One question often asked of our food editors is where to go for Sunday brunch, that relaxed Sunday meal that takes the place of breakfast and lunch. In our survey, we found that the quality of many brunches, even the expensive ones, is disappointing--a combination of overcooked eggs, leftovers from Saturday night, tired buffets, and lackluster service.
The quality of brunch often suffers because most restaurants use their best cooks on Friday and Saturday nights and are reluctant to bring them in on Sunday mornings. It's also true that some restaurateurs think of the brunch crowd as they do the Valentine's Day crowd--as not serious eaters who care about food and can make a significant contribution to a restaurant's bottom line over time. "We wouldn't have known it was the Ritz," said one of our reviewers of Sunday brunch at the Ritz-Carlton Tysons Corner, "until the bill came."
Most restaurants serve brunch only once a week, so we asked the help of our colleagues at The Washingtonian in finding good brunches. We sampled 50 of them--some were pricey, some inexpensive. Some were buffets, some were ordered from menus. Here are 28 that we can recommend with a caveat here and there. Total cost, when noted, includes tax and tip.
Ardeo (Cleveland Park, moderate). Ardeo's sleek, art-filled dining room is an airy stop for Cleveland Park power couples and trendy thirtysomethings, and the brunch menu is interesting without being over the top. A salad of arugula and shaved fennel with lemon vinaigrette was pleasing enough, but the attention-getter was an unconventional blintz, baked in a miniature copper sauté pan and studded with dried apricots and cherries. But where was the dollop of crème fraîche promised on the menu? Good thing we asked--the dense, tart cream made the dish.
Starters ($6 to $10) showed up promptly, but entrées lagged enough that we considered a bread-basket refill (the walnut-raisin and the brioche were addictive). Fortunately, main courses ($8 to $16) arrived before we could carb-load. Potato pancakes crowned with poached eggs, a sauté of beef brisket and onions, and tomatillo sauce was as extravagant as it sounds. The only downside: tepid eggs. Brioche French toast with caramelized apples also lived up to its billing. For dessert, the maple panna cotta with caramelized apples and hazelnut brittle ($6.50) was heaven. Brunch for two with wine was $70.
Ardeo, 3311 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-244-6750; ardeorestaurant.com. Sunday brunch 11 to 2:30.
Belga Café (Capitol Hill, moderate). This Barracks Row restaurant known for its mussels, frites, and Belgian beers serves a good brunch--with limitations. To start, the Belga Violet Champagne, infused with violet-petal extract, is a sweet morning sipper. And it's never too early to partake of Belga's beers.
When you're talking Belgian brunch, the obvious choice is waffles. Belga serves them Brussels-style--a thick waffle with deep indentations--or Liége-style, sweeter and with smaller pockets. Both are good, but the Liége style, with a dollop of carmelized apples, is more of a snack than a meal. For the same price ($8.50), the Brussels waffle with fruit and whipped cream is much more filling. (Belgians don't eat waffles with syrup, so Belga doesn't offer it.)
Among the five sandwiches, most served on airy waffle bread, the toasted ham-and-Swiss croque monsieur was simple but good. More flavorful was the Groentenwafel, with Brie and a layer of sliced eggplant, zucchini, and red peppers. Another inviting dish is poached eggs with smoked salmon and asparagus, one of three egg options. At $7.25 to $10.95, prices are not cheap for the portions. To feel like we'd had a full brunch, including Champagne and dessert, we spent $61. There are no traditional brunch sides such as fruit, pastries, or small servings of eggs. You can add frites and a small salad to some dishes for $4.50.
Belga serves some of its lunch and dinner offerings at brunch, such as Belgian steak, chicken waterzooi, or a pot of mussels. They don't seem very brunchy, but without them the menu would be pretty short.
Belga Café, 514 Eighth St., SE; 202-544-0100; belgacafe.com. Sunday brunch 11 to 3:30.
Café Atlántico (Penn Quarter, moderate). Café Atlántico's Latino Dim Sum Brunch is a meal you won't find anywhere else in Washington. The setting--a colorful, three-level converted electrical building with exposed brick walls and an open kitchen--is casual and modern. Award-winning chef José Andrés has combined the foods of many Latin American cultures into a menu of about 35 small plates, which range from $1.95 to $9.
The idea here is to take your time--our waitress suggested ordering two or three small plates to start, then more as we were ready. Highlights were fried eggs with black beans and pork, seared watermelon with citrus vinaigrette, and scallops with orange oil. The fresh guacamole, made tableside, is a treat. The festive drink menu offers such options as mojitos, daiquiris, and the Atlantic O, made with cranberry juice, Triple Sec, and Bacardi O.
A deluxe tasting menu ($34.95) offers small portions of all 35 dishes. The menu can be adjusted for vegetarians ($24.95).
