Neither snow, nor rain, nor a destructive fire last year could stay Reeves from its appointed rounds of feeding downtown Washington workers. When this District eating institution reopened its doors in March of this year, loyal patrons swarmed back for plates of meat loaf, fried chicken and the much-missed house specialty, strawberry pie.
The popular bakery case is as long -- and grand -- as ever, and the motherly waitresses look just as much at home as they did in the old Reeves.
Hanging baskets filled with greenery, as well as red brick walls and blond tables, update the dining room. But the soda fountain in the middle of the restaurant (and the comfortable booths to each side) recall some of the homeyness and familiarity of the original place. Moreover, the addition of a balcony, with its sweeping overview of the main floor, offers some of the best people-watching in the city.
Sandwiches are clearly the mainstay of the menu: Everything from filet of sole to smoked sausage, to cream cheese and olives can be had between bread slices.
And, of course, there are the more traditional, if less sophisticated, fillings of roast beef, egg salad, grilled cheese, ham, and tuna salad, among others. An eagerly anticipated hot roast beef sandwich (on white, naturally) wasn't nearly as reminiscent of Mom's cooking as it could have been, and a side order of commercial-tasting mashed potatoes and thin brown gravy prompted little nostalgia.
But Reeves' steak sub, garnished with ripe tomato slices, a side of relish and a thimble-size portion of Day-Glo colored mayonnaise, is a certain treat for transplanted Philadelphians who miss their beefy, sufficiently cheesy hoagies. Less exciting is a barbecue sandwich of minced beef, laced with green pepper bits and onion; not only is it too sweet, but the soft sesame bun isn't able to support the filling.
Burgers are generous, good quality ground beef patties, prepared as requested, underseasoned but decent and filling.
For $1.25 extra, sandwiches are served with a side of creamy sweet cole slaw (fresher tasting on weekdays, I've found) and slightly undercooked, but grease-free and genuinely potatoey french fries.
Soups have been wonderful. If it's available, the clam chowder should be your choice -- a creamy, light tomato base flecked with potato cubes, supporting rather fresh-tasting clams. Chili and beans is none too spicy, but it was a fine, beany stew with lots of finely ground beef, hearty if not hot.
Reeves built its reputation on simple food, well-prepared, and so it would be silly to order from among the "international favorites" -- lasagna, tamales and the like -- when you can have, say, a fresh and light chicken salad sandwich, another institution within an institution.
Soda fountains have all but disappeared from drugstores, but the one at Reeves continues to turn out ice cream sodas, root beer floats and some wonderfully rich and soothing shakes, albeit quite sweet versions.
Desserts, though, are the restaurant's main attraction; indeed, the owners make it difficult to forgo a sampling of something sweet, for the selections are strategically displayed near the entrance. Not to be missed are the pies -- including a sweet/tart strawberry-rhubarb and a toothsome pecan pie.
Service is best on Saturdays, when a more leisurely pace is assured. Though the staff is friendly enough, housekeeping sometimes suffers from the weekday rush, when condiments are tossed on table tops, and orders have a tendency to get mixed up.
Despite a facelift, Reeves remains a reliable and durable -- if not particularly outstanding -- downtown eatery. And its flaws are nothing that a slice of pie or a vanilla shake won't make us forget.