Saturday, August 30, 2008


Rosemary's Thyme is a delightful Mediterranean bistro, which offers a high quality brunch with a large outdoor seating area. Rosemary's has two locations: on the corner of 18th & S streets NW, a location in the highly nebulous "East Dupont" area, and one in Clifton, Virginia. The brunch menu consists of traditional breakfast dishes like eggs Benedict, French toast, omelettes, pancakes, and one Mexican dish -- this time huevos rancheros -- a phenomenon that appears to be required for 18th street brunch establishments. They also have sandwiches, pastas, and "pides" -- a house specialty of oven baked Turkish flat bread filled with various ingredients.

The breakfast items are all very good; the omelettes are fluffy and not overcooked and the French toast is also competent, albeit I think they overdo it slightly with the Grand Marnier. If you've never been to Rosemary's, though, I'd suggest going with one of the pides (prounouced PIDD-es). For brunch they serve four pides: cheese, Mediterranean (cheese, sun dried tomatoes, roasted garlic, spinach, olives), cheese and pastirma (seasoned dried beef), or cheese and sujuk (a spiced Middle Eastern sausage). We stuck to the vegetarian ones and ordered both the cheese and the Mediterranean varieties (both pictured here). Each come with a tomato dipping sauce. As an interesting bonus, during brunch they also come with an "optional" choice of two eggs any style either on top or the side for no additional charge, and the resulting poached eggs were excellent. Pides are, for lack of a better word, the best cheesy bread I've ever had. They're warm and crispy with goey cheese and fresh fillings. They go very well with either the tomato dipping sauce or to mop up the yolk from the poached eggs.

We also had the rolled timballo, which I'd compare to a a sideways circular lasagna, in this case filled with spinach, roasted red peppers, various cheeses, and tomato sauce. The pasta is crisped nicely and the fillings are hot and delicious. The plating was also attractive; the pastas are placed on top of a generous amount of homemade tomato sauces and garnished with fresh basil.

You really can't go wrong at this neighborhood bistro. The food is interesting and fresh and it is reasonable priced. It remains a mystery to me why Rosemary's has not been reviewed in the Zagat's dining guide.

Contact information after the jump. Continue reading.

Brunch menu [Rosemary's Thyme Bistro] (They also serve some lunch items during brunch)
Pides [Recipezaar]

Rosemary's Thyme Bistro
Dupont location:
1801 18th St. NW
Washington D.C. 20009
(202) 332-3200

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Clifton location:
5762 Union Mill Road
Clifton, Virginia 20124
(703) 502-1084

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Beyond the Beltway: Surf Club Ocean Grille

Due to its proximity to the house we were staying at in Virginia Beach, we decided to try the brunch at the Surf Club Ocean Grille, which is at the Wyndham hotel on 56th Street and Atlantic Avenue. We had tried to eat here the previous night but, despite the restaurant being mostly empty, we were told there was a 45 minute wait because they were inexplicably only seating a few of the tables. Nonetheless, we gave this place another chance. That was a mistake. We sat in their small outdoor area, which is right on the beach. A guitar player was singing surprisingly good renditions of classic rock songs. That was the best part of the meal and made the glacially slow service not seem so bad. The food was served in large filling portions but was altogether uninspiring.

Their French toast is eight thick pieces of fried bread arranged in four sandwiches and stuffed with cream cheese, bananas, walnuts, and strawberry jam. It's hard to mess up a dish with this many calories, but I was wholly unimpressed. The bread was on the soggy side and the cream cheese, fruit, and nut mixture did not taste fresh. This was enjoyable only if you covered it with an ample amount of maple syrup.

I also tried the sweet potato pancakes, which were served with brown sugar butter and sweetened sour cream. Like the French toast, this was a lot of food; there were four large pancakes. They were, however, not exactly what I had expected when I ordered sweet potato pancakes. They were actually regular pancakes with pieces of (presumably canned) sweet potato mixed into the batter. This brown sugar butter was good, but the pancakes were ordinary. I couldn't taste a lot of sweet potato and so they were little more than orange tinted pancakes to me.

