I have a fond affinity for Maple, a small, independently-owned Italian restaurant in Columbia Heights. The cozy, dark restaurant has dark wooden walls and tables, low ceilings, and sparse decor, but winds up being a cozy, warm space. This may be because the food is cozy: comfortable, house-made pastas like truffle fettuccine and bolognese are on the menu at night, plus a great cocktail program that has a few classic staples, plus more inventive options.
I brunched at Maple nearly five years ago with my friend Edie, who happens to be a cocktail professional. We sat in the window, with beautiful natural light pouring in, and enjoyed craft cocktails and beautiful egg dishes. I returned, nearly five years later, to the same seat, to enjoy craft cocktails and beautiful egg dishes.
On this particular occasion, I was joined by my new friend, Nico, who is an entrepreneur twice over and a photographer, so we share both those attributes. Plus, we both love travel—I had seen amazing photos from his recent trip to Iceland. As I’m headed to Iceland for Labor Day, I wanted to get his must-visit destinations, and he was gracious to oblige.
Nico and I sat down and were greeted by our friendly waitress, Emily, who was simply lovely. Between Emily and Cory, the bartender and manager, the team at Maple was genuine, down-to-earth, and really added to the experience.
There are not one but two coffee cocktails on the menu, the Don Fifi and the Morning Buzz. The Morning Buzz, with espresso and Mocha liqueur, on ice, sounded like the winner. But, in reality it was far, far too sweet. Meanwhile, the Don Fifi was a home-run. This coffee cocktail was made with coffee, scotch, Caffe Moka, bitters, and served in a hot toddy-style glass mug with a handle. It was topped with a house-made, Borschi-infused whipped cream. It was divine—and definitely something that you’d want to drink fireside on a cold winter day.
During our meal, we also tried the classic Sloe Cider, a gin cocktail made with sloe gin, St-Germain, muddied orange, grenadine-soaked cherries, and hard cider. It was beautiful, light, and well-executed. After, I switched to a classic mimosa, which was great—the perfect blend of Champagne and fresh OJ. I was so glad they didn’t use bad bubbly.
The theme at brunch at Maple is bread and eggs—there is a whole lotta both on the menu. Most of the dishes at Maple are served with fresh, grilled ciabatta, and there’s also a ciabatta and mascarpone and honey appetizer. It’s heavy on the gluten.
The other prevailing theme is utterly beautiful eggs—fried or poached, these eggs are just plain pretty. We ordered three egg dishes, opting to share them all between us.
Our first choice was unequivocally the Eggs in Purgatory, served in a skillet with grilled ciabatta on the side. The dish was massive—a spicy red sauce packed with Italian sausage, diced tomatoes, onions, and peppers, and topped with melted layers of fontina cheese. The eggs were beautifully poached—with the yolk streaming onto the plate once we cut open with a fork. While Nico scooped the meat and eggs deliciously onto the bread, I found the dish equally satisfying without.
We also ordered the Baccalo potato cakes—the same dish I had enjoyed five years prior. (Read that review here.) This dish has not changed in the slightest, and that’s a good thing. We need some consistency in this life. The panko-crusted cod and potato cakes were dense and packed with white fish meat. Atop each cake was a perfect sunny-side egg—perfect for sharing between two people. The mixed green salad of spinach and cherry tomatoes was lightly dressed and easy to eat. This dish was perfect then, and remains so now.
We also ordered the pork belly and polenta, with pork jus, sauteed kale, and over-easy eggs. The pork belly was divine, and the polenta plentiful. I appreciated that the polenta was packed with flavor, rather than being a boring mush of corn. The pork belly was also less fatty, and more meaty, which one appreciates when you’ve got a weak stomach after a big night out. (I did not, but I appreciated it nonetheless.)
Lastly, we concluded with the seasonal French toast, served with a strawberry compote, fresh mint, whipped mascarpone cream, and maple syrup. The dish looked pretty, and I was expecting it to be fine. It ended up being nothing short of incredible—the bread was packed with flavorful, and the strawberry compote oh so fresh. We loved ending our great meal on such a high note.
The Bitches say: A. Maple is a tried and true brunch for Columbia Heights residents, foodies, cocktail lovers, or those looking for a solid brunch at a good price. Don’t change a thing.
Maples serves brunch Saturdays and Sundays from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. (202) 588-7442