Brunching in the City

AAaaannnddd…..we’re back! I’ve been on a bit of a Persnickety hiatus–for no good reason, mind you–but I’m happy to return with a decadent post in tow. Although Thanksgiving preparations are currently very much underway, I wanted to take a little tour of my recent brunch outings around the city. The DC’ers among you should know the minor (ahem…major) obsession that DC inhabitants have with brunch, and I have had multiple weekends with both a Saturday and Sunday sampling. There’s always a modicum of guilt associated though; I avoid the healthy options on the menu, and consistently gravitate towards the most decadent instead. So, from most recent…here are three brunches I’ve loved in the past few months.

Founding Farmers

Previously only having visited for dinner–which is marvelous–I finally planned a brunch with a good friend of mine. Without meaning to, we actually ordered the exact same meal: coffee, fresh squeezed orange juice, and stuffed french toast with strawberries and whipped cream. (I mentioned the always ordering the most unhealthy item on the menu, right?). She mentioned that every time she’s gone, she’s lusted after the stuffed french toast, but never actually committed, so she was thrilled to finally order it. And I was thrilled to eat it. I have to say that we were so preoccupied with catching up that I delayed asking about peanuts until they had actually brought our food, but luckily everything had been prepared safely, and there were no cross contamination issues to worry about. Now – don’t ask me how they make this and don’t expect me to know what what makes it so gloriously rich (you can probably guess from the pictures). Just admire.

Shaw’s Tavern

Although I rarely choose a savory brunch selection, I had gotten up particularly early this Sunday, and had already had a full breakfast of oatmeal with cinnamon, brown sugar, dried fruit and pecans. I was sugared-out, so I chose the pulled chicken sandwich instead. It was actually quite lovely, with a great kick from the jalapenos mixed in with shallots, cilantro, cherry tomatoes, and peppers. The sandwich came with potato chips, but after discovering that they were cooked in corn oil, the waitress graciously supplied me with a darling little bowl of blueberries and strawberries, and left the chips for my dining companions to munch on. Along with an absurdly delicious fresh squeezed orange juice, it was a pretty healthy and pleasing meal!

Cafe Sorriso e Gelateria

As part of my quest to visit all my local neighborhood spots, I wandered into Cafe Sorriso a few months ago to try out their coffee. A tiny little space, it’s full of character and extremely hospitable people. It’s relatively new, and unfortunately a bit hidden, but the place opens quite early for their weekend breakfast/brunch and provides a really nice option for a relaxed meal with friends. Three of us live in the same building, so it’s easy to coordinate a nice, early brunch on a weekend. On this visit, I ordered the whole wheat pancakes with banana, walnuts and maple syrup and accompanied the meal with a pot of delicious Earl Grey tea. My friends had oatmeal, and smoked salmon scrambled eggs, respectively, and each enjoyed the uncomplicated and delightful spread.

Now, as a teaser for you all, today we have completed our massive shop for the Thanksgiving meal at Chelsea Market in NYC, and have successfully retrieved our 14 pound bird. I’m baking a chocolate pecan pie, there will be two types of stuffing, multitudes of roasted vegetable goodness, and fresh home-made cranberry sauce. And of course, we have bottles and bottles of wine and about 7 different kinds of cheeses and cured meats for snacking during the day. Never fear, the Thanksgiving post will be epic, and hopefully completely absolve me from my disgraceful lack of posting for the last few weeks.

A little less mellow, a little more mushroom.

We needed to salvage the evening. Four girlfriends out at a DC event, bored out of our skulls by the ramblings of uninvited, awkward, and oblivious boys. We were in danger of drowning our frustration with the overpriced drinks on happy hour, and then where would we be? Nowhere good. But the solution dawned on me. Pizza. What could be better than pizza to sate our appetites and regain some faith in mankind? As three out of the four of us are Adam’s Morgan girls, we headed out to Mellow Mushroom.

As we were handed our menus, the mood couldn’t have been cheerier. We were seated in a gigantic booth (the better to hold the friends and roommates that arrived later), the beer list was pretty exceptional, and we were free of horror that is the club happy hour scene. The elation only grew when I glimpsed the specially-inset menu that described the gluten-free pizza, including the full ingredient list of the gluten-free dough. Although I have no need to order gluten-free, those with an allergy to wheat or suffer from Celiac disease would definitely benefit!

Alas, I did not fare so well. After giving warning of my serious peanut allergy (no problem there!), I also indicated to our waitress that I have an intolerance of corn. Unfortunately, some chefs use a cornmeal dusting on the bottom of pizza dough to prevent it from sticking to the pizza stone or oven. Aware of that tendency, I asked the waitress to check whether the restaurant did this as well. She came back with an unsympathetic, “Sorry, yeah…we, like,…use corn.” Despite my ensuing questions about the feasibility of removing the cornmeal, she was unyielding. Her three trips to the kitchen (by my insistence) did nothing to change the answer. It was in the dough, or something, apparently. Never did I receive a satisfactory answer about why they couldn’t make an exception. However, by this point, my intolerance was becoming a major hindrance to my other dining companions’ enjoyment. I backed down. And I ordered two appetizers to serve as my meal: the bruschetta and the chicken wings. That’s almost like buffalo chicken pizza, right?