We also ordered the chicken salad sandwich, and what they called "Eggs Benedict the 3rd" -- three different eggs Benedicts: a classic Benedict, a steak buscuit Benedict, and a crab puff Benedict. Following the pattern, this was another very large dish that opted for quantity over quality. As you can see in the picture, the butter and egg yolks of the Hollandaise sauce were separating, which shouldn't happen. It was otherwise competent.

There are definitely better places in Virginia Beach and there's no good reason to go to the Surf Club.

Contact information after the jump. Continue reading.

Brunch menu [Surf Club]

Surf Club Ocean Grille
5700 Atlantic Avenue
Virginia Beach, VA 23451
(757) 425-5699

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Brunch DC Goes to Virginia Beach

I'm off today to Virginia Beach with a bunch of friends from college. Stay tuned for a Beyond the Beltway brunch review from down there. Continue reading.
Photo [Flickr]

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Brunch Historian: Bloody Mary

In this entry of the Brunch Historian, I examine the history of my favorite brunch beverage: the estimable Bloody Mary. The classic bloody should be made by filling a highball or lowball glass with ice and tomato juice and then adding:
- 1.5-2.5 ounces vodka
- 1 teaspoon horseradish (pure, not creamed)
- 4-6 shakes Tabasco Sauce
- 1 teaspoon Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce
- Juice of 1/2 lime
- Salt and pepper.
- Celery stick to garnish.
The result should be strong, thick, and spicy -- like this example from Essex:

Like many of the great things in life, the Bloody Mary has a disputed origin. Legend has it that it was developed in the 1920s by Fernand Petiot, the bartender at Harry's New York Bar in Paris, the American bar famous for its clientele including Ernest Hemingway, Sinclair Lewis, and Rita Hayworth. According to the story, Petiot, who was known as "Pete," began experimenting was cocktail varieties, most of which were unsuccessful, until one day he mixed vodka with tomato juice. Petiot reportedly said "one of the boys suggested we call the drink ‘Bloody Mary’ because it reminded him of the Bucket of Blood Club in Chicago, and a girl there named Mary." It was not, therefore, named after Mary, Queen of the Scots, who is often referred to as "Bloody Mary."

Eventually Petiot made his way back to the United States and became a bartender at St. Regis Hotel in New York. At that point he added the seasoning that we commonly assoicate with the drink. Continue reading.

Sometime later, this traditional theory was called into question. George Jessel, a flamboyant Acadamy-award winning movie producer, claimed that he created the drink as a method to recover from a hangover. This claim, according to one source, found its way into a 1939 article in the New York Herald Tribune, which stated: "George Jessel’s newest pick-me-up which is receiving attention from the town’s paragraphers is called a Bloody Mary: half tomato juice, half vodka." Jessel credited himself with creating the drink in his autobiography. According to Jessel, he and his friends created the drink in 1927 in Palm Beach, Florida. When he gave his invention to Mary Warburton, a member of the family that owned the Wanamaker Department Store, she accidentally spilled some on her white dress, prompting her to say: "Now, you can call me Bloody Mary, George!"

This story was naturally challenged by Petiot. In a 1964 profile in the New Yorker, he defended himself this way:

I initiated the Bloody Mary of today . . . George Jessel said he created it, but it was really nothing but vodka and tomato juice when I took it over. I cover the bottom of the shaker with four large dashes of salt, two dashes of black pepper, two dashes of cayenne pepper, and a layer of Worcestershire sauce; I then add a dash of lemon juice and some cracked ice, put in two ounces of vodka and two ounces of thick tomato juice, shake, strain, and pour.
He, however, appeared to concede that Jessel invented the initial formulation. Still, nobody has asserted a claim to the addition of the celery stick. That remains a mystery.

