Busboys & Poets in the U Street Corridor has been one of my long-time favorite cafes in DC. The owner, Andy Shallal, is a self-described artist, restauranteur, and activist. Since opening this location in 2005, they have since opened two others -- another in DC and one in Virginia. He also owns Eatonville, a southern restaurant right across the street that I reviewed recently. When Busboys first opened, it was really known as an internet cafe. It has since grown to be a gathering place for individuals from all walks of life, often cited as one of the most diverse gathering spots in DC. They regularly have speakers, poets, and political activists (famous and non-famous) as well as live music and films.
The unfortunate result of their popularity is that Busboys is always packed. In my opinion, they are doing two things wrong -- (1) they allow the "internet cafe" people, that is, those who use the free wifi without buying anything, to sit there as long as they want taking up four very large tables that seat about 10 people each, and (2) they don't take reservations. This means that on a Friday night, you could wait 2 hours to be seated because the freeloaders using the wifi won't leave and they wouldn't allow you to make a reservation. And that sucks.
On this night, the Sunday after Hurricane Irene rolled through, I met my friend, David, there for dinner at 6 p.m. figuring that was a safe time at which we'd be seated immediately. I was wrong. There was a 15 minute wait while the freeloaders sat there joyously typing away. We went into the bookstore area and perused the books for a while and were called over to be seated soon thereafter.
We sat down and promptly ordered a couple alcoholic Lazy Lemonades as we looked at the menu.
One of the reasons this restaurant is so popular is that the food is usually pretty good and the prices are pretty reasonable. They also have a great selection of vegan appetizers, entrees, sandwiches, pizzas, and a calzone. As far as I know, this is the only place you can get a vegan calzone in DC complete with vegan pepperoni. Mmmm.
We decided to start with the vegan quesadillas as our appetizer. We placed our order and waited...and waited. About 20 minutes later, they brought our quesadillas out and they were overdone. I was pretty disappointed because they have always been perfect in the past. But, they were still edible so we consumed them as is. The quesadillas have roasted red peppers, grilled portobello mushrooms and
onions, spinach, and soy cheese inside while they are topped with vegan sour cream. They are served with guacamole and pico de gallo. They were still pretty good even though the tortilla was overcooked.
After waiting way too long for our appetizers, our entrees came while we were eating our appetizers. I really don't like when that happens. We were both in the mood for the hot tempeh panini. I got mine with a fresh salad while David ordered the sweet potato fries. I was also disappointed with this panini because it wasn't served on rosemary sun-dried tomato bread it was supposed to be served on, which is delicious, btw. Instead it was on a sourdough bread, which was fine, but not nearly as good as the sundried tomato bread. I wish the waitress would have informed us that they were out of the bread. Like the quesadiilas, it was still pretty good. The tempeh sandwich has vegan mayonnaise, roasted red peppers, arugula, and sauteed onions. The tempeh tastes like tempeh bacon. It is usually very good.
This review is written as more of a comparison to my other experiences because I've eaten here like 30 times. As I mentioned before, the food is usually really good. The food this time was still good, but not as good as usual and the service was definitely lacking. Maybe if they had less internet people there, they could have focused on the paying customers. Just my two cents.
Busboys & Poets
2021 14th Street NW
Washington, DC 20009