My Search for a Decent Sunday Brunch (Ongoing)
I'm a fairly new addition to the DC (June 2008), and previous to that was stationed in Germany for 3 +years. As you can guess, Germans haven't really perfected the art of leisurely Sunday meals sprinkled liberally with fruity cocktails. So I was really looking forward to DC as I'm a huge brunch fan. So far, I've been sorely disappointed, but am encouraged to redouble my efforts to find a good spot.
I'd like to detail my criteria, but I'm afraid it's pretty subjective. I will say, I'm a huge eggs benedict fan, so bonus points for a good hollandaise (I like mine lemony). Interesting twists on the classics are welcomed, but so are classics done right. Sides aren't that important to me (I usually let my fiance finish the obligatory side of potatoes, and he gives a thumbs up to anything edible). And minus points for a lack of said alcoholic beverages.
One thing I promise, I will not recommend any restaurant if I haven't eaten there FOR BRUNCH. In my search so far I've used this site as guide and have been led astray. Looking back it was my own fault as I took recommendations of people that had been to the restaurant in question for dinner, but not for brunch.
So bear with me, I probably won't make it out every Sunday, but hopefully quite a few (as long as I continue the half-marathon training to compensate!). Here are the ones I've hit so far:
Sorry, I meant to post these reviews in a separate entry anyway otherwise the OP gets a little long, just got a little delayed. Here's the one for Founding Farmers (actually copied from my previous post which started this hunt in the first place).
Yikes. Just had one of the worst dining experiences I've ever had, at Founding Farmers. Really surprised and disappointed seeing as how FF comes highly recommended on these boards and I've had it on my list for awhile (due primarily to the CH recs!) Went today for brunch with a friend and it was awful from start to finish, but I must say the atrocious service was really what put it over the edge for me.
First, we both ordered drinks right away to start (a bellini and a gin fizz) in hopes they'd come fairly promptly (ie before our food) so we could start our fun. Nope. They came with the entrees even though we ordered them well in advance of the food. To be fair, they were pretty busy, so all things being equal I wouldn't knock them for this, but no apology/explanation for the delay, so not great.
For my entree I ordered the hash w/ lobster and crab, and wasn't asked how I wanted my eggs (at that point I didn't even really know there was an option, I skimmed the menu and saw "poached" and that was what I wanted), so when the server didn't ask I didn't mention what prep of eggs I wanted. When my order comes out it looks like an omelet, which I definitely didn't order, so I tell the runner (not the original server) that I think the order is mixed up. She goes back to check and comes back and says, "no the server says this is the hash," I gently explain I thought it came with poached eggs and ask that she have the server come by to clarify (it's her first day so poor thing doesn't know what to make of any of it). So the server comes by to explain that the dish can either come w/ scrambled or poached eggs, and apologizes for not asking which I wanted and then asks if I'd like the eggs poached. I say yes, I would, and he sighs and says, "well, ok, but I'm really going to get yelled at for this"! Geez, I'm sorry, but at that point I don't know what to do, I just really wanted my poached eggs, but felt horribly guilty at that point.
The dish itself was very dry, the main ingredient being very dry potatoes, with no other discernible vegetables in the preparation. There's two decent-size chunks of lobster and some crab flakes, which are rubbery and over cooked. I also find several shell pieces in the dish. And the "poached" eggs are way closer to hard boiled, yolks not runny at all, but chalky and crumbly, and have obviously been sitting a very long time.
Then, my friend sheepishly mentions that she thinks they've forgotten some of her order. She'd ordered the Farmer's breakfast which came w/ 2 eggs, bacon and then some side options (we think at least a salad or fruit plate and potatoes). But she just has eggs and bacon. She's starving, so she asks the server about the missing items and he starts to interrogate her! "It should have come with potatoes, are you sure it didn't? Yes we're sure! Her plate is absolutely clean, she would've had to lick the potato crumbs from the plate had there been any. And we both repeatedly assure him that she did not, in fact receive the potatoes. So, he finally asks, "well, do you want the potatoes?, because now I'm really going to get yelled at"! I have never, ever had a server make me feel so bad for asking for things that should've been done right the first time. It made us both very, very uncomfortable. And then the manager came to deliver the forgotten potatoes and didn't apologize for any of the mix ups or delays (my friend was completely done with her dish by the time I got mine).
