Culinary Dispatches from the Restaurant Refugee

Big Bear Cafe is kinda like a movie about something truly novel and meaningful – it doesn’t have to be that good because it’s Important. The Eckington area coffeehouse, that is part bistro and part bar, is important because the neighborhood has been vastly under-served and ignored by restaurants for the better part of four decades. It is an important amenity for her neighbors, and an important signal to the larger community that the revitalization of this neighborhood has really taken root.

But praise the lord and pass the Tanzanian Peaberry coffee, they’re not just important, they’re good. Coffee and Tea are given great attention and care here – rotating offerings of several artisinal blends that are brewed in styles that best show the bean or leaf. The limited menu doesn’t offer anything you would not expect at a small coffeehouse (pastries and panninis, soups and salads.) But they deliver culinary virtue by staying within their small kitchen lane. The food here is satisfying and comforting like Coltrane on a rainy Sunday.

To the other charms, we should add that the space itself is gorgeously understated and somehow evokes both an urban and rustic feel. This place is easily worth the walk/short drive for people in the area; it’s also worth a crosstown drive for anyone who really likes coffee, or believes that independent places really matter or are still important.


Restaurants like Circa* give credence to the oft repeated notion that the only things that matter for a restaurant are location, location, location. Leaving aside the fact that that mantra is offensive to people who dedicate careers to this industry, Circa makes me wonder if it has any substantively meritorious characteristics besides sitting on one of the most trafficked corners in DC.

The layout makes the place feel very crowded even if you’re the first person in the door. I’ve never been in when the lighting wasn’t sunglasses bright, or reading light dark. And they seem not to know the a difference between serving comfort food and having your guests eat like it’s 1999… and yet they’re crowded open to close. Apparently, Lauriol Plaza has some competition.

* link deliberately omitted due to obnoxious music on their website and a host of other sins of suckitude.


Two Quick Closing Thoughts:

Restaurant 3 has the best Adult Happy Hour in North Arlington. It runs until the commuter friendly time of 8pm, their very good selection of draft beers are $3, and signature cocktails are $5. The bar bites are tasty and just heavy handed enough to soak up the booze. I really like this place for a drink or three.

On my first visit to the Carlyle Club a couple of years ago, I was really excited about the old-school supper club with big bands and dancing. By the time my friend and I left, the choice was between talking to a manager about the awful food I really didn’t want to pay for, or paying the check as quickly as possible to make it Restaurant Eve before their kitchen closed. We made it to Eve. I recently gave Carlyle another try; the only things that changed in the intervening period: my ballroom dancing has gotten a little bit rustier, and we bolted for Eve faster.



3 Responses to Culinary Dispatches from the Restaurant Refugee

  1. laloca says:

    funny you should mention restaurant 3 – in the several times I’ve been (most recently Sunday night), I’ve found their salads and entrees to be mediocre to downright inedible. to the point I yelped about it, actually. the bar food I’ve had, though, has been decent. I don’t grok how their kitchen can be so schizophrenic.

    The sentence that I almost used to finish that paragraph was “I wish I could get more excited about the rest of their menu too.” So, yeah, I get where you’re going with that.

  2. Vittoria says:

    i hate circa. that is all.

  3. i love big bear ::hugs:: AND
    lets grab drinks at 3 sooner rather than later…im a fan the last time i was there the bartender made me a drink that might have included vodka infused with gummy bears…;-)

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