Sunday, November 10, 2013

Cafe Tidbits

 Cafeteria at Cidade da Cultura de Galicia (Spain)

I don't know about you; but walking around a museum makes me hungry: Then again, what doesn't? Rather than leave said museum in search of breakfast, lunch or dinner... Why not "bite the bullet," and dine amidst the artwork? DC Outlook checked out some surprisingly tasty options "in-house."

Atrium Café: Love crowds (with lots and lots of noisy kids?) Average tasting food? Then look no further than the Atrium Café at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Their Pineland Farms All Natural Hamburger (a relative bargain at $6) isn't half bad; but they desperately need to upgrade their heat lamps. My bun was ice cold; and the patty, lukewarm at best. Ask for a free cup of water at the cash register, and save a few bucks. As for the stifling crowds... Hope for the best, and eat fast.

Grade: C-

Pineland Farms All Natural Hamburger at Atrium Café

Castle Café: Odds are, you won't be blown away by the amount of choices at the Smithsonian Castle; but who needs choices, when you make cookies like this? Castle Café's Oatmeal Raisin Cookie ($2.95) looks good and tastes even better. It's chewy, thick and downright delicious. Three cheers! They also serve sandwiches, soup and a wide assortment of cakes & muffins; and have ample seating available in the Great Hall. Free Wi-Fi too!

Grade: B

Oatmeal Raisin Cookie

Courtyard Cafe: If you're looking for an impressive backdrop to have a sandwich or snack, look no further than the Kogod Courtyard at the National Portrait Gallery: It's especially beautiful at night (the Cafe stays open until 6:30 PM.) Courtyard Cafe serves up standard fare (salad, sandwiches, soups, etc.) with a nod to good quality. They also sell amazing cakes and desserts. I lucked out with a $4.95 Ginger & Cherry Cake, a wonderfully moist ginger bundt cake with a rich, cherry cream topping. It's a bit pricey, but worth every penny. Love the free wi-fi; but I could do without the random bum falling asleep at a nearby table. Then again, free (admission) is free.

Grade: B

Ginger & Cherry Cake

George Washington Hospital Center Cafeteria: I'm stretching, no? Like it or not, we all have to eat... Even the sick (and their visitors.) GW's spacious dining area rests between a busy Starbucks on one side, and this affordable cafeteria on the other. How affordable? Try $2.00 for a slice of veggie pizza (with tons of diced tomatoes) $3.99 for four chicken tenders or $1.69 for curly fries: That's cheaper than most fast food joints. It's also self-serve with a fast & friendly cashier at the ready. Food quality is so-so, but in line with what you pay. Tenders are nice & meaty, and the fries zesty. Bonus points for not gouging customers on 20 oz. bottles of pop or water ($1.55 each.)

Grade: B-

Chicken Tenders

Curly Fries - only $1.69!

Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe: Buttermilk fried alligator, maple brine turkey and oyster bread pudding. Not your typical cafeteria food, by any stretch of the imagination; yet standard fare at the Mitsitam Cafe, located on the second floor of the National Museum of the American Indian. Already home to one of my favorite gift shops, the NMAI also houses the finest museum cafe in the nation's capital. It's a bit pricey, but expect good quality and unsurpassed variety. Don't dare miss the Blue Corn Bread for just $2.69: It's my favorite thing on the menu. Expect lots of crumbles, the kind you gleefully pick up and devour.

Grade: A-

Blue Corn Bread at Mitsitam Cafe

Muse Cafe: Change is afoot at the Corcoran Gallery of Art; and Todd Gray has moved his popular Sunday brunch to Equinox... but that doesn't mean "All's Quiet on the Muse Cafe Front." Open 10-3 Wednesday through Sunday, the Muse Cafe sells a simplified menu (pastries, salads & sandwiches) in its familiar (and lavish) dining area. Only one cashier/server; but she couldn't have been nicer or more efficient. Blueberry muffins are above-average in taste and affordable ($2.) I miss the Blueberry Stuffed French Toast and Cauliflower Risotto; but now that the museum is FREE, I can live with a few less choices.

Grade: B

Blueberry Muffin at Muse Cafe

Pavilion Café: A sanctuary of sorts, tucked inside the National Gallery of Art's Sculpture Garden, the Pavilion Café offers a fine assortment of pizzas, salads and sandwiches; but I prefer their less expensive pastries and desserts, especially their great tastin' blueberry muffins (a steal of a deal at $2.50.) They're huge, moist and warm (a deadly trio, if you ask me.) As good a muffin as any other in DC. Click here to see the full menu. Great atmosphere inside (cold A/C, low noise level) with loads of comfortable seating, inside and out (shaded tables.)

Grade: B+

Blueberry Muffin at Pavilion Café

Pavilion Café

Stars and Stripes Cafe: Located on the lower level of the National Museum of American History (next to the Simulator rides) the Stars and Stripes Cafe provides basic hot foods inside a clean and spacious (600 seats) dining hall. Take your pick from barbecue, pizza, salads and sandwiches, in addition to standard fare burgers, dogs & fries. I kept it simple with a hamburger ($6) onion rings ($4.50) and a Cloverland Farms Dairy 2% reduced fat chocolate milk ($1.50.)

A beautiful, oversized bun literally swallows up a flat, flavorless, frozen pattie; so make sure you load up on free fixins' (lettuce, onions, pickles and tomatoes.) You only get six rings, but they're plenty tasty. Plenty of seating, with a window view of the Washington Monument and ongoing construction. Speaking of, the noise (construction inside too) was close to intolerable just after 11:00 AM.

Good for tour groups or picky eaters. P.S. A tad pricey.

Grade: C+

Hamburger & Onion Rings

How's this for a window view?

Vradenburg Café: Tucked inside The Phillips Collection at 1600 21st Street, NW sits Tryst Coffeehouse Bar Lounge in the Vradenburg Café. Plenty of seating inside a spotless (and artistic) dining area, with a wide assortment of pastries, soups and sandwiches to choose from. Coffee, beer and wine too. Click here for their full menu. I settled on a $3 Blueberry Muffin which bordered on dry; but was packed with lots of BIG, fresh blueberries. Nice looks and even better berries... maybe I was just unlucky to find one that wasn't moist.

Grade: B (Very inviting with Tryst coffee to boot.)

Blueberry Muffin

Vradenburg Café at The Phillips Collection

Wright Place Food Court: Boston Market, Donatos Pizzeria & McDonald's... all under one giant roof at the National Air and Space Museum. Sounds good... in theory; but look closer, and you'll see (very) limited selections for Boston Market & Donatos. I chose the latter, settling on a pricey 7" Pepperoni pizza ($7.49) that was promised in seven minutes but took 20+ (during which time, three customers who ordered pizza after me, got their pizzas first.) No excuse, no apology (and no crowd to blame it on... I went early.)

Positives? The pepperoni is crispy & surprisingly flavorful; and they had Fanta Strawberry fountain soda. Negatives? Plenty. Gross cheese (bordering on disgusting) very little tomato sauce (most of which is dried into the crust) lackluster crust and way too expensive. Worse than a one-buck Celeste Pizza for One, and almost as small. Plenty of seating; but beware of large, noisy crowds.

Grade: D- (I managed to finish three of four slices; so I can't fail it.)

Donatos Pepperoni Pizza