Busboys & Poets

Written by on August 12, 2012 in I Eat America, I Eat...Out with 0 Comments

(busboysandpoets.com) – 5th & K Streets, Washington, DC

How I heard of this place: It was first recommended to me as a very Seattle-esque space that I should check out. My first introduction to the quirky, loud, full space known as Busboys and Poets was in October, in Shirlington, and this time, we made it to the third BB&P!

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.

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 DC

Words can hardly describe the immensity of stuff going on inside Busboys and Poets. Patrons gathered in the patio seating area on the sidewalk outside, overlooking only the street and a large, yellow, metal scuplture. Indoors, a crowded space, with intricately painted walls and floor-to-ceiling windows all around – to view the street from where you came, and into the restaurant, itself. Amidst the extensive shelves are displays of toys, books, cards, artwork and then some. Every detail is considered. Dark brown hardwood floors, while dark wooden chairs and tables host the many patrons seated throughout. A large staircase is at the center of the open space in the front half of the establishment, presumably opening up more seating for the always bustling space. Every nook and cranny, however inhibited or obvious is bedecked with art. The second, back room has excellent seating for larger parties and those wishing to hear the underground feel of the poetry recitation area.

The third addition to the Busboys and Poets family opened its doors in September of 2008. Busboys and Poets at 5th & K is located in the historic Mount Vernon Triangle where it has established itself as a local neighborhood hangout. The restaurant/bar is a beautiful and open space with 30-ft high ceilings and a grand central staircase that leads to a mezzanine level (the “Loft”) overlooking the bustling restaurant below. Busboys and Poets at 5th & K features the Cullen Room, a private events and performance space, named in honor of Countee Cullen, the poet and playwright who was one of the preeminent figures of the Harlem Renaissance. We host a number of in-house events in the Cullen Room, including open mic poetry, film screenings and live music. The space is also available for rent and is ideal for both private and public events, including receptions, panel discussions, author talks, and fundraisers. We are thrilled that the corner of 5th & K Streets, NW was chosen by the DC Commission on Arts & Humanities as the site for two important works of public art: “Lift Off” a monumental pavilion-like sculpture by artistDavid Black who describes the piece as a reflection of the “spirit and vibrancy of the new neighborhood.” An urban and contemporary sculpture by artistEthan Kerber made of five steel panels is installed on the 5th Street side of the building. Owner of Busboys and Poets, Andy Shallal sees public art as, “a way to connect those living in a neighborhood with each other’s humanity.” Inside Busboys and Poets, 5th & K you will find Global Exchange, a fair trade marketplace committed to promoting an alternative economics of quality centered on protecting international human rights to ensure that the cost of globalization does not come at the expense of us all. As with all Busboys and Poets locations, we open our doors to the literary and artistic community from the surrounding neighborhood and around the world to share thoughts and ideas about issues of peace and social justice. “My poetry, I think, has become the way of my giving out what music is within me.” – Countee Cullen 

What I ordered: On this family visit, I was eager to enjoy brunch and immediately decided on the Classic Benedict ($12), two poached eggs with Canadian bacon and hollandaise, served atop a toasted English Muffin and alongside a minimal serving of home fries.


Chris ordered the Busboys and Poets French Toast ($7) with two eggs scrambled and meat ($12) – bacon and turkey sausage.

French Toast

My cousin enjoyed a Cobb Salad ($13), mixed field greens, sliced grilled chicken breast, bacon (on the side), tomatoes, avocado, egg and caramelized onions tossed in a balsamic vinaigrette and topped with blue cheese crumbles (which she requested on the side), served with two triangles of herb bread.

Cobb Salad

Her husband ordered the Mediterranean Burger ($11), ground lamb and beef with onion, parsley and mixed spices, grilled and served over herb flat bread with tomatoes and cucumber, served with garlic herb yogurt sauce and a side of fries. The older of her two children selected the Sauteed Mushroom & Gorgonzola Burger ($11) made with Angus beef and served with LTO (lettuce, tomato, onion), and cheddar instead of gorgonzola, with fries. The youngest member of our dining party enjoyed a plain cheeseburger with ketchup and fries. I also enjoyed a mocha ($4) for a 12-ounce mug of steamed almond milk ($0.50 additional), chocolate and two shots of espresso.


My cousin savored a cappuccino ($3.50), steamed foamy milk with two shots of espresso. And a cranberry juice ($2.50) for Chris.

What I loved: The hollandaise sauce was creamy and subtle, and the flavor of the home fries, excellent. The French toast was fluffy and light, perfect for soaking up the maple syrup!

Why I loved it: I love the bustling space, the abundance of artwork and the loud music that went quiet in the second room. I especially love that each glance 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 food that you can’t help but want to return for more. I love the social consciousness surrounding Busboys and Poets and 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.

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

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