I’ve been fascinated with Balkan cuisine and culture since visiting Budapest last year. I was drawn to the colorful culture and the spicy combination of flavors in my meals. During my travels, I discovered paprika is taken quite seriously in the region, and considered a staple in Hungarian cooking. Unfortunately, the TSA confiscated the smoked paprika sauce as I carelessly forgot to check in the medium-sized bottle on my return flight.
There are a few great spots that serve Balkan cuisine in the D.C. area—the first being Ambar. (Read our review here.) After that great experience, we were thrilled to return to try Baba, the edgy basement bar beneath Ambar to see what was in store.
I’d heard Baba gets rather rowdy come nightfall, as it’s become a popular destination for nightlife in Clarendon. A live DJ spinning tracks converts the daily breakfast and coffeeshop into a club in the evenings. Baba means grandmother in Serbian, yet this spot does not seem like a place most grandmothers would frequent. This irony was not lost on us, as Victor, one of the proprietors, explained that Baba is the outspoken, sassy grandmother that strives to be the life of the party. Not only does she rise early, she also hits the dance floor and is the last to call it a night. Baba seems like quite the role model, if you ask me.
We began with a round of berry mimosas to jump start our day. We immediately noticed fresh berry puree was used instead of artificial flavored juice—which was much appreciated. Baba also offers orange and peach mimosas.
Baba has an eclectic, edgy vibe with a bright tiled floor and mirrored ceiling panes that bounce off light. Mismatched chairs and a quirky wall of gold-framed portraits provide a warm, inviting atmosphere as if we were in a family member’s home.
Kara and I shared the arugula and avocado salad for a starter. The salad was beautifully presented and much larger than anticipated. It was fresh and delicious. The walnuts provided a much-needed crunch to the greens, and the cranberry vinaigrette pulled together the sweet and tangy flavor combination. All of the items on the brunch menu are affordably priced between $6-9.
Next, I ordered the “Eat Your Veggies” sandwich. I followed instructions and I did not regret this decision. The panini pressed sandwich was packed with flavor and warmed to perfection. The panini also had the most delicious filling with paprika, herb kajmak, a blend of creamy cheeses and grilled zucchini, cherry tomatoes, and kale. It was topped with warm, baked potato chips for a little something extra.
At this point, we switched to the peach mimosas, which were just as fresh as the berry. We highly recommend the bubbly beverages at Baba.
Kara had to try the Balkan twist on bacon and eggs. The open-faced sandwich had an array of veggies and cheese and was topped with a fried egg. It had just the right amount of kick and cooked well. She devoured it immediately.
Victor recommended I try the vegetarian version of Kara’s entree and brought out the Balkan eggs for me as well. He told us stories of him growing up in Serbia and the way in which his mother would prepare the the open faced sandwich for him. I was in awe and certainly met my expectations at first bite. Sauteed veggies with paprika and other spices take this egg sandwich to the next level. The flavors from the red pepper, onion and tomatoes burst through the perfectly fried egg on top.
We couldn’t leave without getting our dessert fix. I ordered a cappuccino to go alongside the sweets. The coffee drinks at Baba are made with La Colombe coffee, which we absolutely love. I was intrigued by the tiramisu oatmeal, which was made with with espresso mascarpone, almond butter, and chocolate granola. The oatmeal was drizzled with maple syrup and topped with fresh prunes. While it looked beyond delicious, it tasted otherwise. Victor advised us to mix the entire dish to taste all of the flavors together. It was a little too sweet and flavorful for my taste buds. The tiramisu oatmeal sounded great in theory, but had too many ingredients that didn’t play together well.
Kara is a French toast fiend, so we just had to sneak in a few bites. This stunning French toast fared much better in our opinion and balanced well with the cappuccino. The walnut crumble and Maple-marinated prunes added uniqueness and appeal. The mascarpone on top of the French toast was amazing. We highly recommend ordering the French toast. We loved nearly everything we ordered and truly appreciated the quality service along with the delicious offerings.
The Bitches say: B+. For a fun ambiance, fresh and flavorful food, and amazing service served with a side of personal stories.
2901 Wilson Blvd.,
Arlington, VA 22201
Baba serves brunch every day from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.