Last Sunday found my roommate and I wobbling around Columbia Heights at 3 in the afternoon, looking for Mother’s Day brunch scraps to indulge in. It was relatively nice out and we were both clad in sunglasses and sundresses without cardigans, a bit too ambitious considering it was still only in the 60’s. Nevertheless, we wanted to sit somewhere outside to enjoy and be enjoyed by our surroundings under the flimsy rays of early May sun. A few weeks ago, I had visited The Coupe, on 11th street and I found the area around Tubman Elementary School so charming, I stored it in mind for the next time I was in brunchie mode. Wonderland Ballroom, which I’ve heard has bottomless mimosas during this time, is on that corner, overlooking a little park where people bring their dogs to run around and play. The Paisley Fig is a new place with an even newer brunch menu right next door, and it also has a great outdoor patio and some delicious steak and eggs, by the looks of what were on the plates I stared at hungrily. Unfortunately, brunch row were either no longer serving breakfast or full, so we kept walking around until it occurred to us to check out The Heights, back on 14th.
When we got there the hostess assured us theirs lasts until 4pm (God bless D.C.). The interior of the place is impressive, with high ceilings, a giant clock behind the fully stocked bar, and a long dark wood counter facing the latter. The outdoor patio is nice as well, though a bit segregated from public space by potted greenery. Service is very friendly, though our waiter seemed a bit new to the game – frazzled and forever apologetic, bringing bread out with the appetizer and the entree only 2-3 minutes later. I ordered a Bloody Mary to get things started.
Therein laid my first mistake. Instead of taking advantage of the menu’s “Choose Your Own Adventure” option, in which you pick everything from the alcohol base (vodka, gin, tequila) to spice level, to condiments to toppings (such as pickled ginger and crispy onion strings), I went for one of the house special bloodies, the Dirty Harry. This came out pretty darn bland, with horseradish vodka, olive juice, celery and blue cheese crumbles. Sure, the base was spicy and clean enough to wake me up a bit, but that is pretty much a given in the case of any bloody. The blue cheese was applied sparingly to the top and didn’t add too much of that pungent pizazz I was expecting from it. Far from being dirty enough for me, I’d say this Harry was pretty standard.
As an appetizer, I ordered the Fried Green Tomatoes with curried goat cheese and root vegetables, which my roommate recommended after having tried the dish a while back. This was by far my favorite thing part of the meal and it makes sense that they even use the stuff in a few of their sandwiches. Thick, very meaty slices of green tomato, which have a fantastic and unexpectedly firm texture, juicy without being too watery for the dry breadcrumb crust. It is mildly sweet and moist and lush, and holds its ground perfectly instead of falling apart or becoming limp after frying. The breadcrumb coating is also pretty good, flavored well with herbs, coarse but not too rough, fried to a nice color and crunch. It kind of reminded me of when my mom breads and fries slices of eggplant, either to pile into a parm or just to have around at the house to snack on throughout the day. The sauce was of curried goat cheese, which had a great heat and spice to go along with the tangy taste of the mushy soft cheese, though the flavors of the sauce clashed a tad with the earthy, more mild nature of the cubed beets. There was a way too sweet tomato sauce on the plate as well, which didn’t really belong flavor-wise. The core ingredient was great, though maybe just adding either the curry goat cheese or the roots veggies (and leaving the red sauce out altogether) might have made it a little less busy and more enjoyable.
My roommate ordered (and generously let me try some of) the Crab Cake Egg Benedict, which was a loosely packed puck of fresh crabmeat on a toasted English muffin, topped with a fluffy white poached egg and a hefty ladle of béchamel, served with homefries. This was on their Mother’s Day menu, but it seems like they have it most Sundays. I can’t really complain about this one too much. The cakes were great in that they were not breaded at all (or if so, in a way that was hardly perceptible), allowing the texture and natural sweetness of the fresh crab to shine through. Some strands of crab even touched the grill directly and ended up crisp and caramelized, a very satisfying texture. Eggs were poached nicely, with a still firm layer holding in silky, thick yolk which oozed over the crab when sliced into. Béchemel was smooth and even, a little bland in flavor but, well, it’s béchemel. The only issue we both had with the dish was that the muffin on which the crab and egg were seated was a bit too rigid and chewy. It could have been toasted a bit more to achieve a crunchy contrast against the soft, buttery crab and so that it would be a less of a hassle to cut. Homefries were good, with bits of roasted pepper and sauteed onions in there – a bit oily for my blood but otherwise not bad.
When I asked our waiter whether he preferred their Cuban Sandwich or the Grilled Lamb Burger, he seemed pretty confident in answering with lamb. Just as well, since I really was in the mood for a giant, juicy slab of meat after having peeked that steak omelet at the Paisley Fig. He recommended that I add some feta goat cheese, which I agreed to. I’ll start on a good note, with the fries, which were excellent. They were crispy and oily and seasoned well, more crispy little bits than big beefy wedges, exactly how I like them. The burger, however, was bland and uninspiring, especially considering what I was expecting, having ordered lamb. I feel like those who order a lamb burger instead of the beef or turkey variety do so because they want a little bit extra – they can handle the complexity of contrast between that bleating mineral zing-zang musk of lamb (reinforced by some slightly bitter garlic, perhaps) and the tartness of goat cheese or yoghurt or the fresh coolness of mint and cucumber. This burger fell just short, and it made me wish I had chosen any of their otherwise great looking brunch options instead. The meat was dry, which is crucial, in the case of ground lamb, for it not to be. The flavor wasn’t as concentrated as I would’ve liked, probably because most of the fat and juices had been removed. The feta goat cheese was okay, but not the fluffy white snow I was expecting, and the acidity wasn’t defined well enough for the cheese to stand up to the meat. They also charged me extra for it which is ridiculous, since the tzatziki sauce which also came with the burger (on the side though, just in case!) had very little flavor. Although it had the watery texture of yoghurt – and I honestly would’ve preferred it be 100% butter based, given how dry the meat was – it had none of that tangy, fermented acidity. Sure, there was some garlic worked into it and yes, there were chunks of cucumber sticking out here and there to make it look official, but really it tasted like garlic-powder enhanced sour cream. The tomato and lettuce were cool but I ended up not even adding them to the burger, because I didn’t want the lamb flavor getting lost even more. The only redeeming quality of the thing was the bread they used, which was a delightfully fluffy, buttery roll with some toasted shallots on the top bun. But really, it’s rare that I’m hungry enough to order a burger and it’s upsetting when what I get is so mediocre. Bad choice with this one.
Overall I wasn’t too impressed with this meal, though technically it really wasn’t the brunch I set out for after all. Maybe if I hadn’t strayed into the lunch sandwich and had just stuck with their egg-protein-starch options I would’ve been better off. Next time!