There’s not much better for a yuppie in Washington than a day spent at Union Market, shopping and brunching. That was the lovely summer Saturday I planned with my two friends, Adrienne and Daniela. Of course, a mere day at the market wasn’t sufficiently eccentric for the three of us, so it was decided we would all bicycle there and that we must wear hats. After a lovely summer cycle through Washington, we made it to the market and were ready for cool drinks.
With our sun hats and market totes, we entered the busy market, which was bustling with couples and young families with strollers shopping for wares and eating bagels at Buffalo & Bergen and oysters at Rappahannock.
We settled into a roomy booth at Bidwell, the only formal restaurant in Union Market. Bidwell is beautiful, with high ceilings, warehouse flooring, wood paneling, and Edison light bulbs. It’s industrial chic yet still cozy and welcoming, a perfect style of decor to fit with the rest of the market. The restaurant serves up responsibly sourced Southern cuisine with a twist.
We were offered a tour of the aeroponic rooftop garden, which provides 60 percent of the produce, herbs, and spices used by the restaurant. Aeroponic growing refers to growing plants in the air, without the use of soil, which is actually responsible for much of the diseases caused in plants, we were informed.
On the blindingly bright white roof behind the recognizable Union Market sign, white futuristic towers were lined in rows. The towers were filled with tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, melons, and even arrays of mixed greens sprouting out of the sides of the towers.
As we perused the set-up, the manager, Scott, walked us through the growing processes. Exploring the strange, innovative farming environment, it was easy to recognize the rows and rows of easy-to-recognize herbs: basil, chives, rosemary, parsley, and more.
Back downstairs, we perused the menu. The menu offers a cheese and meat plate, sharing bites, oysters cooked, roasted or raw; entrees like burgers and half-roasted chicken, and eggs and other fare. The brunch offerings include omelettes, a Bidwell burrito, granola, Brioche French toast, and a tempting Raclette grilled cheese, with white truffle, sourdough, and a slow-poached eggs. On this particular occasion, there was also a BBQ special, with the Chef outside grilling up ribs and chicken.
While the ladies had cocktails, a mimosa for Miss Adrienne and a Bloody Mary for Daniela, I opted for the seasonal lemonade, which was a watermelon, strawberry, basil concoction that’s perfect for summer babies of all ages. The basil had also made a quick journey from the rooftop above.
The mimosas are offered bottomless, but the Bloody Marys are not, as is often the case with restaurants. Daniela enjoyed her Bloody Mary, which was spicy and served with green beans. Adrienne’s mimosa tasted just right with equal parts freshly squeezed orange juice and bubbly.
While we were on the roof, Scott picked a cucumber, which was given an ice bath, chilled, and then tossed in a light, creamy ranch dressing with fresh heirloom tomatoes. This off-the-menu salad was a special treat that proved how fresh and flavorful the aeroponic rooftop veggies are.
We all ordered entrees, under the premise we would all share. The waitress forgot our appetizers, so our entrees arrived first.
Daniela, who is a NoMa local, has frequented Bidwell before, and to try something new, decided on the weekend special: barbeque cooked on the patio, out of a homemade smoker. She went with the BBQ chicken special, which originally came with coleslaw. The chicken was tender, the sauce not overwhelmingly sweet (this coming from a Kansas City barbeque snob), and the portion substantial.
The group opted to switch out the coleslaw for a side of biscuits, but perhaps the coleslaw would have been the better choice. The biscuits were dry, and tasted of too much baking soda tossed in the batter. We were all pretty excited about the biscuits, so it was a shame that they were dry, and came without butter.
Adrienne ordered the very vegetarian mushroom, spinach, and goat cheese omelette, which can also be ordered “pastel” – comprised of three whites and only one yolk. The omelet was significant in size and therefore great for sharing. While the texture came out light and fluffy, the typically distinctive goat cheese and mushroom flavors failed to fully shine through. However, the side salad was light, fresh, and lovely.
I opted for the steak and eggs Benedict, which came served with a side salad. The dish was beautifully presented, and served in a traditional fashion. Perfectly toasted English muffins, layered with a generous helping of moist, flavorful hanger steak, poached eggs and a light, lovely Hollandaise. This Hollandaise was truly delicious, not heavy and sticky like so many we’ve sampled. However, the eggs were poached too softly, and were thus a bit too ooey-gooey for our liking.
The crispy deviled eggs, with roasted Jalapeno, sounded more flavorful than they tasted. They came fried in breadcrumbs, with a homemade Buttermilk dressing. While the breadcrumbs made the deviled eggs a bit dry and took away flavor, the dressing added some of that flavor and moisture back.
The side of sliced bacon, sourced from Hatfield, Pennsylvania, was crispy, thin, and flavorful. It was good, because it was bacon, but not great.
As this was a gluttonous affair, we couldn’t turn down rhubarb pie, served with a crumble top in a skillet with a dollop of ice cream. And, as Adrienne had just celebrated a birthday that Saturday, the pie arrived with a candle and a song. The rhubarb was full of flavor and the dish was moist, sweet and ooey-gooey. The crumble atop the dish was sweet and not dry.
Full and heavy after a big meal, we gleefully ordered a round of iced coffees before our departure.
The Bitches say: B-. We love the ambiance and sustainability ethic at Bidwell. We also love the set-up of the substantial menu and the willingness to innovate. However, several dishes were just lacking that little something, and the service faltered at several points.
1309 5th St. N.E.
Bidwell serves brunch on Saturdays and Sundays from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.