Transparency is a recurring theme at Sprig & Sprout, the month-old Vietnamese cafe in Glover Park.
For starters, there are the see-through soft rice wrappers that envelop the shrimp summer rolls ($3.99) and the off-menu vegetarian rolls with pan-fried tofu ($3.99). If, as management recommends, you choose to play with your food, you can rotate the rolls and see what’s inside.
When your eyes shift to the decor, you’ll find a set of cheeky user’s guides posted on the citrus-inspired wallpaper. The owners, Marc Farmer and Jennifer Hoang, are engaged to be married. She’s the one who has written the hows, whys and wherefores of Vietnamese food in an effort to demystify the cuisine. You can follow clear lessons to master pronunciation of the pho (“fuh”) soup ($9.50) and banh mi (“ben mee”) sandwich ($4.50), then order confidently and prepare for action.
In the likely event you’ve ordered pho, you’ll find the namesake sprigs and sprouts among the many sidekicks on your tray.
The soup is a house-made beef broth with transparent rice noodles, cilantro, scallions, sweet onions and your choice of meat. Hoang recommends a combination of lean brisket and flank steak. This is a pho as comforting as chicken soup, albeit more of an olfactory experience. The broth is simmered overnight with cinnamon, cloves, coriander, fennel and star anise. “We put a lot of love and hours into each pot,” says Hoang.
Personalizing your pho begins with a sip of broth to “assess the scene,” according to the handy wall guides. Then you “piece it together” with fresh lime juice and/or sweet or spicy sauce. “Finish the job” with a sprig of Thai basil and/or bean sprouts for “color, crunch and an extra pop of flavor.”
The walls may teach you how to assemble your pho, but if eating it proves challenging, do as Hoang demonstrated for a customer: Place both chopsticks in one hand and a spoon in the other. Use the implements to toss together the solid components in the bowl, then hoist an unruly portion toward your mouth as quickly as possible. Splatters are likely.
The banh mi is a more wardrobe-friendly option. Chunks and strips of sweetly savory pork belly are the classic choice for carnivores, while the meatless medley offers an unconventional blend of three palatable faux meats. Those options (or lemon grass beef or lemon grass chicken) can be complemented with pickled carrots, daikon, cilantro, onion, jalapeno, cucumber and a house-made aioli, on a baguette made with rice flour (to achieve the classic soft interior of banh mi bread). The sandwiches come with a bag of “seafood air” chips (composed of dried salted shrimp and tapioca powder).
The cafe does not take phone orders. Food generally is ready within 10 minutes of ordering. While you wait, you can read the Sprig & Sprout backstory, a romantic tale posted on the back wall near the door.
Sprig & Sprout 2317 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 202-333-2569.www.sprig-and-sprout.com. Hours: Daily, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
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