Café Atlántico, 405 Eighth St., NW; 202-393-0812; cafeatlantico.com. Latino Dim Sum Brunch Saturday and Sunday 11:30 to 2:30.
--Mary Clare Fleury
Chef Geoff's (Downtown DC and AU Park, moderate). Even if you have a reservation, you may be in for a wait--both the New Mexico Avenue and downtown locations are hot brunch destinations. A white-peach Bellini from the bar might stave off hunger pangs until you sit down to a Benny (the restaurant's take on eggs Benedict), a Nutella waffle, or the chorizo-and-black-bean-studded Texas Scramble. The motto seems to be that bigger is better, so two can share most dishes, which are $8.95 to $16.95.
There are plenty of savories on the menu, from a crisp calamari Caesar to a turkey club with pancetta and avocado. The large patio at the New Mexico location hums in warm weather; in winter, jazz combos play in the cheek-by-jowl dining room. Downtown has a smaller patio but a larger dining room with a big-city feel. Brunch for two with wine was $75.
Chef Geoff's, 3201 New Mexico Ave., NW, 202-237-7800; Sunday brunch 10:30 to 3. 301 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, 202-464-4461; Sunday brunch 11 to 3.
Colorado Kitchen (Brightwood, inexpensive). At noon on a Sunday, Colorado Kitchen is jammed with couples and young families. Reservations aren't taken, but we're seated in a few minutes. There's a homespun cheeriness in the tiny room, but the vibe is more urban than country kitchen. And there's a sense of humor. Children acting up? A note on the menu proclaims that leg irons are available in the basement.
Chef Gillian Clark--you can watch her whipping and frying away in the open kitchen--has put together a menu with a down-home sensibility: baked brioche French toast, steak and eggs, corn-flour waffles, and a vegetable po' boy with rémoulade. There's good, strong coffee, an assortment of bottled sodas, and ice-cream floats.
We started with a basket of freshly fried doughnuts, a few sugared, some glazed in chocolate, some sprinkled with honey and almonds--fortunately, the restaurant will pack leftovers to go. I moved on to deliciously cheesy grits topped with jumbo shrimp and soupy with tomatoes and garlic; my friend tucked into a big plate of fried eggs with bacon. Service was fine--the only lag was after we asked for the check. The tab for two rang up at $41.
Colorado Kitchen, 5515 Colorado Ave., NW; 202-545-8280; coloradokitchen.info. Saturday and Sunday brunch 11 to 3.
Duke's City (U Street, very inexpensive). Musical notes along the exterior hint at the namesake of this upscale American diner. New to the burgeoning U Street area, Duke's City is warm and inviting, with color-washed walls, white tablecloths, oversize plants, and lots of natural light. Soft jazz mingles with family chatter, while the younger U Street crowd cozies up with the Sunday paper or watches people from the window tables.
The friendly staff was accommodating if inexperienced--the reasonably priced menu made up for any shortcomings in service. Brunch for two can be had for around $25, including drinks. And those drinks, from coffee to mimosas, are strong, good, and priced at a very low $3.
The plates were hot and portions large. The Duke's City Scramble--steak, eggs, bell peppers, and onions served over a crepe--is the most popular dish. Eggs Chesapeake, with fresh lump crab cakes and a lemony hollandaise, is a close second. Pancakes are light and fluffy. The downside was a short supply of fruit, though diners didn't seem to mind--this is a neighborhood place, and sometimes when you go to the neighbors' for lunch, they just run out of blueberries.
Duke's City, 1208 U St, NW; 202-986-9410; dukescity.com. Sunday brunch 10 to 3.
Fairmont Hotel, Colonnade Room (West End, very expensive). The brunch buffet in this elegant, sun-washed space includes courses from breakfast, lunch, dinner, tea--even between-meal snacks (Tootsie Rolls and other candy).
At the omelet station, one table over from the waffles and French toast, you pick your fillings. There are salads--from three kinds of perfect greens to couscous, pasta, shrimp, and fruit. Other tables feature sushi, lamb, roast beef, grilled polenta, turkey, seafood--on and on.
A gazebolike platform displays dozens of sweets--cheesecake, pineapple upside-down cake, cookies, mini crèmes brûlée. And look, kids--a fondue fountain: Dip your marshmallow or strawberry right into the endlessly flowing chocolate. Made-to-order bananas Foster--banana bread dressed with sautéed bananas, vanilla ice cream, and a warm rum sauce--lingers in memory.
The polite service was almost too hands-off--I could have used a little guidance about the buffet, and it would have been nice not to have to ask for coffee or tea. But everything we had was good, and much was excellent.
The cost--$60 a person ($30 for children 12 and under), including Champagne--is steep, even for the biggest brunch buffet I've ever seen.
