Busboys and Poets

Written by on October 23, 2011 in I Eat America, I Eat...Out with 0 Comments

(busboysandpoets.com) – Shirlington neighborhood, Arlington, Virginia

Bus Boys & Poets Shirlington

How I heard of this place: The first I had ever heard the name Busboys and Poets was about two weeks ago when my friend, Adwoa recommended it as a very “natural” place that would remind me of Seattle. A week later, after a Holy Day celebration at the DC Baha’i Center, my friend Zitta invited me to Busboys and Poets with a small group of friends who were headed over for a bite to eat. The following day, my friend Seraj also recommended it as a great brunch spot for our Sunday planning meeting. Thus, my introduction to the quirky, loud, full space known as Busboys and Poets.

Type of cuisine: It seems Busboys was initially started not for food, but rather the village atmosphere it offered in an urban landscape. “Busboys and Poets is a community where racial and cultural connections are consciously uplifted…a place to take a deliberate pause and feed your mind, body and soul…a space for art, culture and politics to intentionally collide…we believe that by creating such a space we can inspire social change and begin to transform our community and the world.” As art, culture and politics collide, patrons’ stomachs begin to growl and the food takes note. Hand-tossed pizzas to large sandwiches and hot paninis served with kettle chips, seasonal fresh fruit, fries, salad or sweet potato fries, from all-natural, free-range, grass-fed beef burgers from Grayson Farm, Virginia to soups and chili. Appetizers that run the gamut from nachos to quesadillas, wings, muscles, and hummus, shrimp and crab fritters, coconut tofu bites, and foule salad. The plethora of entrees range from fish (tilapia, catfish and blackened salmon), to meatloaf and pesto lasagna, from beans and wild rice to shrimp and grits, and as vegan as pan-seared basil tofu. A variety of salads and desserts (including a number of vegan options) make for a very happy diner; here to partake of breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner…or even a mid-day snack or pick-me-up sweet treat with a cuppa Joe. The breakfast/brunch menu boasts vegan scrambles and egg scrambles, omelets, and eggs Benedict, served with homefries, seasonal fresh fruit, or grits, Mekhleme, French toast, granola, buckwheat pancakes and everything in between.

Bus Boys & Poets Shirlington Bookshelves

Ambiance: “Busboys and Poets is a community gathering place. First established in 2005 Busboys and Poets was created by owner Anas “Andy” Shallal, an Iraqi-American artist, activist and restaurateur. After opening, the flagship location at 14th and V Streets, NW (Washington DC), the neighboring residents and the progressive community, embraced Busboys, especially activists opposed to the Iraq War. Busboys and Poets is now located in three distinctive neighborhoods in the Washington Metropolitan area and is a community resource for artists, activists, writers, thinkers and dreamersThe name refers to American poet Langston Hughes, who worked as a busboy at the Wardman Park Hotel in the 1920s, prior to gaining recognition as a poet. Rejected ideas for the restaurant’s name include Writers Block Cafe, Broken Bread Cafe and White Rabbit Cafe, the latter inspired by The Matrix.”

Bus Boys & Poets Shirlington Dining

Words can hardly describe the immensity of stuff going on inside Busboys and Poets. Even in the brisk cold of autumn, patrons gathered in the patio seating area on the sidewalk outside, overlooking only the street and a parking garage. Indoors, a small lobby, with intricately painted wall and floor-to-ceiling windows all around – to view the street from where you came, and into the restaurant, itself. A chalkboard-like quotation breaks the light, whimsical patterns on the wall with “We must join with tens of millions all over the world who see in peace our most sacred responsibility.” – Paul Robeson. Flyers, postcards, local newspapers and magazines, business cards and other such promotional paraphernalia are strewn about atop a small shelving unit in this tiny hole of a lobby. Every detail is considered, even the umbrella box at the front, which resembles a 1940s model scale of “Merchants Hotel”. A yellow-tiled ceiling immediately catches ones attention despite the colorful and exuberant interior. Dark brown hardwood floors are met with corporate style patterned carpeting in muted navy and gold, while dark wooden chairs and wood-framed granite-slab tables host the many patrons seated throughout. At the front, the host and hostess greet you warmly, as you try to stay out of the way of diners entering and exiting the cramped entryway. Just ahead of you, another seating area (which I heard wraps around to a poetry reading section at the back), with cozy chairs around a coffee table, more chair-and-table seating and a large chalkboard with more poetry/quotations covering most of the red, viewable wall space. The hosts podium is also a chalkboard where daily and weekly promotions of upcoming events can be found, alongside one-liners in quote marks. Pale yellow walls host Andy Warhol style artwork of Gandhi, Dr. MLK and others, and somehow, naturally move into a wall of layered, dark-colored stone. Every nook and cranny, however inhibited or obvious is decked out with art. The square wall-space over the kitchen doorway hosts a mauve background with polka dots, and two hands reaching out with 3-D fresh foods (fish, carrots, onion, greens). The half-wall, which is more like a 1/4-wall in this high ceilinged establishment separates the space between this walkway to the kitchen and the booth seating to the right. Plastic-ish greens and blues strip the booth seatbacks and look more bright against the maroon-colored 1/2-wall, lined with mini pumpkins to ring in the season. A dark blue pillar has four holes with metallic-colored tiles creating a blue mosaic, creating a gorgeous backdrop for the rustic grails set inside each. Piet Mondrian style painted skateboards hang from the stone wall opposite.

store where books and fair trade create work (pillows, art, trinkets, etc.) is available for patrons waiting to be seated, or those looking to buy a special something for a friend and loved one. Masses of gift ideas are available in and on shelves that make their way up to the ceiling from the carpeted floors. Tall bar-like seating is also available at several tables throughout the space, which allow for meetings of the minds of eight to ten. The wine rack towards the back leads patrons from the bar to the “Private Poetry: Trespassers Welcome” space that is separated by large, thick, burgundy, velvet curtains – contained elegantly at the sides of the opendoorway. The brown wall at the back, decked with what resembles old newspaper and purposeful graffiti, sets the stage for the underground feel of the poetry recitation area.

