Whenever I mention Market Lunch to people, and I do often, I always get the same response: “Oh, I’ve heard that place is so great–but I’ve never been.” I don’t know if it’s the lines that scare folks away, or the Soup Nazi-esque ordering system, but don’t be afraid! It’s a quintessential Washington experience that no one should miss, and a great meal to boot. My trips to Eastern Market are almost always wrapped around meal time to make sure I can take advantage of all that Market Lunch has to offer.
It’s true, the lines are long, especially for breakfast. It’s routine to see folks waiting in line while reading a book. A LONG book. But the line moves quickly (unless you’ve got a confused newbie in front of you, grrrr) and you have some time to chat with your fellow Washingtonians while you wait. Once I met a man in line who said he ate the famous Brick sandwich every Saturday morning for ten years. I didn’t ask him how many bypass surgeries he’d had as a result–sometimes ignorance is bliss.
And the Brick is what breakfast is all about. It’s a homemade biscuit with your choice of meat (mine is always sausage), eggs, cheese and that which makes it what it is–the fried potatoes. It’s called the Brick because that sucker will sit in your stomach all day, but it is well worth it. There is another school of thought with the Market Lunch breakfast–those who love the “blue bucks.” To the layman, those would be their famous blueberry buckwheat pancakes. They are made essentially just of butter and fluffiness, but folks are downright obsessive when it comes to these pancakes. I’m still partial to the Brick though. If I’m waiting in that line, I want something that will stave off hunger for at least a week. It ain’t pretty, but it’s love.
Though they are known for their breakfast, take the name literally sometime and try it out for lunch. Whereas you’re able to get breakfast favorites in the morning, lunchtime is all about D.C.’s culinary specialties. Crabcakes, soft shell crabs, fried oysters and fried whiting sandwiches are just a little sampling of what the chalkboard menu has to offer. If they’re in season (go now! they are!) you must try the softshell crabs. They’re flash fried in a way only a Eastern Shore girl like myself could love and served up either on a sandwich, or in platter form. If you’re there and you’ve waited in line, spring for the platter. The fries are heavenly and the potato salad will leave you speechless.
There are things to keep in mind when eating at Market Lunch, especially for the first time. First–cash only. I can’t tell you the weight of the epic eye rolls you will get from the diners behind you in line if you try and pay with a card. Second–know what you want. See above, re: eye rolls. Third–there is little to no seating. The coveted seats at the long table go quickly and are only available to those who are physically eating and no doing much else. I prefer to take mine to go and sit out on the grass in the shade. Fourth–breakfast is not served on Sundays. Everyone learns that the hard way.
So go, don’t be nervous, you’ll thank me. Just don’t go Saturdays around 10:30am, that’s when I go. One more person in line and I just may lose it.