The Colonnade at the Fairmont Washington, DC, 2401 M St., NW; 202-457-5000; fairmont.com/washington. Sunday brunch 10:30 to 2.
Four Seasons Hotel (Georgetown, very expensive). Sunday Brunch at Seasons offers abundant food and attentive service for the high price of $65 a person. The moment you sit down, a waiter offers freshly squeezed orange juice and Champagne, both of which are refilled throughout the buffet-style brunch. After settling in, you can meander through a maze of food stations while a guitarist plays softly. An omelet station beckons, as do tables laden with breakfast pastries, croissants, bagels, fresh fruit, breads, salads, pastas, and cheeses. A seafood station/raw bar includes fresh salmon, Nova lox, caviar, oysters, mussels, and shrimp. For meat lovers, a carving table serves generous cuts of ham, prime rib, and roast lamb. Pancakes and waffles are prepared on the spot.
Then come the desserts, the centerpiece being a small fountain from which warm milk chocolate flows and into which you can dip marshmallows or fresh strawberries. Or you can choose crème brûlée, chocolate mousse, lemon tarts, and a variety of other fruit pastries and cheesecakes. The food was uniformly good and invitingly presented but not exceptional for the price.
Seasons is a low-ceilinged restaurant with a touch of elegance but not much character or charm. We enjoyed lingering over coffee and dessert and listening to the guitarist, but the mood was broken when the bill was placed on our table after we'd been there an hour, giving us the uncomfortable feeling, intended or not, that it was time to go.
Our bill for two, including tax and tip, came to just over $160. For children under 12 the brunch is $32.50. Valet parking is free. Reservations are recommended.
Seasons, Four Seasons Hotel, 2800 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; 202-944-2000; fourseasons/washington/celebration/dining.html. Sunday brunch 10:30 to 2.
Georgia Brown's (Downtown DC, moderate). McPherson Square is all but deserted on a Sunday morning, but inside Georgia Brown's the party is hopping. A jazz trio plays, martinis and mimosas are poured, and folks are dressed in their Sunday best for the down-home Southern brunch. Warning: You might want to skip dinner the night before to prepare for the feast.
Georgia Brown's Jazz Picnic Brunch comes in three parts with a $29.95 price tag (drinks not included). Act One is a huge buffet, full of classics from grits to chicken sausage to crispy hash browns. Try the crunchy biscuit-battered French toast topped with pecan syrup or the creamy potato salad dotted with hard-boiled egg. There's a create-your-own omelet station and fresh-carved country ham.
Act Two is an à la carte main course. Our waiter said 95 percent of customers take this course home. That sounded wise, and the staff happily doggie-bagged ours. The shrimp-and-grits and the meatloaf held up well, as did the fresh Atlantic salmon.
For the final act, loosen your belt and head to the dessert buffet. Spicy sweet-potato cheesecake and Key-lime pie are among the treats. The fresh peach cobbler was fabulous, and everyone was entertained by the chocolate-fondue fountain, under which we eagerly dipped Rice Krispie treats, marshmallows, and fruit. Our brunch, without alcohol, came to about $70 for two.
Georgia Brown's, 950 15th St., NW; 202-393-4499; gbrowns.com. Sunday brunch 10 to 2:15.
Hay-Adams Hotel, Lafayette Room (Downtown DC, very expensive). The historic Hay-Adams Hotel's Lafayette Room is simple and elegant. Crystal chandeliers hang from the ceiling; the walls are painted a fresh ivory white.
Brunch is a three-course affair. You order your entrée and help yourself to the buffet for first courses and dessert. Among the tasty starters I sampled were mozzarella-and-tomato salad, potato salad, fresh fruit, and sliced beef with a spicy mustard-seed dressing.
Entrées include old favorites and interesting new concoctions from executive chef Peter Schaffrath. A lobster, spinach, and mushroom frittata sounded more tempting than standard breakfast fare, as did orange-infused French toast. I settled on the minute beef tenderloin with poached egg, béarnaise sauce, baby spinach, and grilled portobello; my friend had the Belgian waffle with blueberries, whipped cream, and warm maple syrup.
At the dessert bar, raspberry-and-banana bread pudding and crème brûlée with raspberries were highlights of a selection that included New York-style cheesecake and chocolate-covered strawberries. Brunch costs $57.50 a person and includes Champagne, bloody marys, or mimosas.
Lafayette Room, Hay-Adams Hotel, 800 16th St., NW; 202-638-2570; hayadams.com/dining. Sunday brunch 11:30 to 2.
Matisse (Tenleytown, moderate). Sunday brunch at this casually elegant restaurant is a treat. It's a comfortable, pretty place, the decor sort of California French. The à la carte menu takes several brunch standards to higher levels and introduces some delightful twists.
