Thursday, May 23, 2013

Zoo Bar Cafe Food Review

Burger & fries at the Zoo Bar Cafe

Kiss the Server; Curse the Cook

I've lived in Cleveland Park for almost 20 years, and tried just about every restaurant in the area (which is a lot of restaurants.) The Zoo Bar Cafe has been around even longer (under one name or another... most recently Oxford Tavern) yet before today, I'd never stepped foot inside. Most people refer to it as a "dive bar" and I suppose it is (at least according to DC standards.) Dive or not, I decided to order a burger to go... If I liked it, I'd come back another time and dine in. If not...

Blessed with an amazing location (directly across the street from the National Zoo) you'd have to serve really bad food to not be successful. If their burger & fries are any indication, it's a wonder they're still around. My lunch started well (over the phone, with Zoo Bar's friendly barkeep) and continued to shine once I stepped inside. Zoo Bar is a no-frills bar/cafe that looks out of place in the area's otherwise modern haven of eating spots. That said, I couldn't help but appreciate how the aforementioned barkeep served plates to four regulars at the bar... each plate set down with love (and a first name greeting.) You could sit here all afternoon, and not get a dirty look from anyone.

Unfortunately, if you hang around all day... you may have to order something to eat. Whatever you do, don't order a burger. Although perfectly priced at just $7.95 (with fries and cole slaw!) the food is to die for... literally. Their menu advertises that each 1/2 pounder is "grilled to order on a custom flame broiler." I ordered mine cooked MEDIUM, and my buddy's MEDIUM-WELL: Both burgers arrived WELL-DONE. The patties were clearly frozen, straight from a box. Zero flavor and my burger had an odd spot where it was nearly rare (not in the middle, but near the edge: How is that even possible?) The bun had an odd assortment of seeds which I couldn't recognize. I finished half of it.

The fries were even worse... quite possibly, the worst I've had in years. Almost burned beyond recognition, my fries were cold, greasy and gross. One fry literally tasted of pure oil: I actually gagged. My buddy had asked me to request the fries well-done, but I didn't have time to ask. Evidently, the cook at Zoo Bar is telepathic.

The cole slaw was equally disappointing, drenched in an oddly orange cream. WTF? I liked the atmosphere, and the barkeep was incredibly nice; but if a kitchen produces a burger like this, I'd hate to see what they do with the rest of the menu.

Atmosphere: C+ (It looks run-down, but welcoming.)
Burger: D (It's well-sized, but horribly overcooked and void of flavor.)
Fries: F (Old oil + overcooking = lousy fries.)
Service: A- (Above and beyond... especially when paired with terrible food.)
Value: C+ (Great price, but food's lousy.)
Overall: D (If only the server could cook...)