Big Bear Cafe is everything I could ever want and more. A coffee shop that takes its coffee culture seriously in a space that is simple and inviting; a restaurant that serves breakfast until noon, uses good-for-you, farm fresh ingredients, and offers daily, seasonal items; a neighborhood gathering place that brings together musicians and comedians for weekly events. What more could you ask for? Killer craft cocktails? They’ve got them. A patio for the unexpected spring winter? Done. Supper to beat the Sunday blues? They have that too. Get over here Big Bear and give me a hug.
Big Bear’s story is as charming as the place itself. Formerly a Jewish Italian market/deli, it went through some hard times in the 80’s and 90’s. The space was boarded up with bulletproof glass inside and out, evidence of a different, more turbulent time in Bloomingdale. But in 2006, Stuart Davenport, a general contractor who lived in the area, saw a need for a decent cup of coffee and grub, so he gave up his day job and in a little over a year built a neighborhood gem. Struggling times just live in memories now, as Big Bear has become a sought-after destination, and is surrounded by equally great places and spaces.
On Sunday evenings, a night usually spent in melancholic reflection of the weekend’s end and week ahead, a seat at Big Bear’s Farmer’s Market dinner is just the place you want to be. A big communal table is placed at the back of the cafe and filled with candles, wine and unfamiliar faces. Chef Clementina Russo, who hails from Italy, creates a 5 course meal prepared with ingredients she finds at the local markets. The dishes are then served family style, encouraging stories and personal exchanges over deliciously prepared food. The whole affair becomes a family gathering, of complete strangers. And whether you are Italian, American, or Latin like me, we all agree that there is no better way to get people together than over a shared meal.
The night we went dinner started with a comforting bowl of spaghetti cooked perfectly al dente, served with mushrooms, mint and lemon, an ode to the upcoming spring. We then had a roasted chicken seasoned with rosemary and garlic, served with a frisee salad of belgian endive, fennel, and escarole and a spinach and ricotta frittatta. Then, we were given a cheese plate of taleggio, manchego and gorgonzola with spiced pecans and jams. I am a sucker for cheese plates but this one was particularly balanced, creamy and rich, and a perfect interlude before dessert. A hazelnut cake and cup of coffee was a perfect way to end the meal, lingering over crumbs and good company. Suppers are priced at $50 per person, or $65 with wine a wine pairing. Go for the pairing, we had an unbelievable Verdicchio with our meal that night.
courtesy of Big Bear Cafe DC
The people behind the bar are true baristas by day and mixologists by night. The cascara sour with whiskey, lime, cascara tea and cane sugar is a good companion, or for a warmer drink, the dutch hot chocolate, a mix of genever, cointreau, cynar and hot cocoa, is a boozed up original that changes with every sip. A place that can make lattee art and mix bitters right? Two bear sized thumbs up.
I was impressed not only by the food and by the drinks, but by the incredibly friendly service. I spoke with Kristina extensively, who is the host of the Sunday dinners but also a sous-chef. Stuart was equally as friendly and sat to chat with us about his plans. These people love food, good company, and creating a comforting environment for a good time; defining neighborhood gem.
To join the reservation-only Sunday supper, join Big Bear’s mailing list where you will receive a weekly email with the upcoming menu. Each dinner seats up to 15 people and reservations go fast.