Who do you believe?

Update: Of course, Bloody Mary's do not have to be traditional to succeed. For example, the one at Boulud Sud in New York City forgoes the traditional horseradish and Tobasco in favor of Mediterranean flavors:

For the full review, check out New York Food Journal.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Café Tropé

N.B. Café Tropé is CLOSED.

Café Tropé, at 2100 P street NW off Dupont Circle, serves eclectic French-Caribbean food in an attractive setting. The name is derived from Saint Tropez, a seaport in the French Riviera. Tropé's brunch, which is served on both Saturdays and Sundays, includes one glass of house champagne and delicious warm crusty rolls served with a garlic and artichoke tapenade. While it's not a prix fixe deal, this is a good start. The menu -- which is fairly different from the one posted online -- has a good mix of breakfast and lunch varieties, all with a Caribbean twist. Overall the food was excellent; my only real complaint is that the dishes lacked creative plating and often looked empty on the plate, especially the omelet.

The smoked salmon eggs benedict, which our waiter claimed was his favorite dish on the menu, lived up to that promise. Perfectly done poached eggs are served on thick slices of smoked salmon on top of the same bread that they provide at the beginning of the meal. Keeping with the French theme, of course, they couldn't use English muffins, the traditional bread of the Benedict. The sauce is not a traditional Hollandaise; instead it's combined with Caribbean spices. It's served with potatoes, which were slightly dry but were otherwise good.

The coconut French toast, which we got with plantains is also very good. It's served on thick spongy bread -- the requisite consistency for good French toast -- and the coconut flavor provides a nice Caribbean essence. The bread is fairly eggy, which could make this a heavy dish and the plaintains, which was a substitution, were a little too sweet for me.

Lastly, we tried one of the omelettes, which was filled with chorizo sausage (a Spanish sausage, interestingly enough), onions, spinach, and smoked Gouda cheese. As is apparent from the picture, this dish looks disappointing since the omelet only covers half of the otherwise empty plate. In addition, the fillings are not integrated into the omelet, which is my preference, but rather the eggs are folded over them. However, the eggs are creamy and tasty and the fillings are an interestingly and successful combination.

The service was generally attentive and informative. It was a little strange, though, that we did not receive our complementary glass of champagne until we asked for it; apparently, if you don't ask for it, they don't bring it to you.

Contact information after the jump.

Read more.

Brunch menu (not complete) [Café Tropé]

Café Tropé
2100 P St. NW
Washington, DC 20037
(202) 223-9335

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Why No Prix Fixe Brunches in DC?

I recently wondered why it is that there are few good prix fixe brunch deals in D.C. when they are prevalent in New York. Today the good people at DC FUD asked me to guest blog over there and I discussed this topic. Check it out. More D.C. reviews coming this weekend.

BrunchDC's Take on Brunch [DC FUD]

Full post reproduced below:

In the late 19th century, British hunter Guy Beringer wrote in the long-defunct Hunter's Weekly that we ought to abandon the heavy English Sunday dinner, a "post-church ordeal of heavy meats and savory pies" and instead introduce a "new meal, served around noon, that starts with tea or coffee." This revolutionary idea, which Beringer termed "brunch," was principally appealing to him because it would "make life brighter for Saturday night carousers" (i.e. allow him and his friends to stay up later and get drunker on Saturday nights). Over a hundred years later, with brunch soaring in popularity, the justification for it remains essentially the same.

As a lifelong New Yorker until my recent transplantation to Washington, I had grown accustomed to what I had mistakenly thought was a nationwide solution to the brunch meal: the prix fixe brunch menu with coffee and/or drinks included. Prix fixe brunch is pervasive in New York City. The best one is Essex on the Lowest East Side of Manhattan, and serves a $16 prix fixe meal that includes three bloody marys, mimosas, or screwdrivers with free coffee on Sundays if you arrive before noon. The food is a highly creative Jewish-Latin mix consisting of food that you won't find outside of New York (maybe it's illegal to ship bialys across state lines?) such as Eggs "LEO"-- scrambled eggs with onions and gravlax -- or challah French toast.