Appetizers ($6 to $9) tend to be straightforward preparations with first-rate ingredients--beignets with powdered sugar; an arugula salad with poached pears, shaved Parmesan, and mustard vinaigrette; fresh fruit and granola with crème fraîche. Two appetizers--a delicious warm tomato soup and crab quiche with mixed greens--together made a lovely and satisfying meal.
Main courses ($11 to $16) include smoked salmon and mascarpone scrambled eggs; a goat-cheese and wild-mushroom omelet; brandied French toast; a grilled herb-marinated steak with Bordelaise sauce; and Matisse's take on shrimp-and-grits: shrimp and white polenta with braised tomatoes and brown-butter garlic sauce. An unusual oatmeal soufflé with sage sausage and maple sauce was worth the 15-minute wait required.
Mimosas and very good bloody marys are $6 each; there's a small selection of wines by the glass at reasonable prices. Desserts ($7) include crème brûlée, meringue with chocolate sauce, an apple tart, and pistachio ice cream with chocolate twill. But after a tasty oatmeal soufflé with maple sauce, you might have little desire--or room left--to indulge. Our leisurely brunch, with cocktails and one glass of wine, was $68.
Matisse, 4934 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-244-5222. Sunday brunch 11 to 3.
Montmartre (Capitol Hill, moderate). Montmartre has a rustic French elegance with its high ceiling, saffron walls, oil still lifes, and vintage French posters. The front wall is windows, the better to watch the Sunday-morning parade to and from Eastern Market just up the street.
Because the menu, waitstaff, chef, and owner are French, I decided to start with a decidedly French dish. The croustillant de queue de boeuf aux pleurotes--sautéed oxtail and oyster mushrooms wrapped in phyllo dough, served over field greens--for $7.95 was rich and a bit heavy to begin the meal, even washed down with a good Cabernet Sauvignon. The salade de poissons grillés (mixed grilled seafood over field greens with seaweed salad and mango) for $12.95 was an excellent main course: The four pieces of white fish were perfectly crisp on the outside yet soft and warm in the middle, and the four hunks of salmon were similarly moist yet well-cooked; four mussels had the sweet scent of surf. The salad had a fresh, nutty flavor.
My friend's endive salad ($7.95) was a generous serving with hefty pieces of bleu cheese; her quiche du jour--Parmesan and goat cheese with broccoli and ham ($10.50)--was flat like a tart, with a thin, flaky crust. She had house-made sorbet for dessert; I had a blueberry tart ($6) with vanilla sauce drizzled on top--not too sweet, not too dense, very blue. Brunch for two, with two glasses of wine, was about $60.
Montmartre, 327 Seventh St., SE; 202-544-1244; montmartre.us. Sunday brunch 11:30 to 2:30.
Ritz-Carlton DC (West End, very expensive). Tables of elaborate tarts, mini-cakes, parfaits, and fruit line the approach to the Grill, the Ritz-Carlton's main restaurant and the setting for its $60-a-person Sunday brunch. The room is all wood, with upholstered chairs and natural light through glass walls. A pianist plays ballads and serene movie themes. For romantic semiprivacy, ask to be seated in one of the alcoves.
If only the service matched the setting and food. After seating, no one came by to offer menus or guidance. Turns out there are no menus; just help yourself. Crab and lobster claws, salmon, shaved Parmesan, smoky grilled asparagus, berries--all were well-selected and impeccably fresh. Omelets to order were perfect. Tiny lamb ribs in veal-reduction sauce on polenta were excellent. Belgian-waffle quarters, cool from a brief wait on the counter, came with fruit toppings and whipped cream. Champagne would have been better less cold. A pastry chef offered yummy lime-pistachio tarts, chocolate club sandwiches, violet-raspberry tarts, and rice-pudding-and-berry parfaits.
Fresh orange juice was refilled regularly, but no one offered coffee or tea. Although our napkins were refolded every time we left the table, it took nearly half an hour to get the check. Then three people asked if we were ready to pay.
"That was terrific," my companion said, "but a place like this should knock my socks off--and my socks weren't knocked off."
Ritz-Carlton, Washington, DC, 1150 22nd St., NW; 202-974-5566; www.ritzcarlton.com. Sunday brunch 10:30 to 2:30. $60, $30 ages 12 and under. Reservations recommended.
Roof Terrace Restaurant, the Kennedy Center (Downtown DC, expensive). The dining room on top of the Kennedy Center is vast, and so is the spread. If you have time and want to make brunch the main meal of the day, at $33.95 a person ($17 for children under 12) it's one of the bargain grand buffets in town.
The handsome, spacious dining room commands dramatic views across the river. When you are seated, a waiter offers a complimentary mimosa or glass of sparkling wine and leads you on a tour of the offerings--by the made-to-order-omelet station and into the kitchen, where the main buffet is laid out. Desserts get a room of their own.
