Tuesday, February 22, 2011


A. now lives in Mount Pleasant, but she left her heart in Bloomingdale, a leafy neighborhood near Howard University. Though the weather was not cooperating, I wanted to check out my friend's haunt, Big Bear Cafe, which is also lauded for its amazing lattes.

The cafe, on the corner of R and 1st street, NW, is the quintessential neighborhood coffee shop, complete with dancing-by-the-counter regulars, artwork on every available wall, staff that remembers your usual, and people deep in conversation nursing counter culture coffee or, thanks to a recently acquired license, a selection of funky beers. It takes a confident kitchen to have a single dinner option - Big Bear does sandwiches until 5 PM, but it's 8 PM closing time calls for a minimal dinner menu.

I got there a bit past 5.30 to find A. there, hard at work. Though the tables run small, there were plenty of people there with laptops. In the spirit of a true coffeehouse, the dim light and ambient music creates an atmosphere that lends itself more to chatting and people watching through its tall windows than anything else. A. had lured me there with the offer of chili and organic beer - two things that hit the spot on a frigid winter evening.

The chili - $8, including extra corn bread, is a lovely example of the possibilities of vegetarian food. Beans floating in soupy mix of spice (Chipotle) and acid (vinegar, and hints of lime), topped with a bit of sharp cheese and some cilantro. The corn bread is delicious, and I crumbled mine on the bowl for some extra texture. A. chose the porter and I had the Framboise, a Belgian raspberry beer that is refreshing and so aromatic it gave the chili a run for its money. At $9 it is the second most expensive on the menu, but the bottle is bigger than the $5 options. The chili was delicious but the size of the portion does not make for a hearty dinner.

While this is a coffeehouse that is very much embedded into its neighborhood, the quality of ingredients and the friendly service make it well worth the visit. For us interlopers, Big Bear Cafe is very easy to get to on the G2 bus, and on Sunday they are the anchor for the Bloomingdale Farmer's Market.

Big Bear Cafe on Urbanspoon
Big Bear Cafe
1700 1st St NW
Washington, DC 20001

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