02 September 2014
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Café Saint-Ex: It’s Dark Down There

You can’t beat a spot that has good happy hour deals and doubles as one of the better late-night dance spots in the city. The food isn’t half bad, either.

On weekdays, you can grab a $2 Yuengling between 5 PM and 7 PM. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of Yuengling, but I’d drink a warm Fosters, too, for $2.

Surprisingly, the food is pretty good. It’s a bit overpriced but better than most on 14th Street, if you ask me. The burgers are solid, and the BLT is D*MNGOOD® as well. The BLT used to come on sourdough, which made it much better. Now, they serve it on some sort of bread that isn’t exactly a baguette but not really a sub roll. Either way, it tasted much better before they put it on the mystery bread (note to chef). I never eat inside, because it’s too claustrophobic. But during the warmer seasons, the outdoor patio is great. Especially for brunch. I think the outdoor patio at Saint-Ex is probably the closest this city gets to a SoHo feel. If not the only place.

Café Saint-Ex: By Day

Saturday morning, minutes before 11. Already the crowd is gathering along the avenues, like vultures circling prey. The day is overcast. There is intermittent rain. But nothing can keep the people away. Brunch is upon us.

After an existential 10 minutes spent considering the box of mealy grits in my pantry (and another five rife with ennui as I gazed upon the expired eggs in my refrigerator), I knew I had to go out for breakfast. In my state, I wouldn’t consider visiting the Logan Circle Whole Foods (it’s like Death Race 2000 but with shopping carts), so I decided on popping into Saint-Ex.

I plant myself at the long wooden bar (something you don’t see much of anymore; it’s all limestone, cement and granite bars now). Forrest, the guileless bartender, is chatty and offers me coffee as I take the menu. I observe the aviation theme (the name Saint-Ex is an homage to Antione de Saint-Exupery, the French adventurer, pilot, and author – he penned ‘Le petit prince,’ though most of his work reflected his flying experiences). I stir my coffee and consider my options. There is Dot’s Strata, which features ham, potato and cheddar with a mesclun salad (a strata is essentially an egg casserole). For the health conscious, an egg white omelet is offered and comes with pea shoots, onions, Swiss cheese, and of-the-moment chickpeas. Or, for those with a more lackadaisical approach to health, we have brioche French toast with cherries, raisins, currants and chocolate.

I order the fried green tomato benedict, a very simple take on the classic. It comes with fried green tomatoes (duh) and poached eggs atop an English muffin. It is served with what are perfect breakfast potatoes, cooked with Old Bay seasoning (a magical ingredient if ever there was one). They are delightfully crisp at the edges with a smooth interior.

The benedict itself is meh. But after having sat at the bar for an hour, I see that at Saint-Ex, the food is not the point. You have yuppie yogis (yuppogis?) in stretchy clothes catching up. Couples still rumpled from the previous evening gazing sweetly at each other, taking a bite, and falling into another kiss. Young people with their parents, trying to impress them. This all underscores the value (and intangibility) of ambience.

Forrest is a wonderful bartender – engaging, upbeat, helpful and honest (when I ask him about a particular dessert, he kindly steers me away). The dessert I did have: Valrhona (fancy French chocolate) cocoa profiteroles served with caramel-bacon ice cream and brown sugar pecans. The profiteroles were dry and served room temperature, and the whole thing lacked cohesion. It seemed like a few things were put on a plate together, but that it wasn’t a true dish.

Oh, well. The patrons are happy, and the place is bustling. Finished with my entrée, I have a Ruffled Shirt, a charming, girly cocktail that contains St. Germain, sparkling wine, bitters and a huge orange twist (which would have been better as an aperitif, I know!). But it’s sweet, simple and very refreshing, a touch of liquid courage to push me back into the heaving world.

My take is this: Go to Saint-Ex with your best friend or your main squeeze for brunch, but don’t expect much from the food. Wear your nicest designer sunglasses, act appropriately aloof (you’ve got to fit in with the impossibly hip somehow!), have a cocktail, and take it all in. What Saint-Ex lacks in quality, it makes up for in soul, something we could all use a bit more of.

- Adriana

Café Saint-Ex: By Night

Moving downstairs.

It’s dark down there. Which could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on how you look at it.

It is by no means a huge dance floor. In fact, you’re pretty much dancing with the person next to you whether you like it or not. Again, could be a good thing or bad thing depending on how you look at it. I’ve witnessed break-dancing competitions, fights, disgusting high school dance-style make-out sessions, and incredible displays of man-dancing at Saint-Ex. All of it fueled by a combination of Top 40 and old-school hip hop.

The Saint-Ex dance floor is a debacle. It’s dark, disgusting, small and the epitome of a meat market. But it’s always a good time. However, I do not suggest going there sober. At least not to the basement. The upstairs is more of a pub feel, and it’s comfortable to hang out and drink some beers and socialize. But if you’re going to venture to the dungeon and bust out your best dance moves in hopes to make out with a girl or guy that you can’t even see, it’s best to prepare yourself.

- Mark

Neighborhood: 14th Street
Address: 1847 14th St., NW (T St.) Washington, DC 20009
Phone: 202-265-7839
Web site: www.saint-ex.com
Parking: Street
Metro: U-Street/Cardozo
Serves: Brunch (Saturday and Sunday); Lunch (Tuesday-Friday); Dinner (Daily)
Specials: Monday-Friday (5-7 PM): $4.50 house wines by the glass and $2.50 Yuengling Lager
Go for: Happy hour; late-night music and dancing; BLT; burger; sweet-potato fries; brunch
Price: *****
Rating: *****

Cafe Saint-Ex on Urbanspoon

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