Monday, January 20, 2014

City Tap House Brunch Review

Chicken & Waffles

Brunch... A combination of breakfast & lunch, usually consumed at a leisurely pace (with mimosas, if you're lucky.) Not exactly my style... I'm a dine & dash kinda guy, minus the not-paying part; but that was before today. Before City Tap House. Ladies & gentlemen, I stand before you a new Brunch man. If you feed me like this, I may never walk again... yet alone leave the table.

And why should I? How often does anyone get treated to multiple courses of culinary perfection? Keep in mind, I march to the beat of a different drum... bacon, not foie gras. The perfect fried egg. Great cole slaw. Hardly Michelin-esque, I know; but different food delights different people. The brunch at City Tap House delights me; and judging by all the happy faces around me... I'm not alone.

Benton's Bacon

If you've never been, City Tap House is a stone's throw from the Convention Center. It's been open for just over a month; yet appears to operate as if it's been there for years. Service is impeccable, from the hostess station (friendly & quick) to a wait staff that mixes casual and professional better than most. The spacious interior (it seats 180, with room for 70 more on the patio... come spring) looks stately, but by no means stuffy. After all, it's a tap house... not to be confused with prior tenant 901 Restaurant & Bar. I dare you not to feel comfortable here.

Lodge Skillet Corn Bread

My server Sam introduced himself to me, and was delighted to hear that I came for brunch (this is CTH's first weekend of brunch service) awarding me the title of "pioneer." Not many places award lofty titles just minutes into your meal... I felt special already. Special enough to order an ambitious assortment of appetizers, sides and an entree (Plate) with CTH's juice du jour (mango-passionfruit-orange, freshly squeezed.) One friendly piece of advice... Come hungry, and ready to indulge.

For the record, I rarely drink while dining out; so I make a point to enjoy the food. That meant ordering a Lodge Skillet Corn Bread ($8) covered in Vermont maple syrup & honey thyme butter (make it at home, you'll love it.) It sounded delicious, looked even better and tasted so good, that it earned a rare spot in our Dirty Dozen (12 best bites in DC.) The crust is equal parts crispy and flaky, while the bread stays hot thanks to its skillet shelter. Incredibly moist, it even managed to stay in tact (try finding that in any other corn bread in town.) Paired with a piece of Benton's Bacon (my side, $6) I may not eat anything as delicious, the rest of the year.

I love granola, and couldn't resist trying chef de cuisine Brian Cooke's personal recipe from his dear ol' Mom, no less. Creamy Greek yogurt, crunchy granola and fresh blueberries, topped off with two sprigs of mint... Simple yes, but no less delicious. Also filling, so be careful...

I still had my main course to go... Chicken & Waffles ($19) which gets a measured upgrade by pan frying the chicken (vs. deep frying, which tends to overpower the waffles.) My chicken was tender and moist with just enough crust to provide the right texture (without calling it crispy per se.) It's great, dipped in the accompanying red pepper jelly, but jumps to another stratosphere when drizzled in stout syrup. The buttermilk waffle was suitably thick, and provided another layer of flavor & texture with each bite of chicken. There was another sauce on the plate, but to be honest... I never even got to it. Why mess with perfection?

Perfection. I've used it thrice already; but it's appropriate. Already full, I must have told myself, "That's it. No more," several times, before taking yet another bite. Two glasses of juice (thick, no seeds, wonderful) three glasses of ice cold water (it's all in the details, even ice water doesn't slip past my radar) What more could I ask for?

How about atmosphere? It was almost a full house; yet the noise level remained at a comfortable decibel throughout my meal. Background music (John Mayer, Queen & David Bowie's "Under Pressure") filled in the gaps, providing the final piece to this stupendous puzzle. I ate alone, but the staff kept me company with timely conversation and words of encouragement as I tried to find room to fit all this terrific food into. A friendly farewell from a new hostess put a final touch on the best brunch anyone could ask for.

Minutes before I left, a guy arrived at the table across from me... apologized to his friend for being late, then commented, "This place is cool." That it is. Just wait until you eat the food...

P.S. You may be wondering... what about the drink? Make no mistake, there's plenty of it. I sat near CTH's new Bloody Mary station, complete with every accent a glass of vodka could ever dream of. There's also 40+ beer lines and countless bottles to choose from. A giant bar dominates the front of house, and looks like the kind of place you want to be after dark. Then again, wanting to be at City Tap House should come as no surprise to anyone who reads this review. I'll be sure to check back often, to make sure they're adhering to their own high standards.