We started at the raw bar/seafood counter, loading our plates with oysters and clams on the half shell, spiced shrimp, smoked salmon, bluefish, ceviche, and more. We went back for seconds. The only disappointment was a faintly bitter tuna tartare.
And there's the rub with a grand buffet--eyes need to take the measure of stomachs before you dig in. And go early to give yourself time to indulge. We arrived at 1 for a brunch that ended at 2--not nearly enough time to do justice to the food or the view.
After the seafood, we passed up the omelet station and cherry-picked in the kitchen among the salads, vegetables, and fruits, muffins and breads, sausages and bacon, pancakes and waffles, and fine selection of cheeses. Particularly tasty were tarragon chicken salad, spicy Thai beef salad, and delicious prime rib with wonderful sauces. Grilled salmon was nicely done but, like several items, a bit tired by brunch's end. We managed to sample only a few desserts, including a so-so parfait, a sad miniature eclair, and a marvelous crème brûlée.
Our water glasses were kept filled, sparkling wine was replenished, and plates were removed promptly, but we had to ask for coffee with dessert. The waiter happily brought it, and it too was included in the price. Parking is not--it's $15 in the Kennedy Center lot, $10 across the street. The total tab came to $88.
Kennedy Center Roof Terrace Restaurant and Bar, 2700 F St., NW; 202-416-8555; kennedy-center/visitor. Sunday brunch 11 to 2.
Sequoia (Georgetown, moderate). For some brunch spots, the setting makes the meal. Sequoia on a sunny morning is hard to beat, especially if you skip the expansive dining room and walk a flight up to the second floor. At the end of the bar is a round, four-table dining area that looks out over the waterfront as if from the bow of a ship. Through the bank of curved windows you see Roosevelt Bridge, the Kennedy Center, crew teams on the water, gulls diving, flags flapping, families snapping pictures. Oh--the food is good, too.
Aisha, the bartender who works the perch every Sunday, brought menus and mixed me a bloody mary. The menu is basic brunch on one side and full lunch or dinner on the back. I substituted smoked salmon for Canadian bacon on my eggs Benedict ($10.95), which hit all the high notes: oozing yolks, salty salmon, crusty toast, sautéed spinach. The buttermilk pancakes ($8.95) were neither too heavy nor too fluffy. We were promised pure maple syrup, but it tasted like Log Cabin. My daughter said her crabmeat-and-Monterey-jack omelet ($10.95) was "too crabby." I thought it was perfectly crabby.
Aisha advised us to save room for dessert, made in house. Alas, we didn't--but we'll be happy to on a return visit. Brunch for two, with one drink, cost about $50.
Sequoia, 3000 K St., NW; 202-944-4200; akrestaurants.com. Saturday brunch 11:30 to 3:30, Sunday brunch 10:30 to 3:30.
Tabard Inn (Dupont Circle, expensive). The Tabard Inn is such a brunch favorite that it pays to make reservations well in advance. We walked in cold one Sunday at 11 AM and lucked into two seats at the bar; 15 minutes later the bar was jammed.
The Tabard is in demand for its warm, funky atmosphere and fantastic kitchen. Light flows into the dining area from a skylight over the bar and windows on the back walls. In warm weather the patio is a lovely place to dine.
The menu ranges from the basic to the exotic. Poached eggs ($12) came Southwestern-style with chilies and guacamole, Southern-style with grits and oysters, or Benedict with ham and hollandaise. You can have pan-fried cod filet or a seafood stew for $14. My salad of house-smoked salmon and smoked trout was plenty filling. The quiche was a lofty three inches high, substantial and fluffy at once.
We had to try the house-made doughnuts ($6), six powdered pastries served with a dollop of vanilla whipped cream. Louise ate two and said, "I could give up Krispy Kremes forever." With wine, the bill quickly reaches $30 a person.
Tabard Inn, 1739 N St NW; 202-785-1277; tabbardinn.com. Saturday brunch 11:30 to 2:30, Sunday brunch 10:30 to 2:30.
Black Market Bistro (Garrett Park, moderate). In summer the porch of this vintage post office in leafy Garrett Park is the place to be. But get there early--the bistro doesn't take reservations, and folks are usually jockeying for tables inside and out.
Nearly everything on the brunch menu, with prices from $10 to $14, is worth ordering. Eggs are perfectly scrambled, buttermilk pancakes are fluffy, orange vanilla-bean French toast is crisp and just eggy enough. Baked breakfast muffins, scones, and breads are among the best in the area. If you want more substantial fare, the fabulous burger with fried onions or fried-chicken sandwich with mustard cream sauce will do nicely. Ice creams and sorbets and silky crème brûlée in varying flavors make for light yet luxurious finishes. The total tab was $65.
Black Market Bistro, 4600 Waverly Ave., Garrett Park; 301-933-3000. Saturday and Sunday brunch 10 to 2.