All in all, I was extremely disappointed with FF and I'd really wanted to love the place. I've been eyeing it to try for dinner as the menu looks great (and again, always recommended around these parts), but I can honestly say, I will never go back and will never recommend it to anyone. On the way out we did see George Stephenapolous, but other than that, what a dismal experience!
And here's a review of the Silver Dollar Diner in Clarendon. Now, I know that many CHers turn their noses up at places that use Sysco, and I suspect that the Silver Diner is a culprit, but after my experienced at the heavily "sourced" FF, I'd take Sysco any day. Blasphemy!
Made this trek twice with my fiance during his periodic visits back to DC (he's still in GE). The experiences have been closer to breakfast than brunch because he's an early rise (usually ended up there around 8 or 9), and I've never had a mimosa there, so in my mind that doesn't really count as brunch unless I have alcohol. So minus points for no alcohol, but bonus points for being open early.
Here I had the eggs benedict on both visits and it was consistenly wonderful. Most noteable is the freshness of the poached eggs. By this I mean they don't seem as though they were poached an hour ago and then rewarmed. They were soft and runny and perfectly cooked, on both occasion. The canadian bacon used was unremarkable, but well cooked, not overly crisp, but browned. Loved, loved the hollandaise, although I will say it didn't meet my above-stated criteria of being lemony. It did make up for it buy being uncongealed without a gross film on it (a direct opposite of my FF experience).
English muffins used were good, chewy, could've been browned a little more before final assembly. I had the classic EB both visits (although on the second I had the smaller version), but they do have a version with tomato (roasted, I believe) that I'll try on my next visit.
I vaguely recall my fiance had some great looking french toast, with strawberries. As usual, he licked his plate, but as I've said, that's not that great of an endorsement. He did rave about my potatoes, and I can confirm they were browned and crispy but not dry and mealy (which, again, is how I'd describe the FF's potatoes).
On both occasions the place was packed, but the service was always efficient and gracious. Server was always around with more water, and coffee, and checked on us repeatedly in spite of covering a large area. I will say that the service was almost too efficient, not really conducive to the long, leisurely meal I'm looking for at brunch.
All in all, huge thumbs up if you're looking for a good breakfast, but I need to keep searching for that elusive brunch. BTW- does anyone know if this place is a chain? Seems like I've seen others, but I'm not sure.
I think the concept of brunch as is most commonly presented is seriously flawed. There's almost always too much food, too much sweetness, and too much money. Gimme a good corned beef sandwich, good bagels and lox, or even good French toast and a slice of country ham for lunch about 11 AM on a Sunday and I'll be happy. I don't need mimosas or a dessert buffet (I never take just one), and it shouldn't cost $35 or more.
When I traveled frequently for work, if I was out over a weekend I'd occasionally kill some time on Sunday at the hotel brunch, but I always ate enough so I was barely able to eat a light dinner. When breakfast eats up most of my per diem allowance, I gotta make sure it lasts all day. ;)
Around here, geez, I dunno. Dim sum is something to consider, or maybe one of the couple of halfway decent delis, but if you want poached eggs and bacon with a mimosa to wash it down, you're probably better off at home.
Mike, we'll have to agree to disagree. It's actually the concept of brunch that I find very appealing, and it's the execution I sometimes run into trouble with. Yeah, I could make a decent brunch, but after a long run, I definitely want (need) someone to do it for me. And I like the relaxed, leisurely idea of it. Which is why the ambience, and specifically- the service, are a big factor in my reviews (I would say more so than in my reviews of other meals). Hope that makes sense!