When I moved down to Washington a little over a year ago I assumed D.C. would follow this successful trend. Unfortunately, I was sorely mistaken. The only brunches I've found in D.C. that even remotely resemble the drinks-included prix fixe deals you'll find in New York are the touristy (Kramer's), the mediocre buffets (Front Page -- a "buffett" spelled with an extra "t" for "terrible"), or the extremely expensive (Georgia Brown - $34.95, drinks extra). There are, of course, various places with drinks deals such as Creme's $15 unlimited drink deal (food extra) or Tabaq's $3 drinks, but the drinks aspect is only one part of the beauty and simplicity of the prix fix deal.

That's not to say you can't get good brunch in D.C. Recently I've set out to find those places and have come up with some promising brunch spots around the city. On 18th street, Mezè, a Turkish place has surprisingly excellent French toast. Bardia's New Orleans Cafe, a small hole-in-the-wall serves creative and authentic New Orleans style brunch complete with poached eggs atop catfish bites with creole sauce. Even The Diner, while way too popular for its quality, has some decent food as well, especially the French-inspired croques. Creme and Cafe Saint-Ex on U street are generally solid (good fried green tomato eggs benedict at St. Ex) and Rosemary's Thyme and Café Tropé in the Dupont area are both good bets.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Beyond the Beltway: Essex

Essex, set in an austere lofty space on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, is a New York culinary institution specializing in "drunk brunch" -- a $16 prix fixe meal [N.B. It is now $18] that includes three bloody marys, mimosas, or screwdrivers. While many New York brunch spots serve prix fixe brunch that include drinks -- why won't that phenomenon arrive in D.C.? -- this one is the best. The food is a highly creative Jewish-latin mix and Essex serves food that you won't find outside of New York (maybe it's illegal to ship bialys across state lines?) A bialy, for those who aren't from New York or Jewish, is a Yiddish word short for "bialystoker," which is named after the city of Białystok in Poland and was thought to have been brought to the U.S. by Eastern European Jews in the late nineteenth century. It's a circular roll similar to a bagel. However, unlike a bagel, which is boiled and then baked, a bialy is just baked, and most bialys do not have a full hole in the middle but instead have only a depression. The depression is often filled with various ingredients such as onions or poppy seeds. More on bialys in a future Brunch Historian entry.

My Essex favorites include the "LEO," which is scrambled eggs with onions and gravlax (salmon cured in a mixture of salt, sugar, and dill) and served with a bialy from Kossar's, a grand street bagel and bialy shop. Eggs Leo, an Eastern European Jewish dish, is usually served with lox or nova, but the gravlax provides a nice twist and adds some spice to a dish that some people criticize for being too dry. The bialy was, of course, chewy and delicious, though I have long mentioned to them the need for cream cheese or another schmear to put on it; unfortunately, my requests have gone unanswered. The home fries that garnish it are ordinary, even a little mushy but that's a small detraction.

Three other solid dishes are the matzo brei, the potato pancakes, and the challah French toast. Matzo brei is another eastern European Jewish dish consisting of eggs, onions, and matzo that has been softened with warm water. It's served with excellent chicken apple sausages, though I think the eggs themselves are a little dry. Matzo brei can be tough to make since it requires the correct consistency of the matzo and I think they should have softened it a little more. The potato pancakes, or "latkes," that they have here are Latin influenced since they are combined with spinach-mushroom-black bean hash, which provides an interesting and creative take on the classic dish. Finally, the challah French toast is also excellent. Challah is a traditional Eastern European Jewish bread that is generally eaten by the religious on the Sabbath and other holidays. It's a large braided bread, which makes it especially suited for French toast, and Essex's is pretty good. I think, however, they could do without the banana foster sauce, which is very sweet.