Irish Inn at Glen Echo (Glen Echo, moderate). Brunch may not be a tradition on the Emerald Isle, but the Irish Inn's take on this not-quite-breakfast, not-quite-lunch meal is a welcome antidote to the blahs. And the prices, $9 to $15 for main courses, make it especially attractive.
Many plates nod to Irish origins and predilections. Instead of a routine cheese omelet, here's one made with malt-whiskey cheddar and Irish cheddar. The Irish Benedict brings together poached eggs, tomatoes, and boiled ham on flaky buttermilk biscuits with a spill of creamy Irish parsley sauce instead of hollandaise. Most authentic is the Irish breakfast--Irish bacon, black and white "pudding" and bangers (all sausages), baked beans, and eggs. Fish 'n' chips made with Guinness-battered cod and shepherd's pie are delicious lunchy choices. On the lighter side is a mound of fresh fruit with a drizzle of mascarpone scented with honey and mint. For dessert, the warm chocolate-cherry cake and house-made ice creams are most satisfying.
The restaurant feels like a Irish inn, and if you've been to Ireland, the warren of small dining rooms done in muted shades will seem familiar. (On balmy days, regulars head for the patio.) And because much of the waitstaff speaks with an Irish lilt, it's not hard to imagine yourself on the other side of the Atlantic. Brunch for two with wine was $70.
Irish Inn at Glen Echo, 6119 Tulane Ave., Glen Echo; 301-229-6600; irishinnglenecho.com. Sunday brunch 11 to 2:30.
Jackie's Restaurant (Silver Spring, inexpensive). Austin Powers would feel at home. Set in a renovated garage in downtown Silver Spring, Jackie's grooviness is evident in everything from its shag carpets to its plastic chairs, its quilted booths to the heart-shaped pillows scattered about in the bar. Ceilings soar 25 feet above the concrete floor.
Veteran DC chef Ann Cashion consulted on the menu. Choices included yummy versions of brunch classics like steak and eggs, braised pork shoulder and eggs, and smoked salmon with cream cheese on a bagel. I had challah French toast with caramelized pears ($9)-- so delicious I tried, unsuccessfully, to replicate it at home.
For food this good, the crowd was oddly sparse. Our server said there is nearly always a wait at night, when the restaurant is awash in pink and red light and the action gets hectic in the open kitchen. I imagine a psychedelic food party--a scene quite different from the eerie quiet that prevailed that morning. I vowed to return on a Friday night when the atmosphere would feel as lively as the food. Brunch for two, including fresh-squeezed orange juice, was about $30.
Jackie's Restaurant, 8081 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring; 301-565-9700; jackiesrestaurant.com. Sunday brunch 11:30 to 2:30.
--Brooke Lea Foster
The Last Mango (Gaithersburg, moderate). Here's a low-key, moderately priced brunch with a touch of interest for the adults and predictability for kids. Brunch main courses range from $7.50 to $13.95.
Jazzy music plays, orange lanterns adorn the bar, and the walls are painted tropical colors. Ceiling-fan paddles look like dried palm leaves. The menu's not as colorful, but it's good. One side lists 12 standard brunch items, from eggs and fruit to pancakes and a serviceable Belgian waffle. Main dishes include steak and eggs and crab entrées. Orange, apple, and cranberry juices come in large portions.
Omelet eaters can choose up to three of 14 fillings and one of four kinds of cheese. My smallish omelet contained avocado, red pepper, and mushrooms--mostly on one side. It nearly swam in Monterey jack but tasted yummy. A fried-potato cake on the side added appeal. Juice, waffle, and omelet for one came to $23.
Our grumpy waiter acted as though any part of his job was an imposition. By contrast, the woman helping the family beside us was friendly, fun, and efficient.
The Last Mango, 654 Center Point Way, Gaithersburg; 240-243-0550; thelastmango.com. Sunday brunch 9 to 2.
Mon Ami Gabi (Bethesda, inexpensive). Most nights, Mon Ami Gabi--a French-style chain bistro on the busiest block of Bethesda--is packed. So it's a little odd, one Saturday at noon, to see the place almost empty. For a moment, I wonder if it's closed. But then the hostess appears, and my friend and I are led to a table on the sidewalk--a prime spot for people-watching--where most of the diners are. Along with menus, the waiter brings a warm baguette with butter and raspberry jam.
Mon Ami Gabi offers a full lunch menu with bistro classics like onion soup gratin, steak au poivre, and seafood crepes, plus a smaller roster of brunch choices. There are no surprises--a crepe with scrambled egg, ham, and cheese; vanilla French toast with strawberries and cream.
