I didn’t think you could get a better brunch deal than Masa 14’s $35unlimited food/bottomless drinks. But over in Dupont, Agora is vying for the top spot by dipping just below that price threshold and giving it all up for $30 a person.
Sticking to the small plates theme—Greek and Turkish cuisine instead of Asian fusion at Masa—this “Excess Brunch” requires an entire afternoon of eating, ordering, drinking, ordering, repeating.
On this particular brunch, I invited the usual Bitches, but also Kiara Pesante, who I had been tweeting back and forth with for a while, and who seemed to be my social media kindred spirit. Indeed, the PR pro showed up with style and sass. We were all dragging that Saturday morning, and she bumped up the energy tenfold and made it fun.
We ended up sitting at our window table for most of the afternoon, and thankfully there was no effort by the staff to hurry us out of there. In fact, they were pleased to have us, as there were only a few other tables full in the entire restaurant that Saturday. I know the brunch is new, but surely people must see that tantalizing “$30 unlimited” sign at the front.
Online, Agora describes itself as a “sensory pleasure oasis,” which, frankly, makes me cringe. Inside, the place is actually really lovely and chic. It’s got exposed brick walls and a sleek bar, interesting light fixtures, even a unisex bathroom. Next year they’re opening the second floor as an additional dining room, but I’m anticipating the patio and warm weather more. That sidewalk patio, right on 17th street, would be perfect for an outdoor brunch.
The brunch menu was designed by executive chef Ghassan Jarrouj and chef Hasim Guler, who is the father of Agora’s owner, Latif Guler, who grew up in Foca, Turkey. Loaded with Mediterranean food—and a spattering of odd American dishes—it’s focused on spreads, cheeses, salads, cold meze, flat breads, and egg dishes. Points for this: Guler ships in all of the restaurant’s olive oil from his Turkish hometown.
The bottomless deal isn’t limited to just mimosas and Marys; you can order your fill of house vodka, gin, rum or tequila cocktails, which is a nice change (though a little stiff for my brunch taste). The best part about this bottomless is that they aren’t stingy—there’s actually a decent amount of champagne in those mimosas, and they’re readily refilled out of pitchers. In addition, you can get Turkish coffee made to order in Sade (no sugar), Az Sekerli (with a touch of sugar), Orta Sekerli (with a medium amount of sugar), or Cok Sekerli (with plenty of sugar, very sweet). Love that.
We were ready to begin the “endless” eating. As soon as we sat down, piping hot bread arrived. So we ordered the requisite hummus, which was tasteless and marginally disappointing. We left it unfinished while we moved on to the cheeses, which were extremely tasty.
Kașar, from Kars, Turkey, was aged sheep’s milk cheese, served with a rich orange marmalade. Tulum, from Erzincan, Turkey, was another sheep’s milk cheese, but full of flavor and butter. It was served with honeycomb, which was unique enough to pique our interest. The feta, from İzmir, Turkey, was creamy and mild and served with olives. All three were delicious and perfect to start.
To pair with the cheese (though we didn’t know it when we ordered it), was the Tűrkish Pastırma, which is super-thinly sliced imported cured loin of beef with olive oil. It looks like prosciutto, and balanced out the bread and cheeses.
The salads were refreshing, and so thick with ingredients, they’re almost spreads unto themselves. There’s arugula salad and beet salad, but my favorite was the Kaşık Salad, made with diced tomatoes, onions, parsley, cucumber, feta cheese, black olive, olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, and Turkish red crushed peppers. It’s like the Turkish pico de gallo—great for a topping or on bread.
We didn’t really go near the mezes (who wants eggplant or Swiss chard for brunch?). Instead, the egg dishes were what filled us up. There’s scrambled eggs, poached eggs, and eggs Benny—all with an option to make it Mediterranean with Turkish sausage or cured loin of beef.
There are two types of omelets to try. The manchego, basil and tomato omelet was good, but the feta cheese and spinach omelet was divine. Each were served with potatoes. Unfortunately, the potatoes aren’t worth mentioning. It was like they were just on the plate to put something else on the plate. Totally unnecessary. The feta and spinach omelet could have held its own.
The best dishes (and the ones we really wanted to take home, but weren’t allowed) were the flatbreads. Our favorite? The Sucuklu Pide, a wood-fired flat bread topped with spicy Turkish sausage and pesto. There are also options with ground beef, lamb, or cheeses. Unsurprisingly, the bread was delicious, and rolled up on the sides to keep all the ingredients inside. We couldn’t get enough of these, and ordered more and more.
For the unadventurous diner, there are some basic American breakfast dishes available to order with no limits. We attempted the French toast out of brunching obligations, but the plate definitely wasn’t cleared, and not many remember even having it. A few at our table tried the grilled cheese and tomato soup. Both items were good, but even though the cheese wasn’t classic cheddar, there wasn’t a whole lot of flavor to the dish, compared with the other plates on the table.
The Bitches say: A. Great brunch deal, chic atmosphere, lovely patio for summertime. Not every dish is a win, but enough are to make this great.
1527 17th Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20036