As for drinks, the bloody mary is my favorite and is fairly strong on the horseradish. While the brunch only comes with three drinks, often they give you more; in fact, this weekend we got four rounds. In the past I've gotten as much as five or six.

Brunch menu (pdf) [Essex]
History of Bialys []
Gravlax [Cooking for Engineers]
Kossar's Bialys [Kossar's]
Lox [Wikipedia]
Matzo Brei [Coconut & Lime]
Latkes [Wikipedia]
Challah []

120 Essex Street
New York, NY 10002
(212) 533-9616

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Thursday, August 7, 2008

Brunch DC Goes to New York

I'm going back up home to New York this weekend. But don't worry, Brunch DC will make a report from back up north.

The Brunch Historian: A History of Brunch

The strange world of brunch continues to expand, generating bizarre new life forms, embracing flavors and ingredients never before associated with mankind's pre-noon existence.

- Willaim Grimes, "At Brunch, The More Bizarre The Better," The New York Times, July 8, 1998.
In this first entry of the Brunch Historian, I explore the history of the term "brunch." Brunch is, of course, a portmanteau of "breakfast" and "lunch(eon)" and is thought to have originated in Britain in the late 19th century as a student slang term. According to the Aug. 1, 1896 issue of the British magazine, Punch:
To be fashionable nowadays we must 'brunch'. Truly an excellent portmanteau word, introduced, by the way, last year, by Mr. Guy Beringer, in the now defunct Hunter's Weekly, and indicating a combined breakfast and lunch.
Guy Beringer's article, aptly titled "Brunch: A Plea," extolled the virtues of brunch, principally because it would allow you to stay up later and get drunker on Saturday night and not be required to wake up early for breakfast. In his "Plea" he writes:
Instead of England’s early Sunday dinner, a post-church ordeal of heavy meats and savory pies, why not a new meal, served around noon, that starts with tea or coffee . . . By eliminating the need to get up early on Sunday, brunch would make life brighter for Saturday night carousers.
Beringer was also remarkable visionary, envisioning that the meal could also be accompanied by alcoholic beverages, thus paving the way for the tradition brunch drinks like the Bloody Mary or mimosa (more on brunch drinks in future Brunch Historian posts).

Brunch became popular in the Untied States in the 1930s in Chicago, according to Evan Jones, author of ''American Food: The Gastronomic Story," because movie stars, celebrities, and the wealthy who were taking transcontinental train rides stopped off in Chicago between trains for a late morning meal. Sunday brunch, however, only became popular in the United States after World War II saw a decline in American chuchgoers. Jones explained to the New York Times that:
We like to sleep in Sundays, read the newspapers and loll in bed. After the World War II generation went away from church altogether, Sunday became a day to enjoy doing nothing and brunch just grew like topsy.
This trend continued as the more formal 1950s gave way to the '60s and large formal Sunday lunches gave way to more casual brunches. Soon however, what began as a rebellion against long formal meals began to be distorted by the upper class into elaborate meals that they called brunch as well.

The cuisine has changed as well. In the 1940s, the Times documents, the Fifth Avenue Hotel served a "Sunday Strollers' Brunch'' consisting of "sauerkraut juice," "clam cocktails" and "chicken liver omelet in Madeira." In more recent times, the menus generally consists of some breakfast items and some lunch items, in an apparent compromise to each diner's preference. Even more recently, we've seen the emergence of the dim sum brunch and the "drunk brunch" to further complicate things. Menu formulation has apparently taken a toll on some chefs. Celebrity chef Bobby Flay isn't impressed by brunch, telling the New York Times:
[Chefs] hate cooking it and they hate thinking about it. Saturday night tends to be the busiest of the week, and they've probably gone out to have a few drinks afterward. Suddenly it's Sunday morning and you have to come in and cook eggs.
I don't think such brunch-hating words deserve a response, but if anyone is in the New York area, please feel free to voice your disappointment to him at the Mesa Grill or Bar Americain (if he's ever there).