My quiche Lorraine came with a nice salad of mixed baby greens, but the quiche itself, on a dry, oddly sweet crust, was overpowered by a glut of caramelized onions. My friend's eggs Benedict, with a thick slab of Canadian bacon, was awash in velvety hollandaise. Dessert--an apple tart Tatin--was a bit pale and sticky to the tooth.
Service can be iffy. The waiter was attentive and efficient with us, but other tables had trouble. A woman who needed a spoon for her soup muttered, "He's on another planet." Still, on a nice day, brunch at a sidewalk table here is pleasant--and at $41 for two, relatively easy on the wallet.
Mon Ami Gabi, 7239 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda; 301-654-1234; monamigabi.com. Brunch Saturday 11:30 to 3, Sunday 11 to 3.
New Orleans Bistro (Bethesda, inexpensive). New Orleans Bistro is a pleasant surprise--elegant atmosphere, reasonable prices, and a menu not watered down for Northern tastes.
My husband started with a wonderful gumbo, a hearty mix of chicken andouille sausage and vegetables. It wasn't so spicy that it made his eyes tear, but it definitely woke him up. He followed that with a crawfish omelet redolent of Cajun spices. I had shrimp and grits, a pleasing combination of Cajun and creamy cheese flavors.
The only slight disappointments were the biscuits and beignets, which were light but a little cakey. We left licking powdered sugar off our fingers from the beignets and marveling that the bill, with tip, was under $40.
New Orleans Bistro, 4907 Cordell Ave., Bethesda; 301-986-8833; neworleansbistro.org. Sunday brunch 10:30 to 3.
Ri Ra (Bethesda, moderate). The "exuberance and revelry" promised by Ri Ra, an Irish pub/restaurant in the heart of Bethesda, is calmer at brunch. No ceili music, no raucous crowd playing trivia. Just good, Irish-accented dishes in large portions.
Fairly authentic old-country dishes include Dublin Omelet and Killcullen Hash; there are four "American breakfast" items as well. All are $6.95 to $8.95 except the hefty Traditional Irish Breakfast, which is $10.95--and not for all tastes. A dozen Pub Favorites and a large specials menu round out the choices.
My friend's grilled pork-loin medallions ($16.95) were a bit dry but accompanied by praiseworthy apple chutney and Irish curry sauce. I was pleased with baked jumbo shrimp stuffed with jumbo lump crabmeat ($19.95), though there was nary a lump to be found. Good mashed potatoes and thin sautéed asparagus came with both dishes. Eight-year-old Natalie enjoyed an upgrade of the Egg McMuffin: an egg (scrambled, not fried, please) and rasher (like Canadian bacon) over an Irish muffin with hash-brown white and sweet potatoes on the side.
Juices are $2 a bottomless glass. A dessert menu features six dishes plus coffees and drinks. There's no children's brunch menu. Brunch for two adults and a child, without alcohol, came to about $65.
Ri Ra, 4931 Elm St., Bethesda; 301-657-1122; rira.com. Sunday brunch 11:30 to 3.
Bistro Bistro (Shirlington, moderate). Brunch here is a buffet--and a grand indulgence for kids accustomed to cereal for breakfast. My three stood in awe of the spread, then smiled slyly when they realized that no menu means no limits--they could gobble anything they liked.
The kid-pleasers were waffles and omelets made to order, sausage, and baked treats. But the selection--tilapia, baked and smoked salmon, beef stew and rice, quiche, and beef tenderloin--caters more to grownups. Sides included cooked and roasted vegetables, mixed fruit, pasta and bean salads, and makings for Caesar salad.
Hot entrées were served from warmers. The food was good if unexceptional for the price ($18.95 each for adults, $13.95 each for the kids, plus $2.50 for orange juice). The cookies were dry and the sausage a bit rubbery, but each of the kids made at least a half-dozen trips to the buffet. When they approached the classical guitarist by the bar, they were rewarded with an autograph and warm smiles.
The restaurant was packed with a young crowd, and tables are close together--not ideal if you have infants. Even with reservations, we waited 20 minutes for a table. But no one left hungry, or unhappy.
Bistro Bistro, 4021 S. 28th St., Arlington; 703-379-0300. Sunday brunch 10 to 3.
Carlyle (Shirlington, moderate). Weekend brunch at this popular American bistro buzzes with activity. Diners sip on bloody marys, mimosas, and Bellinis--fizzy Italian cocktails made with chilled peach nectar and sparkling wine. The restaurant occupies two floors--a large, airy dining room with dark wood paneling upstairs and a more casual bar area downstairs. Service is friendly and efficient; the atmosphere is lighthearted--the menu offers a carryout dog biscuit to "feed the faithful with fiber."
The à la carte menu features popular breakfast standards like brioche French toast and Squibnocket scrambled eggs, and lunch fare like a crab-cake sandwich and mango chicken salad with grapes, tomatoes, and spiced pecans. Standouts include the salt-and-pepper calamari and blue-crab fritters, both served on a bed of corn salsa. The breads and croissants are baked next door at the Best Buns Bread Company.
