Valeria and I had the great pleasure of attending the wedding of an old friend’s daughter in Washington DC this month. The main affair was, of course, the wedding and events around it, but we had a little free time walk around the Georgetown area on a beautiful early spring day.
We arrived just in time for lunch. We knew we had a big dinner that night with the wedding party, so we didn’t want to go too crazy at lunch. A place called the Cafe Deluxe was just across the street from out hotel and the menu looked promising, so off we went. It turned out to be a fine choice. A quick bite, and then we would be off to explore the area.
I felt a wave of nostalgia when I saw tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich on the menu. This was a childhood favorite. Of course, growing up in the midwest in a lower-middle class family meant the tomato soup came out of a Campbell’s can and the grilled cheese was made with cellophane-wrapped American cheese slices between two slices of white bread. My culinary horizons and tastes have certainly changed and expanded in the decades since Mom made those for me, but I still find a slice of American cheese melts as beautifully as anything on a sandwich. (I haven’t had Campbell’s tomato soup in years, so I have no idea how that might strike my palate today.)
This presentation, however, was not from my childhood lunch table.
The soup was thick and, while not exactly chunky, it had texture. It also had a lot more flavor, specifically of tomatoes and basil, than I remember coming from a can. There was a little spicy kick, too; perhaps a little red pepper flake cooked in? The smear of Crème Fraiche on top added a cool contrast to the hot soup.
The grilled cheese was also a modernized version of the classic I grew up eating. There were slices of both white and yellow America cheese and, yes, it still has that ooey-gooey melted character. The bread, however, was thick slices of sourdough with more texture than any supermarket pre-sliced loaf. It was also a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich. I have noticed over my years of traveling across the USA that some places tend to make grilled cheese sandwiches with just cheese, while others places include fresh tomato slices between the cheese and bread. I should have taken better notes on where I saw each type to see if it is a regional thing or more random. Some day I’ll have research it.
French fries were not a normal part of my grilled cheese with tomato soup experience, but why not? And these were good fries. Thin cut, crispy outside, tender inside and piping hot.
Valeria, having grown up in Russia and Noway, had no such sentimental attachment to my meal. She ordered, as she often does, a healthier (or at least lighter) option: Grilled Sea Bass.
This selection, while perhaps more virtuous, was much less successful. The fish was badly overcooked, with the thin tail section almost tough and the thick parts just dry. That was a shame as it was a beautiful piece of fish that had been nicely seasoned. The couscous, which had been cooked with golden raisins, was very nice. The kale, which had been braised with apple cider, apples and red peppers, also reminded me of some childhood dishes, but, this time, not in a good way. It remained me of the overcooked veggies that came out of a can that were the norm when I was growing up.
Nevertheless, we satisfied our hunger (Valeria stole some of my soup and sandwich, of which there was plenty) and after being up very early to catch our flight, decided to rest and catch up on a few things in our hotel room before the big dinner that night.
After we posted a note about our visit here on Facebook, a friend who used to live and work in this area said that Cafe Deluxe was one of her favorite spots. Perhaps our experience with the fish course was a one-off and other items on the menu would be more like the soup and sandwich. We may give it another shot next time we are in the area.
Cafe Deluxe, West End, Washington DC
Address: 2201 M St. NW, Washington, DC 20037
Phone: (202) 524-7815
Dress Code: Casual
Price Range: $30 or less
Hours: Breakfast: Monday through Friday 6:30 am to 11:00 am
Brunch: Saturday & Sunday: 7:00 am to 11:00 am
Lunch: Daily: 11:00 am to 5:00 pm
Dinner: Sunday through Thursday: 5:00 pm to 11:00 pm
Friday & Saturday: 5:00 pm to 12:30 am
Credit Cards: AMEX, Discover, MasterCard, Visa
The author is a member of the Amazon Affiliate program but otherwise has no affiliation with any of the businesses or products described in this article.
All images were taken with a Sony Alpha a6500 camera and a Sony-Zeiss SEL1670Z Vario-Tessar T E 16-70mm (24-105mm full frame equivalent) F/4 ZA OSS lens or Sony 35mm (52mm full frame equivalent) F/1.8 E-Mount Lens using ambient light. Post-processing in Adobe Lightroom® and Adobe Photoshop® with Nik/Google plugins.