The Kennedy Center is known for hosting some of the country’s most accomplished artists in its classy atmosphere — but one of the best performances it pulls of is Sunday brunch. Roof Terrace Restaurant offers a ballet within an opera wrapped in a symphony for some of this city’s most enjoyable leisurely weekend eating.
The restaurant’s brunch is a buffet. No, it’s not one of those cafeteria-style, sneeze guard-protected countertops lined with piles of bland food. Instead, it’s a spread of familiar brunch favorites, and it has a sophisticated clientele ready to linger over mimosas or coffee for a few hours. This is what brunch is supposed to be.
My meal started with mimosas and coffee. The mimosa had the right ratio of champagne to orange juice, and the juice was not too pulpy. The coffee was bottomless; servers offered refills after practically every sip, keeping it hot as my dining companion and I headed to the buffet to stock our plates.
The food is set up in the restaurant’s kitchen, giving it a behind-the-scenes feel. The variety and amounts of items spread over the kitchen tables and countertops are overwhelming and throw down a gastronomic challenge. Take it.
Can’t decide between pancakes, waffles or French toast? Have one of each. The restaurant gets credit for making the portions small enough so that you can sample a variety of items. You can top your favorite with butter, whipped cream, syrup, raspberries, blackberries or strawberries.
Best among the three was the French toast, which was soft in the middle with perfectly crispy edges and had a cinnamon and nutmeg flavor.
Another bright spot in the spread were the eggs and meat. The kitchen offered eggs both Benedict and Florentine. And then there was the bacon.
Although the bacon craze might be so 2009, the Roof Terrace found pork perfection. The strips were cooked soft enough to still bend without breaking, but they also had that slightly chewy texture and salty, greasy flavor that makes bacon bacon. A few slices found their way to my plate more than once.
Also in the meat category is freshly carved prime rib. My first slice was really rare, but the crunchy peppercorn-and-garlic outer crust made up for the texture. Another slice was medium, and tastier. A dollop of a creamy horseradish sauce was a great addition to each bite.
The feast continued on a 15-foot table filled with different salads and vegetable offerings. Platters of asparagus spears, carrots, eggplant, Portobello mushrooms and haricot verts sit alongside cold pasta salad, sesame noodle salads, Greek salads, corn salad and mozzarella balls.
Next is the antipasti station, with cured sopressata and other thinly sliced meats and marinated vegetables. Roasted red peppers and marinated mushrooms sit alongside a bowl of mixed olives, artichokes and even deviled eggs.
The final stop in the kitchen is the seafood station, where crab legs, raw oysters, steamed shrimp and mussels await. This was the most popular station, with a short line forming at times, but all of the items were constantly refreshed and new ice even brought out.
Not to be left out were the other brunch staples: an omelet station and various breads and pastries.
By the time my dining companion and I worked our way through each station, we felt like we could not eat another thing. But our kind server reminded us of the dessert room (yes, room). Of course, this needed further investigating.
The good news was that all the sweets were served in tiny portions. However, this only meant that I ended up filling my plate with things “just to taste.”
The one item not to miss was a water glass half-full of chocolate mousse. It was airy, creamy, rich and just pure chocolate heaven. A few spoonfuls was all I needed. Another must-try was a napoleon with light, puff-pastry layers and white chocolate sauce topped with fruit. Thin slices of Key lime pie, pecan pie and other tarts and pastries filled out the display, along with bite-sized fruit tarts, fudge brownies and cheesecake.
Going to the Kennedy Center might be on the perpetual list of things to do in Washington that locals never get to except when people come to visit.
Having brunch is an easy way to experience the grandeur of its red-carpeted halls without seeing a play or opera. The food and the overall experience of the Sunday brunch certainly deserve a standing ovation.