Wrong. After chatting with my group for about 10 minutes, what comes out of the kitchen but my two appetizers?! She sets them before me, and before I could make a peep, she whisks away. OK, now, everyone, listen up. If a person orders two appetizers to serve as their meal, do NOT serve them the appetizers before everyone else gets their food. Eating in front of one’s friends is uncomfortable and downright rude. Got it? Good.

Here’s the most unendurable part: the food itself was pretty terrible. The bruschetta was topped with some lovely fresh tomatoes, but they were literally drowned by the sickly sweet balsamic vinegar. The toast was stale (even all that vinegar couldn’t penetrate it) and tasted mostly of cardboard. The wings were worse: soggy, lukewarm and pitifully mild. The best thing about that dish was the celery. You can’t mess that up too badly, I suppose.

If it weren’t for the peach-infused beer that sustained me until the end of the meal, it would have been a complete disaster. Not only were they completely inflexible about their kitchen practices, but they did not volunteer any information that would have helped me make a better decision about what to eat, or offer any sincere apologies. Unfortunately, instead of regaining my faith in mankind, I lost just a little bit more of it.

Ok, I admit – that’s a little dramatic. So, to end on a more positive note… Yesterday, I did a bit more digging on Mellow Mushroom, and found that their attitude towards food allergies is relatively progressive. Similar to many national chains, Mellow Mushroom maintains a special allergy grid that documents each dish, and what potential allergens (of the big eight) it contains. You can find that here, but I would still do your due diligence with your waiter, and explain the dangers of cross contamination.

Mellow Mushroom | 2436 18th Street NW, Washington, DC 20009 (202) 290-2778

A Tryst Treat

Image courtesy of Tryst DC Facebook

I spent a good chunk of my day yesterday curled up in a squishy, brocade armchair at Tryst, my neighborhood hipster watering hole. In honor of my lazy Sunday reading the City Paper and downing some figi green iced tea, I wanted to post about an experience I had at Tryst back in February.

Since November I had been in a nearly constant state of indigestion, and knowing my proclivity for food-related discomfort, I was ready to take my allergist’s advice, and attempt an elimination diet. Undertaking such a dietary regimen would allow me to isolate foods that were problematic for me. I based my elimination diet on this model, cutting out all wheat, dairy, and meat (except chicken), and a whole host of fruits and vegetables, including corn.

As you can imagine, eating became an extreme sport for me. I tried delicious new dishes (kale salads, coconut-date balls) at home, but dining out was almost impossible. During this time, I took a friend out to eat on her visit to DC. After making our rounds of the Mass Ave embassies, we wandered up to Adams Morgan for a bite at Tryst, the sister cafe to Open City. It happened to be Superbowl Sunday, and we were hoping to avoid the hype by hiding out in an uber-hipster café with Victorian couches and low, beat-up coffee tables. We were, thus, shocked to find that the one lone TV in the restaurant was actually playing the Superbowl. I had never even noticed they had a TV!

Tryst is actually a wonderful place to visit during an elimination diet because they have a special “build-your-own-salad” menu. Having been resigned to decidedly monotonous salads for the past 3 weeks, I was hopeful that the various toppings offered may add up to a more interesting dish than usual. In particular, I was interested in the chicken salad, but my server was unsure of whether it contained any ingredients excluded by the elimination diet. However, just as I was about to say, “Ok, I guess I’ll have the carrots,” she says, “let me go look it up,” and whisks away to grab the ultimate restaurant tool: The Ingredient Book.

I’ve come across this kind of resource rarely, but I assume that many restaurants have such a tool, whether or not they choose to share it with their customers. To my delight, the Tryst ingredient book had literally every ingredient, spice and herb that had gone into the dish, allowing me to make a completely informed and confident choice in what to order (chicken salad was a no-go, but the tuna salad was completely kosher..I mean—safe).

I wonder about the feasibility of this kind of tool for all restaurants. In general, I would assume that chefs who offer a relatively static menu might easily prepare such a document for general use, but may be hesitant to share their entire ingredient list with the world. In addition, a restaurant with an oft-changing menu may find the maintenance of such a document an unnecessary burden. From my standpoint, though…it was awesome–a fantastic resource for someone with any kind of dietary restriction.

Is an Ingredient Book a good idea for all restaurants? Would you feel safer about your food choices if you could study such a document? Have you ever tried an elimination diet to illuminate personal food issues?

Tryst                                                                                                                                      2459 18th Street NW Washington, DC 20009