Portions are large--take care not to fill up on appetizers and bread. Entrées ($10 to $19) are hearty dishes like the grilled filet mignon served with home fries, steamed asparagus, and hollandaise. A three-course brunch for two with one cocktail each costs about $70.
Carlyle Grand, 4000 S. 28th St., Arlington; 703-931-0777; greatamericanrestaurants.com. Saturday brunch 10:30 to 2:45, Sunday 9:30 to 2:45.
--Mary Clare Fleury
Harry's Tap Room (Clarendon, moderate). There was a wait when we arrived at Harry's Tap Room, so we settled in at the sleek bar--kept cozy in winter by an eye-level fireplace--and ordered fresh-squeezed orange juices. The bartender waved my money away. "So you come back," she winked.
Once we were seated in the retro dining area, we were served a basket of warm chocolate-chip-raisin biscuits and fresh jam. Jazz played on the music system. A stained-glass panel separating the bar from the dining room caught sun flooding in from windows along Clarendon Boulevard.
There was a nice mix of breakfast and lunch options. Harry's prides itself on using fresh ingredients--the menu lists local farms where produce and eggs are bought. The restaurant bakes its own bread and makes sauces, soups, and salad dressings daily. You can taste the difference. Chunks of crab were piled atop the jumbo-lump crab cake Benedict ($15.95). Many egg entrées are served with yummy grits and potatoes. The salty-sweet Cuban sandwich ($8.95) was garnished with fried banana chips.
Brunch isn't cheap--steak and eggs costs $20.95, and a small glass of OJ is $2.95. Our tab for two, including an appetizer, was about $40. But you won't leave hungry. The food is good, and portions are huge.
Harry's Tap Room, 2800 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington; 703-778-7788; harrystaproom.com. Brunch Saturday and Sunday 10 to 3.
--Brooke Lea Foster
Majestic Cafe (Alexandria, inexpensive). You can have a fine brunch at this upscale diner in Old Town Alexandria if you stick with the basics. Patrons are greeted with a basket of warm buttermilk biscuits and cornbread. There's a good selection of drinks, including flavorful sparkling blood-orange juice ($3.25).
Main courses ($8 to $12.75) are traditional brunch fare: corned-beef hash, buttermilk waffles, poached eggs. But the kitchen is inconsistent. The broccoli frittata with Parmesan cheese seemed an interesting choice, and a hearty one--it filled an eight-inch plate--but it was tough on the outside and undercooked on the inside. A pair of pecan-crusted salmon cakes didn't have much flavor, but the accompanying zucchini-and-avocado salad did. A better choice was the savory applewood-smoked bacon ($4.25). Also good was a basket of vanilla currant scones ($3.75), light and crumbly with a smooth, buttery flavor.
Desserts are very good. A large slice of chocolate cake came with yummy house-made praline marshmallows. A pistachio cake was light and moist with a butter-cream frosting. Both were $6. The total cost for two was $40.
Service is attentive. The atmosphere--with folk, jazz, and pop standards playing softly--is relaxing, as brunch should be.
Majestic Cafe, 911 King St., Alexandria; 703-837-9117; majesticcafe.com. Brunch Sunday 11 to 2:30.
Tallula (Clarendon, inexpensive). Most nights, a trip to Tallula means long waits at the bar elbowing for a drink among girls in handkerchief tops and slick-haired guys flirting back. The restaurant doesn't take reservations for small groups. Brunch is one time it's easy to snag a table. At noon on a Saturday, the coppery dining room with eggplant-colored banquettes was nearly empty. We settled in by the gurgling fountain.
Menus and mimosas came quickly. "Should I have the grilled cheese and tomato soup?" my friend asked. "Or the fried green tomatoes?" I faced a similar quandary--short ribs with cheddar grits or fried quail eggs with biscuits and gravy? Everything sounded good. Our server cheerfully steered us to her favorites and described each dish down to the hint of star anise or tuft of frisée.
Fried green tomatoes ($7) were on the sodden side, but the grilled cheddar sandwich ($8) was gooey and great dipped in the chilled tomato soup. A fried-egg BLT ($7), with thick bacon and yellow tomatoes, was a hearty hangover cure. A side order of feathery buttermilk biscuits with creamy pancetta gravy ($3) was just right.
A cappuccino crème brûlée ($7) topped with a dollop of barely sweetened whipped cream ended the meal with a flourish.
Tallula is already a hit for drinks and dinner, and brunch is a star too. Two courses, mimosas, coffee, and dessert rang up at $41 with tax and tip.
Tallula, 2761 Washington Blvd., Arlington; 703-778-5051; tallularestaurant.com. Saturday and Sunday brunch 11 to 2:30.