Out to Lunch: Baby Gourmet is a well-hidden gem in Capitol

One of the best-kept secrets in the Capitol building is not the location of the briefing room where members of Congress view classified information; it is the small yet affordable restaurant called the Capitol Carry Out.

Known informally as Baby Gourmet, Capitol Carry Out is so well-hidden that you can walk right by it without noticing. It is located in the basement of the Senate side of the Capitol, midway through a long hallway connecting the main elevators to the freight elevator. Its lunch hours of operation are 11:30 a.m.-3:00 p.m. (2:30 during recess).

Despite its tiny size, the place has much to offer. It features the standard grease-laden array of cheeseburgers, hamburgers, french fries, chicken tenders and onion rings. But it specializes in made-to-order sandwiches under $6. Ham, turkey, roast beef, salami, chicken or BLTs all boast a choice of three types of mustard (Dijon, spicy, honey) and an equal number of hyphenated mayo augmentations (cranberry, pesto, or low-fat).

Capitol Carry Out also features an alternating menu of entrees — two options per day — which can be paired with a number of interesting side dishes, such as gumbo, asparagus, steamed vegetables, pasta salad or fresh-made soups.

A recent sampling of the daily special — an Italian Grinder made with provolone cheese, salami and bologna — far exceeded expectations and left this reporter with the distinct impression that everything tastes better when grilled.

The side of juicy cherry tomatoes in basil and mozzarella exhibited a tangy hint of vinaigrette, which complemented the sandwich perfectly.

Capitol Carry Out also sells pre-made sandwiches or sushi for those on the go, coffee and cappuccino for those needing a boost and frozen yogurt to satisfy a sweet tooth.

Perhaps the most unique aspect of the Capitol Carry Out is the diverse crowd one will encounter. The normal clientele is an eclectic mix of senior leadership staff, Capitol Police officers, maintenance workers and journalists.

On occasion, you might even witness a rare occurrence in the Capitol — a senator buying a cup of coffee.

Consistent with the name, there is no dining room in Capitol Carry Out. During the lunch rush when Congress is in session, it is often standing room-only.

But the new benches near the Capitol Visitor Center offer a majestic view of the Capitol, perfect for those seeking to escape the monotony of eating lunch behind a desk … again.