It was to be a sunny weekend of bopping about to places outside of the District, and so wheels were suddenly necessary for this car-less girl. This predicament found me in the DCA car rental lot on Friday evening, squealing out of the parking garage, windows down, music blasting.
On Friday, a Godbaby visit in the ‘burbs. Saturday, Sweetlife, baby. It was my first time at the local music festival, and little did I know we would be the only people over the age of 19 (yeesh). Alas, my friends and I made the best of it, and thoroughly enjoyed the music, the food, and the mud.
But before we trekked to Merriweather, we stopped for brunch. Being car-less and therefore completely inept at any sort of navigation outside of the District’s numbered and lettered streets, we agreed to meet a few friends at the Carlyle in Shirlington Village, thinking, that’s on the way to Merriweather, right?
We zipped across the bridge and down the highway, parallel parked like a boss, and nipped into the enormous restaurant, wondering how on earth we were going to find our friends.
The Carlyle is like a very fancy Denny’s, with its slick booths, massive diner-esque menus, and weird lighting. Also, the servers were probably the nicest I’ve ever encountered. People are just so damn happy out in suburbia.
We settled into a squeaky booth and ordered massive iced coffees, which arrived with spare glasses of ice cubes.
As I was driving that day, I skipped the cocktail menu, but my cohorts did not. They ordered the bellini cocktail (with chilled peach nectar and champagne) and the Absolut Peppar Bloody Mary, which had Old Bay seasoning on the rim. Neither were much to speak about, though we all seemed to agree the straws in this joint must be made of gold, as we had to continually beg and plead for them.
The menu is big, as was expected, but there were only four or five proper brunch dishes on it. The rest was an eclectic mix of randomness. Tex Mex spring rolls for brunch, anyone? It was more of a lunch menu, really.
I wanted to order the sticky buns, as the bakery next door is highly touted, but they were out! Instead, we went for the “fresh” berries and mascarpone cream, which arrived covered in a sticky syrup with a sad dollop of thick cream—far too sweet to finish.
In fact, the best thing we got the entire brunch was the complimentary sugary donut holes that were dropped on the table before our meal. They were piping hot, soft, and delicious. Melt-in-your-mouth baked goodness.
The reason for this is because the Best Buns Bread Company (also part of the Great American Restaurant group and dubbed BBBC) is in the adjoining store next to Carlyle, and it supplies all of the baked goods and desserts for the Carlyle’s menus.
We did order another appetizer that also unexpectedly lended itself to the “Tex Mex” theme. The blue crab fritters, which were served in a soup of roast red peppers and grilled corn salsa. It was truly odd. Just weird crunchy balls, completely hard to eat. Inside, the crab smelled overly fishy. The sauce, errr salsa, was just okay.
The BBBC Brioche French toast was really thick but still rather small (it’s a shame when that happens). It was covered in granola crumbs and drizzled yogurt and came with fake maple syrup and an overabundance of scrambled eggs and potato slice. Truly mediocre.
In fact, the eggs tasted like powdered eggs. They do have eggbeaters upon request and we wondered if we got that by mistake. Even sadder news: The bacon tasted like fake-on. Plasticy, fatty, with a processed salt flavor. Not good, barely edible, and barely reminded me of meat, let alone bacon.
I ordered the steak and eggs benedict, thinking it would be a tender slab of filet mignon with a perfectly poached egg on top. I should have known better when the server asked how I’d like my eggs. “Um, isn’t a benedict always with poached eggs? Isn’t that the point?” She said, “ok, poached it is.” Rather suspicious indeed.
The dish arrived looking lovely, with a pair of asparagus tips draped over the dish. But when I dug in, the asparagus was soggy and cold. The steak was stringy and chewy. The eggs were undercooked. The Hollandaise was tasteless. It was set on a piece of greasy brioche toast. After a few bites, the entire thing turned into one big plate of mush. Kind of gross. OK, really gross.
The crab cakes were touted as “jumbo” but they seemed regular size to me. They arrived with a ball of cole slaw, which tasted fresh and had plenty of dill. Also on the side, real french fries—as opposed to their home fries—which were thin and yummy. Hooray, they can fry things properly at a diner!
The short-smoked salmon filet came with asparagus (again, only two spears, rather strange) and their home fries. The pommery mustard sauce that was on the salmon was like regular dijon mustard you would use on a hot dog, but watered down. No real flavor other than mustard. Thankfully, the salmon was cooked perfectly and tasted great on its own.
The home fries, which appeared on nearly everyone’s plate, were deep fried potato slices with cooked—not caramelized—onions. The onions should have been caramelized, as they were half cooked. The home fries were greasy and bland.
We rolled out, rather unsatisfied, but happy to be back in the sunshine. Off to Merriweather we went (and we later realized, Shirlington was the complete wrong direction from where we needed to be—massive fail) for better food and music.
The Bitches say: D. Stick to the dinner menu, skip the brunch, unless you’re just going for baked goods and friendly people.
4000 Campbell Ave.
Carlyle serves brunch Saturdays and Sundays.