9 AM: Market Lunch, Eastern Market
"Bluuuuuuebucks!" shouts the cashier. "An order of Bluuuuuebuuuuuucks!" replies the line cook, and my breakfast was on its way. Blueberry buckwheat pancakes, of course, with real maple syrup and nearly a full ice cream scoop of whipped butter. The bustling Market Lunch counter anchors one end of Eastern Market, Washington's only remaining public market. If you don't order the pancakes, you have to order "The Brick"--egg, cheese and sausage or bacon on a homemade biscuit. Of course, if it's lunch time, you can't pass up the crab cake sandwich--much more crab than cake, this flaky, flavorful patty is the best I've ever had. Lines are long on Saturday morning, but it's well worth the wait. Even if you're full, you must head to the other end of the market and grab some tiny "Toll House" chocolate chip cookies from the bakery; these buttery beauties will wow you. Take a stroll around the outside of the market as well; winter means the local produce is scanty, but the arts and craft tables abound.
12:30 PM Virginia Apples and Cowgirl Creamery Cheese
Back in my hotel room, a working lunch, chomping some crisp Virginia apples and crackers slathered with Cowgirl Creamery Cheese, a California original that just opened a store in downtown DC.
5:00 PM Firefly Lounge
After an afternoon of American portraits and folk art, I need a drink and a snack. The Firefly restaurant and lounge in the Madera Hotel fit the bill. Happy hour specials extend through Saturday night, so all sorts of fun charcuterie items are only $7. I munched on quick cured duck breast with roasted apples while sipping a bracing Manhattan (not on special-a whopping $12). Comfy chairs and cozy candles make this an ideal spot to rest after a long day.
6:05 PM Palena
Palena is my favorite restaurant in Washington, though I've only eaten in the bar. Run by Frank Ruta, a former White House chef, this inventive restaurant serves an extremely reasonably priced cafe menu in the bar, but you can also order individual dishes off the main dining room's prix fix menu (no wonder the no-reservation bar fills up immediately upon opening!). I've found the waitstaff to be wonderfully accomadating to solo diners, and the convivial atmosphere usually leads to one or two delightful conversations with my politico neighbors. The $10 burger on a homemade roll is quite famous, though I usually settle on something a bit more adventurous. This time I relaxed with a bowl of richly-rosemary- flavored minestrone and a small portion of gnocchi with a basic ragu. You can't skip desserts here--my ice cream sandwich, with chocolate chocolate chip cookies was a surprisingly adult-like (not too sugary) end to my meal.
Photo credit: Eastern Market photo by SusanNYC; Firefly tree and Palena logo from the restaurant websites.