- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Everything in America — the restaurant — is abundant, just like the country it’s named for. This Union Station eatery seats 500, spreads over two floors and features views of the Capitol and train station interiors. The menu offers more than 100 generously sized dishes — and that’s not counting desserts.

But America has a hard time feeding the masses and maintaining quality at the same time. Most dishes are adequate, but the Hawaiian-style vegetable spring roll is nothing to write home to Honolulu about; and don’t encourage your relatives in New Jersey to make a special trip south for America’s baked clams casino, whose birthplace is listed as Seaside Heights.

On the other hand, the extensive menu, which lists the supposed town of origin for each dish, is fun and some dishes, such as the Caesar salad, which was very fresh and nicely dressed, is a tad better than adequate.

The jambalaya, a special, was pretty good too, with tasty shrimp and nice seasoning. But at $19.95, it was a little on the pricey side, as was the flame-grilled New York sirloin. The cut was chewy, but grilled to order, and the baked potato and sauteed spinach hit the spot.

In general, however, prices are moderate compared to most Capitol Hill restaurants. An America lump crab cake sandwich served with sweet and sour onions and tartar sauce on a brioche bun (origin: Baltimore) is $12.95 and barbecue pulled pork — slow-cooked pork, shredded and mixed with barbecue sauce and served on a roll (origin Macon, Ga.) — is $8.95. The fluffernutter (peanut butter and marshmallow spread, served on soft white bread and with fries and representing Las Vegas) comes in at $4.95.

The dessert menu features 13 dishes, including hot fudge sundae (origin: Detroit) and deep-dish apple pie (origin: Washington state). The desserts, as everything else on the menu, are biggie sized and easily can be shared.

Not surprisingly, the drink menu, too, is plentiful. The bar, in the middle of the restaurant, is nice-looking and might just offer the best seat in the house.

The presentation at America is simple — few garnishes or attention to color combinations. True to its namesake, many dishes are served on dinnerware adorned with a star-spangled banner pattern.

America’s interior too is nothing fancy. The white walls are adorned with maps of the states made out of metal, a fake mural that seems to depict the building of the Brooklyn Bridge or some other late 19th-century mammoth construction, and, naturally, a few television screens (the experience wouldn’t be truly American without them).

The service is speedy and eager to please, but lacks genuine interest in food and food preparation, perhaps a consequence of America’s being part of a chain with dozens of restaurants in New York, Las Vegas and Washington.

The chain feel comes across in other aspects of the restaurant too — its grand scale and its lackluster food preparation. But let’s face it, people are not drawn to America for its high quality. This is a convenient spot to the city’s shopping and museum district as well as its transportation hub. And with all the people coming and going, it provides a great people-watching opportunity.

The setting is neither peaceful nor elegant and thus a perfect setting for families with children who are neither quiet nor tidy. During the winter holidays, a bonus for children is the Norwegian holiday model train, visible from the restaurant’s second floor.

America is unpretentious, generous, lackluster, practical, friendly, comparatively cheap, hokey and fun. That’s America for you.

RESTAURANT: America, 50 Massachusetts Ave. NE; 202/682-9555; www.arkrestaurants.com.

HOURS: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily

PRICES: Starters $4.50 to $9.50; main courses $6.95 to $19.95 (fluffernutter and peanut butter and grape jelly sandwiches are $4.95); desserts, $3.75 to $5.25

CREDIT CARDS: All major cards

PARKING: Union Station parking garage (the restaurant validated parking tickets)

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide