You have to look for this small restaurant, but in some respects it's worth the hunt. It is underground, but across the street from Eastern Market, a Capitol Hill landmark.
As a food shop Provisions is a purveyor of the chic, the high-quality, the expensive. But it's a deli as well, serving a variety of salads, sandwiches and soups, as well as desserts by the score. Since its shelves are lined with good ingredients, it's a surprise to confront some pretty ordinary food on a pretty frequent basis.
The shop is an underground grotto, with a three-story tall, light-filled atrium to one side that constitutes a dining room of sorts. With no more than a handful of tables, however, the space can make for somewhat crowded dining on a busy Saturday morning, when the neighborhood turns out en masse. The piped-in music is entertaining -- it's not unusual to have a classical concerto follow the likes of the "Star Wars" theme.
The less fancy the sandwich, the more apt you are to enjoy it. (Indeed, the base upon which the sandwiches are constructed is likely to upstage the filling altogether, especially if the bread is a crusty, pleasantly chewy baguette.) The creamy salad fillings, such as seafood, tuna and chicken tarragon (with but a whisper of the herb) are exceedingly rich, heavily bathed in mayonnaise, or heavily salted in the case of the shrimp salad.
Unadulterated offerings include sandwiches of pastrami, corned beef, thinly sliced turkey, Virginia baked ham -- even peanut butter and jelly on sourdough for those desirous of keeping abreast of the trends. And anything slathered with chopped liver, smooth and hauntingly satisfying, is sure to please aficionados of the stuff.
Vegetable salads are likely to be good. An autumn vegetable sampler included firm strips of carrot, zucchini, cauliflower and diced scallion in a creamy dill-spiked dressing with lots of zip. "Blue potatoes" were baby versions, sauced in a creamy smooth paste of blue cheese.
Daily soup offerings have been variable (a recent bowl of broccoli soup was gelatinous and a bit thin), although a regular menu mainstay, and a wonderful one at that, is the Silver Palate chili, whose recipe is adapted from that of the well-known New York market of the same name. It's the perfect comfort food, a sure antidote to the autumn chill, with lots of finely ground beef, whole stewed tomatoes, beans and onions.
Breakfast at Provisions is a simple affair: there are muffins and bagels, filled croissants and Belgian waffles, which seem to be a popular attraction but were unavailable one recent morning. The croissants are some of the largest I've encountered -- flaky, sometimes well-browned pastries that include a nice ham and cheese-stuffed offering. To wash them down is an undistinguished cup of coffee, certainly a disappointment given the varied selection of coffee beans Provisions sells.
An entire display case is devoted to desserts, which tend to be rather rich and heavy: a vanilla custard-filled napoleon was thickened pudding in a pretty ordinary pastry, and the German chocolate cheesecake proved exceptionally cloying after one or two bites. Then there are brownies, cookies, tarts and similar confections rounding out the menu.
Service can be woefully slow behind the deli counter. Furthermore, the system tends to break down around peak business hours -- it's not beyond a clerk to bark at a patron or disparage the salad selections aloud.
Provisions is thus less reliable as a purveyor of carry out meals than as a seller of quality foodstuffs, but it is nevertheless capable of some rather satisfying meals. And it's as good a spot as any on the Hill to seek refuge with a bowl of chili and a big, fat sandwich.