So some suggestions:
Saturday brunch at Cafe Atlantico- this is not Sunday Dim Sum brunch which is great, but more of a once in a great while kind of thing. If you like eggs benedict, get eggs bedicto, start with some guac and get a cocktail, some are pricier than others mimosas seemed normal price around DC to me. I did this on MLK day and they were wonderful, they let us sit and gawk at tourons for a few hours, while we snacked and drank our more than fair share of mimosas and other tasty beverages. You will like a sous-vide egg awesome texture and creaminess.
Poste- I haven't been back in a while, but as I remember they had great a la carte brunch (always in search as MIL doesn't do buffets). Start with the mini doughnuts and then I think I had the croque monsieur which was good, I forget what else I have had.
Tabard Inn- do it in the Spring when you can sit outside and it is pretty.
I don't think any of the Great American Restaurant chains are metro accessible, but if you happen to be near, like in Shirlington, the Carlyle actually as much as I hate to admit has good crabcakes.
Tallula used to have great pancakes with cherries and ricotta, but I don't think they have them anymore... I think Evening Star now has a bit better brunch, but is in Del Ray so not metro accessible.
Another not metro accessible but great is Cassatt's Cafe in Arlington, very good normal brunch.
In DC I also love Hank's Oyster Bar for brunch, they have great clam chowder, their hash is good but meat centric and the eggs chesapeake are great.
Bistro Bis has a great high end brunch.
Matchbox has a decent brunch or did I haven't been in a while.
I actually like Chef Geoff's for brunch, although their food is decidedly mediocre any other time, I had their shrimp and grits one time at brunch and it was a good brunch, as I remember the mimosas weren't too overpriced.
Harry's Tap Room in Clarendon and Whitlow's have decent brunch if you are in that area.
For buffet brunch, suprisingly enough, although it is expensive all you can drink mimosas are included, Carribean Breeze in Ballston does a pretty tasty brunch.
I will think of more... we like brunch.
Thanks ktmoomau, some of your suggestions are actually already in my line up. Going with friends to Cafe Atlantico sometime in the next month. Now I'm even more excited about it based on your details, sounds very promising for that elusive mix of food + ambience I find necessary for brunch. And I've been to Whitlow's (will post that review when I've got a little more time).
Thanks for the tip in Shirlington, I've wondered about the area as I take my dog to playdates on some Sundays in that area, so I'll definitely hit up Caryle soon. You've given me a ton of great starting points!
Another stop that no one has mentioned (possibly a bad sign...) is the Front Page in Dupont. I even vaguely remember some derision here on these boards, but never fear I'll report back with some hard facts. My fiance is visiting again in two weeks and he remembers the place fondly from him intern days, so we'll see how it stacks up these days.
Be sure to add Cashion's Eat Place to your list. Very good service and comfortable seating and atmosphere. Food's great. Haven't had eggs benedict there, not sure for sure they have them. I had a great mimosa there -- fresh orange juice (they have a good bar, so not a surprise to get good drinks for brunch too). I live in the neighborhood, so it's convenient, but I think it's worth a trip. And I haven't had to wait to get a table, just show up.
Have you been to Bistro Bis? I haven't, but seems like it always gets mentioned.
And the Mansion at O, or whatever that mysterious place is called (that I also haven't been to).
This is where I went in my intern days as well, when the concept of brunch was new to me and I thought I was "oh so DC" to spend a Sunday with the paper and an eggs benedict. Even though I live across the street I haven't been back in 6+ years. When I went back after graduating (and my taste buds had matured) I found it pretty mediocre. It's been years though so maybe it's improved.
Such a good point about Front Page, it definitely wasn't at the top of my to-try list so...I basically vetoed my fiance and now we're going to Cafe Atlantico (in 3 weeks). We'll make it to the Front Page eventually I'm sure, just to check to see if those intern taste buds really have developed!