for the summer; 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday year-round.
Price range: Dinner: $2.90 for a cheese sandwich to $11.90 for tournedo rossini; Brunch: $2.75 to $7.25.
Reservations: Not necessary.
Credit cards: American Express, Diner's Club, Visa, MasterCard and Choice.
Special facilities: On-street parking only; inaccessible to wheelchairs because of step inside door; highchairs and boosters available.
Avignone Freres, the venerable catering and dining establishment that has been a presence in Northwest Washington since it opened as a bakery in 1918, is something like a crotchety old gramophone. It will do all right by you if it is wound up and running in high gear, but it tends to wind down early in the evening.
During our visits, Avignone Freres was mostly full of adults, but it is a delightul place for children to see: part deli, part cafe, part candy shop and part bakery, all grouped together in a large room that must have been decorated before World War II.
A far cry from supermarket bakeries and confectioneries, these sweet shops are set off by dark Old World paneling and chandeliers, their goodies displayed in old glass cases that tempt you to press your nose against them.
There is even a grand staircase and a gallery with a dumbwaiter. Sit above, where you can practice the European art of watching the people below.
But do so at brunch, when it will be pleasant. Our first visit, for dinner, left a lot to be desired.
The menu contains expected cafe fare--sandwiches, deli platters and omelets--along with a selection of overpriced appetizers and several a' la carte entrees, like broiled lobster and tournedo rossini, that seemed rather elaborate for the setting.
Better buys are the daily specials, which include vegetable and salad. From that list, we sampled a beef and wine casserole, pork roast tenderloin and veal escalapine Milanese (each $6.50)--all fine-tasting dishes, although none was exceptional.
Our daughters decided to try chicken Kiev ($6.95) from the regular menu. We probably should have been advised against ordering it within an hour of closing, since it took extra cooking time. Apparently because the kitchen was anxious to serve us quickly, our daughters were served chicken Kiev raw in the center, with much of its herb butter unmelted.
Other details detracted from the dinner: french bread was no longer fresh, vegetables were properly cooked but unseasoned, spinach leaves in a fresh and pretty salad retained their tough stems. Meanwhile, as we were eating, the operation began shutting down for the night.
At 6:45, with the clock ticking, we ordered an eclair and a napoleon, (each $1.75) and an order of homemade ice cream ($1.50)--reputed to be wonderful. It was.
But it was difficult to enjoy amid the sounds of the cash drawer being closed out, doors being locked around us and staff members hustling to the exit. They stopped short of turning out the lights over us, but we could not finish dessert. We paid the bill and left.
While we understand that people want to close when the day is over, a restaurant advertising dinner has an obligation to provide comfort to customers who have come at a reasonable hour and who are not, after all, lingering over a second cup of coffee. During summer months, Avignone Freres stays open until 9 p.m. and is perhaps a better bet for dinner.
Since we had not seen the kitchen at its best, we returned for Sunday brunch, when a steady flow of neighborhood traffic fills the place. The brunch menu offers the same sandwiches and deli platters as the dinner menu, as well as traditional items like eggs Benedict, omelets and corned beef hash for $5 to $6. There is a continental breakfast, smoked fish available, and espresso or cappucino. Orange juice is fresh-squeezed, the food well-prepared, and service amiable.
Our dinner bill for five, with tax and tip: $53.21. Brunch for two, with tax and tip: $16.43.