Professional, unbiased reviews of all kosher restaurants located in the State of Maryland and the District of Columbia.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Cafe 921 - 9.2/10 slices

[UPDATE - 2/23/06 - THE PIKES IS ***CLOSED***]

Café 921 can definitely be considered a superior dining experience. Located in a renovated movie theater similar to the Senator Theater in Baltimore, the Pikes at Café 921 offers a quality meal without pressuring your budget. You might go just to grab a bite, but before you know it, the enticing smells will force you to add a few more items to your plate.

Food Quality: The food served at Café 921 is offered buffet-style, with items served from behind the counter by employees to the customers. The most popular tem at Café 921 is certainly the pizza. 921 serves some of the best pizza that the state of Maryland has to offer. In fact, this critic would even go so far as to say that the Pizza at 921 is better than the famed quality of most New York pizzerias. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. The pizza, made wood-oven style in an authentic wood-oven, comes in 3 sizes, 10”, 12” and 18”. Since there is little difference between a 10” and a 12”, Café 921 would be better served offering a 14” sized pie. There is a wide variety of toppings, and 921 has recently added both pepperoni and turkey (parve, of course) toppings to the list of available offerings to top that delectable, mouth-watering pizza pie. For those interested in low-fat items, Café 921 offers a “make your own salad” option, a unique choice among Maryland kosher restaurants. The salads come in several sizes as well as flavors, including iceberg lettuce, romaine, spinach, and field greens. For salad toppings, interested diners may choose from 3 regular toppings at no charge, such as sprouts, eggs, carrots, et cetera, and then pay $1 more to get tastier toppings such as feta cheese, smoked salmon, and croutons. The lettuce is always crisp and the dressings are hearty and fill you up, leaving only room for dessert. Café 921 also offers small meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner, which often consists of either fried fish or salmon with a topping, or lasagna, as well as several pasta or rice side-dishes. These are usually appetizing but not quite as filling as the pizza or counter items. In addition to the meals, Café 921 offers a very large selection of calzones, sandwiches, and other bread products. You can choose these items from several large display cases, all of which are well lit and the items are clearly listed. If this weren’t enough, Café 921 also offers a sushi bar with a venerable list of offerings to choose from, including a Japanese bagel roll, California roll, sweetheart roll, et cetera. Be sure to tell the people behind the counter if you want ginger, otherwise they will usually just serve you wasabi. Since I eat at Café 921 so often, I have fallen into the habit of ordering the same thing, which is a 10 or 12 inch pizza, and a Japanese bagel roll. The 10” is good for one person but there may be a slice or two left-over if you are not a big eater. The 12” is good for two people to eat a small meal, but if you’re hungry, go for the 18”. The interesting thing about Café 921 pizza, is when most pizzas are boxed up and taken home, put in the fridge overnight for the next day, they tend to lose their flavor and/or taste. This is not so with the 921 pizza. I can order an 18 inch pie, take it home, and put it in the toaster oven the next day or later, and be sure that my pizza will taste just as good as it did when I first ordered it. There are also several selections for desert, including cheesecake and chocolate mouse, all of which are excellent and freshly made. However, these tend to be costly and thus, I rarely order these items. 10 slices.

Service Quality: Your pizza will be delivered to you via one of the gentlemen working behind the counter. This assures that if you have any complaints or comments regarding your order, you can make it while at your own table, rather than waiting on line at the counter with other people behind you. Also, there are always people ready to take your order, so there is usually little waiting, unless it is peak time. Saturday nights, the restaurant is usually full. Lines are not short, but are not forever either. For pizza or sushi, you can expect to wait five to ten minutes to place your order, depending on the number of people in front of you. For everything else, there is mostly no wait. During off-peak hours, there is usually no wait at all. 8 slices.

Cleanliness: The restaurant is usually pretty spotless. The floors are swept, and the tables wiped down after almost every usage. However, sometimes people leave trays and items on the table that take a while to be removed, but the tables are always kept clean. This reviewer actually observed an ignorant person changing her baby on one of the tables. When the manager was informed, the person was told in a very polite manner that her conduct was inappropriate for a restaurant, and that there was a changing station in the bathroom. Thus, the management has taken care to ensure that the restaurant maintains its high quality throughout. 9 slices.

Atmosphere: The atmosphere is probably the best part of the restaurant. Café 921 is located on 921 Reisterstown Road, hence the origin of its name. It is housed in a 1930’s style movie theater, and if you walk to the back, you can see actual movie projectors that were used when the old Pikes Theater was in operation. The restaurant is brightly lit, and has beautiful red wallpaper or paint on the side, complimented by vintage Italian framed posters that add a grand style of ambiance to the eatery. There are signs all over the restaurant, clearly demarcating where customers can find certain items, such as a location for washing, fresh water for drinking or for ice, where to order and pay, and of course, the restrooms. There are a variety of different seating arrangements, including large booths for a group, individual tables, as well as raised round individual tables for an Italian style approach, as well as seating behind the sushi bar, and the regular bar in the back, with a television in the rafters. 10 slices.

Price: The prices for most items on the menu are reasonable. The food is excellent, so even if the items were a little more than average, this would be acceptable. However, the dinner meals served in the corner, as well as the salads, do tend to be a dollar or two more than necessary. The cost of the pizza is appropriate for kosher food, and is very competitive with other area restaurants. 9 slices.

