I met Matt and Patrick, the owners of Capital City Diner, last September. I stopped by the former used car parking lot on Bladensburg Road to tour the then mid-construction diner. They had a chain-link fence up around the restaurant, and there was a gaping hole in the ground where grass now grows. The guys had been waiting on plumbing inspection, and Patrick had decided to dig a hole himself for the water connection, since it would speed up the process. The history of Capital City Diner’s permit getting has been well documented here on We Love DC and over at Young & Hungry. In short, it’s been a mess. “Is it to the point that it’s funny? You guys have had such a tough time, that all you can do is laugh.” I asked Matt in December. “No. It’s definitely not funny,” he replied, looking frustrated. I heard a sordid tale of ridiculous permits, incompetent government workers, and a process so frustrating I probably would have just quit. So when I was invited to a soft opening at the diner over the weekend, I was thrilled. I couldn’t wait to belly up to the counter on a stool and get a first look at what Matt and Patrick have worked so hard for.
I couldn’t have asked for more. It is exactly what I had pictured when I heard the vision – Trinidad’s first sit-down restaurant serving true diner food to H street hipsters, city workers and neighborhood folks alike. I remembered listening to Matt and Patrick talk about their vision for who would come by. Matt told me about the city workers shifts, and how there isn’t a good place to grab breakfast at the crack of dawn in the neighborhood. He told me all about the neighbors who have stopped by the diner to inquire about jobs, some of them laid off chefs from DC’s hotels and restaurants, hoping to help out. The guys explained their vision of staffing entirely from the neighborhood so that they kept integrated into the tight-knit community, and were able to employ the people that would keep them in business. The more I heard them talk, the more I believed in what they were doing. And while a soft opening, when a restaurant isn’t yet open (they open tomorrow, Tuesday the 23rd, for the public), is a great time to identify issues, figure out processes, and basically work through the kinks, I saw a huge, burgeoning success story.
The diner is tiny. It is, of course, a real life diner. Food is cooked out in the open, line chefs shouting at the waitress, the phone ringing to take orders, customers talking amongst themselves. You get a first-row ticket to a dramatic performance of food: orders in, orders out, to-go orders, a lost order, a confused order. It is breakfast theater, and I loved every second.
Cooks at Cap City serve up plenty of short-order fare, ranging from all-day waffles to rotating specials like pork chops and meatloaf. Even a T-bone steak. “Real meat!” cried the man sitting next to me. It’s exactly the type of quintessential American food you’ve been craving after one too many pretentious sushi lunches out with the bossman.
My huge pecan pancakes were stacked over crispy, perfect hash browns. I smothered them in syrup, and dug in. It was a breakfast to rival a grubby brunch at IHOP, except better, because it’s local and comes with character.
Seasoned scrambled eggs are served next to a waffle with strawberry compote. The waffles are pressed from a cast-iron waffle maker.
Patrick and Matt also wanted to offer something unique: good soda. Being a southern girl, I’m thrilled the guys imported Cheerwine, a delicious cherry soda usually only available in the Carolinas. They also offer Boylan’s, Mexican Coca Cola, and other specialty pop.
The diner is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Only a few blocks from The Argonaut on Maryland, and diagonally across from Jimmy Valentine’s, the diner is sure to become a late-night post-H Street destination. The coffee is good, the food is greasy. A match made in heaven.
Stop by the Capital City Diner starting tomorrow at 6 a.m.
Capital City Diner is located at 1050 Bladensburg Rd. For more information or to call in your to-go order, call (202) 683-7446.