Bus Boys & Poets Shirlington Window Seating

Busboys and Poets in Shirlington, our second location, opened in August 2007. Shirlington is a neighborhood known as an “Urban Village” in the southern part of Arlington County, Virginia. The word “Shirlington” is a combination of “Shirley” (from the Shirley Highway or Interstate 395) and “Arlington”. It is mostly residential, but like most of Arlington County has been experiencing an economic renaissance and is now home to many retail and service establishments. With an estimated population of about 206,800 residents, Arlington County is racially, ethnically and culturally diverse. It is located directly across the Potomac River from Washington, DC. Formerly part of the District of Columbia, the land now comprising the county was retro ceded to Virginia 1847. While not as large as the flagship location, Busboys Shirlington offers guests an intimate setting that has become pretty popular with neighbors and residents in the surrounding communities. With the increasingly familiar Busboys atmosphere and mission, urban villagers are able to create a community without having to venture far from home. In close proximity to the Signature Theatre and the Shirlington Library, Busboys and Poets at Shirlington Village creates an environment where shared conversations over food and drink allow the progressive, artistic and literary communities to dialogue, educate and interact.” 

What I ordered: On this three-person visit, I was quite pleased that one of my companions suggested we share our dishes! We had one order for a regular (bottomless) thick, white mug of coffee ($2.75), accompanied by a mini, stainless steel carafe of cream; a second order for a large glass of orange juice ($4.95) and my small carrot juice ($2.50) selection. For the main entrees, I chose the Western Omelet ($10.95) with bacon (instead of ham), onion, mushroom and cheddar cheese, with a side of home fries and whole wheat toast (a packet of butter and apple jelly on the side).

Western Omelete

My dining companion with whom I split my meal ordered his favorite: the Oaxaca Omelet ($10.95) with black beans, cheese, pico de gallo and guacamole, served with his choice of grits on the side, and a slice of toasted whole wheat bread.

Oaxaca Omelet

Our third dining companion opted for the Busboys and Poets French Toast with two eggs, scrambled and meat/bacon ($11.50).

Poets French Toast

What I loved: The carrot juice was nice and sweet, just not freshly juiced.

Carrot & Orange Juices

The bread was crispy and warm and tasted freshly baked. The homefries could have used more oomph with seasoning, even as simple as salt and pepper. The standing winner, though, of the morning was the Oaxaca omelet, which I was moist, flavorful and light. The guacamole had excellent flavor and texture as it melted and softened against the hot eggs and melted cheese, the black beans and cold, tiny-diced pico de gallo.

On a return visit, Saturday, November 23, 2013We returned to this novel and classic establishment over the weekend to enjoy the company of another Pacific Northwesterner who has made her home in Washington, DC. It was a post brunch-pre lunch catch-up session, which had me just able to sip a warm Mocha ($4).

Bus Boys & Poets Shirlington Mocha

Our dining companion enjoyed the hearty and filling bowl of Oatmeal ($6) infused with chopped dates, and served alongside warm walnuts and whole milk.

Bus Boys & Poets Shirlington Oatmeal

My husband, ever the culinary enthusiast, selected the Falafel Sandwich ($8) with hummus, cucumbers, lettuce, tomato, and red onion on a whole wheat pita served with a cup of herbed tahini and a side of fruit.

Bus Boys & Poets Shirlington Falafel

Why I loved it: I love the busy, bustling space, the abundance of artwork and the loud music, clanking of dishes and conversations occurring at ever turn. I especially love that each look to the same wall reveals something new, a painting, piece of artwork, or poem that you hadn’t caught on the first or maybe even second glance. There is so much happening, so many people, so much good-looking food that you can’t help but want to return for more. I love the social consciousness surrounding Busboys and Poets, namely the Teaching for Change independent bookstore in the cafe. This local non-profit provides tools for teachers, students and parents to become more engaged in civics and social justice…”100% of your purchase dollars go to keeping the bookstore alive and advancing the mission of Teaching for Change.” Everything from Open Mics and poetry readings to greening the menu makes Busboys and Poets a place to which one can return time and again.

Additional Notes: The cage-free eggs are from Giving Nature, a company that works exclusively with small family farms that use a cage-free system. Cage-free hens are able to walk, spread their wings and lay their eggs in nests, vital natural behaviors denied to hens confined in cages. Whenever possible, BB&P features seasonal local produce grown organically at ECO CITY FARMS in Edmonston, MD. ECO City Farms is a nonprofit urban farm designed to serve as a prototype and incubator for sustainable local farming. The ground beef is from Grayson Farms where cows are free-range, grass-fed and hormone-/antibiotics-free. The beef is lower in cholesterol, saturated fats and calories per serving than grain fed beef and higher in beneficial Omega-3 fatty acids. The chicken is halal (in Arabic, meaning permitted or lawful), prepared according to Islamic dietary guidelines (similar to kosher). These guidelines stipulate that the animal must be handled in a humane way. The Global Exchange Fair Trade store (found at Shirlington and the 5th & K cafes) specializes in selling products made by artisans, farmers and small scale producers who are paid a living wage and work in safe and healthy conditions. By shopping for Fair Trade products at Global Exchange you are helping small communities out of poverty and preserving their artistic and cultural heritage.

Bus Boys & Poets Shirlington Falafel Close-Up

Cost: Average ($10-$15 per brunch entree)

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