These days, Shaw is the epicenter of Washington’s dining scene, so it’s hard to imagine we need another restaurant in the already condensed neighborhood. There’s a preponderance of upscale yet accessible, impressive dining options: Hazel, The Dabney, Kinship, Convivial, Tiger Fork, Chaplin’s, Kyirisan, and Espita all come to mind. Despite the competitive landscape, Unconventional Diner, located on 9th Street adjacent to the Convention Center, is a welcome addition and is already finding success. We read various stellar reviews, so it was no surprise that when we arrived for brunch on a spring Saturday, there was a line out the door.
Fortunately, I had a reservation, and I was brunching with Natalie, my friend and the fashion blogger behind The Fashionably Broke. Natalie tends to make her brunch choices based on the restaurant’s aesthetic, and I knew Unconventional Diner would not disappoint. The space is nothing short of stunning, and divided into three distinct spaces. To the left, a bustling, bright restaurant with brightly colored walls and an open kitchen. In the center, a chic, gold and blush bar with mid-century modern vibes and glamorous touches. To the right, lies the breakfast-focused part of the space, which features a coffee and pastry bar and a mod 1960s aesthetic, complete with fuchsia floral walls.
We struggled to decide between the pink breakfast room and the bar, but ultimately chose to sit at the bar because of the beautiful sunlight flooding in and the convivial atmosphere.
As Bitches do, we each started with four beverages, each ordering the same.
Black coffee, check.
Green juice, check
Brunch cocktail, check.
In this instance, we appreciated that our server was speedy with the beverages and that the menu offered both juices and intriguing cocktails. The green juices were of the kale and spinach variety, but sufficiently sweetened by other natural juices to be palatable.
Our hibiscus Bellinis were utter perfection: frothy, light, and not too sweet. There’s nothing worse than a saccharine brunch beverage.
Of course, we ordered both the bagel lox and the avocado toast, both of which are deconstructed, DIY dishes. This is a trend on Chef David Deshais menus, as his PB&J foie gras is similar—you slather the ingredients yourself. This is a trend I much enjoy, as I prefer to be able to select as much of any ingredient, spread, or dip as I like.
The Everything Lox is a lovely poached egg surrounded by cream cheese and capers, in a smooth and creamy dip, albeit with an egg in the center. It’s served with a side of Everything Bagel bites, allowing you to dip and slather as you see fit.
Similarly, the avocado toast is a plate of beautiful, bright and fresh chunks of avocado with fresno chilis and a confit duck egg in the center. Separately, there are rounded toasts for you to DIY your mini avo toast.
The must-order dish is certainly the chicken and waffles, which provides an inventive take on the classic dish. The waffle is a moist, flavorful cornbread, and I was puzzled with each bite as to how Chef made this happen, as cornbread is most often dry. It was exceptional—I wish all my waffles to be cornbread waffles going forward. The fried chicken was also perfect: crispy outside, moist, tender meat on the inside. The absolute kicker on this dish was the habanero butter, which added a spicy, buttery deliciousness to the whole thing.
The Moroccan grits was a unique, and popular menu item. This massive platter—the portions at this diner are generous—was filled with grits, and a heaping helping of broccolini and radishes, as well as flavorful lamb sausage and a beautiful egg, sunny side up. This is a must-order for the hungry folk—or anyone looking for a dish that you wouldn’t find elsewhere.
Of course, it’s not a brunch without carbs, so we ordered the blueberry pancakes—because you should always order the pancakes. This beautiful stack of hotcakes was beautifully presented—five cakes stacked high and covered with blueberry compote. Far from simplistic, these pancakes were accented candied lemon and topped with an incredibly creamy and flavorful vanilla marscapone. They were beyond decadent.
The Bitches say: A+. For incredible fare, a seriously chic yet playful aesthetic, and lovely service. Put Unconventional Diner on the top of your “to brunch” list as this is a wonderful dining experience.
Unconventional Diner serves brunch Saturdays and Sundays from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. (202) 847-0122