When I called The Libertine to make a brunch reservation, a friendly woman picked up and took down all my information for the table. And then, she tripped. I heard her meep and the phone go scuttling across the restaurant’s floor.
“Are you OK?” I yelled into the phone, feeling completely helpless.
A man picked up the phone, laughing. “Is she OK?!” I shot. “Oh sure,” he laughed. “She’s a klutz.” And then, as the couple was breathlessly giggling at themselves, I started laughing, and soon we were all cackling together.
Too much absinthe at The Libertine? Perhaps; the owners seemed to be losing their balance and having plenty of fun. Maybe that’s because the new Adams Morgan bar is trying to make the green fairy it’s schtick.
The bar offers 30 different types of the liquor, and plenty of cocktails where it’s the key ingredient. Naturally my first order for brunch was “Death in the Afternoon,” a champagne cocktail with that licorice twist. I had just the one and I was loopy.
Even the water was suspect. The big carafes looked innocent enough, but tasted like cucumbers and berries. Are we at the spa? Am I losing my mind? No, they just infuse the water with fruit—a very classy touch for an Adams Morgan dive.
The bartender took a long time to get our drinks and orders, but bless his heart, he was the only staff person we saw the entire time we were there. That being said, he handled the brunch crunch well. And the cocktails were definitely created with care, not rushed.
The Bloody Mary had a cajun kick, with a cayenne rim, olives, and bacon. The Sazerac was served up in a champagne glass but packed a bite.
After a good while, the food arrived. The shrimp and grits came with plenty of large Creole shrimp and sliced Andouille sausage, covered in a thick, red sauce on a plate of smoky cheese grits. It could have been mistaken for pasta sauce on a bed of rice. It was one of the more unusual shrimp and grits dishes out there.
The French toast was made with Brioche bread and with pear butter and cream cheese in the center—a unique take on the typical brunch option. The orange honey marmalade was a nice topper, but overall the dish was a bit soggy.
Our chief complaint was the portion size. Everything was rather small, which was mildly disappointing. The biggest anti-climax was when the chocolate chip pancakes arrived. We were expecting thick flap jacks covered with chocolate, but instead got tiny, thin buttermilk cakes with a bit of crème fraiche, sprinkled chips, and powdered sugar.
We would have been OK with the size (the menu did say they were silver dollar pancakes), but the taste fell flat—we were missing the rich buttermilk texture that we craved.
The one truly substantial dish was the casserole. This personal-sized cheesy hash brown casserole was the biggest and most filling of the lot. In addition, it was served with two fried eggs and ham, making it the best hangover stopper at the table.
We ordered a couple dishes that were on the brunch menu but, when presented, leaned more toward lunch than true brunch. For instance, the cheese and onion grille sounded intriguing—it was said to be served with an absinthe tomato bisque. When it arrived, it very much seemed like ordinary tomato soup and grilled cheese.
We ordered the salad lyonnaise, but were told there was no frisee, so spinach substituted. It was the healthiest of the lot, a simple salad with bacon and teardrop tomatoes. It was topped, of course, with a sunny side up egg, and a roasted shallot vinaigrette that made it tasty.
Everything was nicely presented and sounded amazing on the menu, but mostly fell flat in taste. Exhibit A would be the bacon rolls. Touted as “gooey cinnamon maple rolls laced and topped with bacon,” which, frankly, sounds incredible. In actuality, they were actually just regular cinnamon rolls, a bit dry and overcooked, with a couple of pieces of bacon on top.
If a Libertine is a person who behaves without a sense of responsibility, then it’s no surprise that the chef is taking their chances by creating such an usual brunch menu. It would be—and it sounds—fabulous, but unfortunately the flavor and substance just isn’t there.
The Bitches say: C+ An unusual Cajun brunch menu laced with absinthe that falls a bit flat in the end. We’d suggest going for cocktails.
2435 18th St. N.W.