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


Set in a renovated rowhouse in the U Street corridor, Tabaq, which opened in 2005 to some fanfare is another one of the growing list of small dish Mediterranean restaurants. Brunch is served on their rather spectacular glass enclosed rooftop, which has panoramic views of the city.

The brunch menu is fairly small and offers a handful of sandwiches, omelettes, breakfast plates, and a variety of Benedicts. The menu is also notable for having $3.00 bloody marys and mimosas, which makes me wonder at the popularity of Crēme's $15 "Bottomless" bloody mary or mimosa special next door. Tabaq's bloody marys are not fantastic -- they're a little thin -- but at $3.00 are quite a deal.

As for the food, it is hit or miss. The "Tabaq Breakfast," which consists of two eggs, applewood smoked bacon, lamb sausage, feta bell pepper salad, baked tomatoes, and sauteed potatoes, and toast sounds a lot better on the menu than it is. The plating is fairly haphazard with each item placed on a round plate in no particular order. The bacon was smokey and good and the baked tomatoes were fresh; the other items were fairly ordinary. The vegetable sandwich consists of eggplant, zucchini, red and yellow pepper, tomatos, and feta cheese. The bread was the best part; otherwise it was somewhat bland. It comes with a choice of either fries or field greens; the large amount of field greens affords the dish a colorful plating. The waffles were also fairly standard Belgian variety and on the firm side. Since we are in the South, they can also come with fried chicken on top. As for the Benedicts, we tried the vegetarian which substituted ham for braised seasonal vegetables. This was a great dish; the eggs were properly runny and the vegetables had a nice kick to them.

The service and the decor at Tabaq are excellent, which makes for an enjoyable brunch even though the food is not superlative.

Brunch Menu [Tabaq].
Tabaq Bistro: Exclusive Sneak Peak [Metrocurean].
Tabaq Bistro [Gridskipper].

Tabaq Bistro
1336 U St. NW
Washington DC
(202) 265-0965

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Saturday, August 2, 2008


Mixtec, on Columbia Road in Adams Morgan, serves what they refer to as "American-Mexican" brunch. They have a fairly extensive menu serving brunch dishes that you'd expect from a Mexican restaurant. Huevos Rancheros -- two tostadas topped with black beans, fried egg, and red Ranchero sauce -- for example, is something you'd find at most Mexican restaurants. It's fairly good, though I felt that the Ranchero sauce did not use enough poblano peppers, but I'm particular about my Ranchero sauce. In addition they have a number of uninspired omelettes. I tried the "Mexican," which consists of tomatoes, onions, jalepenos, and cilantro, thinking "how could you go wrong with that mix?" But, unfortunately, the eggs were overcooked and the jalapenos were surprisingly unspicy.

Most of the more unusual and therefore better dishes are filed under the "Regional Mexican" section of the menu. There they have dishes purporting to be from the Northern, Southern, Central, and "Mexican Caribbean" regions. The best one I had was the "Kulkulkan" from the Mexican Caribbean. It's a double-decker creation featuring two layers of crispy tostadas held together with refried black beans and topped with a fried egg along with peas and cubes of ham. The dish comes with fried plaintains and the same under-Poplano-ed red Ranchero sauce. This is a really interesting dish and the combination of crispy tostadas and soft refried beans is excellent. I'd recommend it if you want to get something a little out of the ordinary. However, the Kulkulkan comes in at $10.95 and, like most dishes at Mixtec, is about a dollar or two too expensive. The coffee is your average drip, but at $1.50 is, unlike their food, on the cheap side.

Strange note: They, for some reason, refuse to make poached eggs despite offering "eggs any style."

1792 Columbia Road N.W.
Washington D.C. 20009

Brunch menu

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