The Pikes at Café 921 earned a total of 9.2 slices. This is a very high mark for a restaurant that is not even a year old. The experience has always been wonderful, and despite the large size of the restaurant, it feels like an authentic Italian eatery would be, even though this reviewer has never been to Italy. (Review by Josh)

921 Reistertown Road, Pikesville, MD 21208

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Thursday, June 16, 2005

Eli's = 7.4/10 hamburgers

Harris, Josh and Adam, a friend, ate at Eli’s, the new restaurant which just recently opened up in Dupont Circle. The restaurant was started by Sina Soumekhian, the owner of Sienna's in Rockville (look for a review of this restaurant soon!). With the exception of the DC JCC, Eli’s is now the only kosher cuisine available in Washington, D.C., as Stacks, the restaurant formerly owned by high-powered lobbyist Jack Abramoff closed its doors a while back.

Food Quality: Harris, a self-proscribed meat-eating vegetarian, ordered an appetizer of chicken tenders to start, a salad, and then a turkey with avocado club sandwich. The chicken tenders were absolutely delicious and the meat was savory and fried to a mouth-watering finish. These are highly recommended, despite their price. Harris ordered a small salad, but was served one much larger than he expected. There were also several different choices of dressing, including honey-mustard as well as the traditional dressings. However, the waiter had to write out the different dressing types, since there was no listing on the menu. The turkey sandwich did not arrive for quite some time, well after both Josh and Adam’s food arrived, and Harris had to ask the waiter where his meal was. Similar to the tenders, the sandwich was also good, but the turkey was chopped up into small pieces rather than whole slices of turkey. While this may not bother most, it was certainly a unique style. Adam ordered onion rings as an appetizer, and a pastrami-burger for the main course. The onion rings came with the entrée, instead of as an appetizer, and Adam had to ask for more, because there were only 3 on his plate, and he had ordered an appetizer of onion rings, not a side dish. The onion rings were mid-sized and scrumptious. The pastrami-burger was tasty and cooked as requested, yet there were only a few slices of pastrami to add to the flavor. Josh, the “picky” one, ordered a chicken vegetable soup, a regular hamburger, well-done, and requested an overstuffed deli sub on rye with only pastrami and nothing else. The soup was quite savory, and included an interesting mix of flavor, and the small bits of chicken were juicy, rather than dry as most soup chicken tends to be. The hamburger and pastrami sandwich came at the same time, and the burger was similar to Adam’s, and eaten with no complaints. The hamburger order came with “shoe-lace french-fries,” which were cooked and tasty. However, the pastrami sub, despite all inclinations that it be “overstuffed,” barely even had much meat on it at all. There were also potato chips with the order, but as with the meat, only a small quantity of food was deposited on the plate. Josh had to send the sub back to the kitchen with the orders that the quantity of meat on the sandwich be doubled, at the very least. Once this order was fulfilled, the sandwich was acceptable, but no more scrumptious than any typical kosher fast-food restaurant. Unfortunately, there was no dessert menu, and while this may improve in the future, a mark must be detracted for this. 6 Hamburgers.

Service Quality: With regard to Josh’s overstuffed deli sub, since the menu did not list any deli items with just a specific type of meat except for the regular sandwiches, the waiter spent a good 10 minutes attempting to figure out how he could order this from the menu. Instead of just writing down “overstuffed pastrami-sandwich,” and saving time, it was necessary to explain very clearly that a “5th Avenue (overstuffed pastrami sub with mushrooms, vegetables, etc)” was being ordered, less the mushrooms, vegetables, etc. Once the waiter figured this out, he was able to bring the food quickly. The waiter suffered through the orders and returns, and was very gracious in his service, returning several times to ensure that all was well in Denmark. 8 hamburgers

Atmosphere: Overall, the experience could only be described as “quaint.” The restaurant itself was small to mid-sized, and had the feel of a European parlor. There were white stained windows which permitted individuals to sit by them and gaze outside, but did not do a great job of deflecting the sun as it set. The lighting was not great, but gave the room a smaller feel, perhaps adding to a personal touch. The tables were closely spaced, and the backs of our chairs touched those of the people behind us. The noise level was low, but there were small pockets of people having discussions. It was pleasant and certainly a nice selection for a couple to choose as a dinner meal. In fact, there was even a celebrity sighting. Haddassah Lieberman, wife of Senator Joe Lieberman(former Vice Presidential Contender with Al Gore for the 2000 elections), showed up with her daughter, perhaps for the purpose of eating a meal, or discussing the latest polls. 7 hamburgers.

Cleanliness: The restaurant was relatively clean, but could have used a new paint job. The outside of the restaurant was slightly unkempt and there was a banner indicating the restaurant, instead of an official sign, but perhaps this will change once the store gains direction. The tables were wiped down and there was new utensils wrapped in a napkin available for the meal. The bathroom was well-kept and scented. 7 hamburgers.

Price: The food was well within the realm of kosher restaurant fare, but the cost of sandwiches perhaps could have been a bit cheaper. The appetizers were a bit pricey, but could have served as large kids meals. The soup was cheap, $3 for a cup, and $4 for a bowl, but the bowls were not large. Add $1 for matzoh ball soup. The hamburgers were $7 and the sandwiches ranged between $9-13 depending on size. 9 hamburgers.

Overall, 7.4 hamburgers. Not bad for a brand new restaurant with a lofty expectations. If they fixed a few things up on the menu and hired an interior decorator, Eli’s could turn into another venerable kosher D.C. establishment competing with the likes of those in Silver Spring and Baltimore. (Review by Josh)

1253 20th St. N.W., Washington, D.C.

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