Afterwords offers American cuisine with a few surprises

Originally Published 11/09/00

These days, restaurants that have innovative American cooking generally give out portions of food characterized by their tiny size. Afterwords, which seems to pursue the same innovation in American cooking, does not follow this trend.

For that matter, very little is traditional about Afterwords at Kramerbooks. The restaurant is open 24 hours on weekends and late on weeknights, bucking the trend of most D.C. restaurants that close at 10 p.m. The staff is well trained, efficient and even witty at times. And because the waiters are generally young, college students don’t get sent to the worst table in the establishment.

We started out at Afterwords with a fairly standard collection of appetizers. The Crostini is bursting with the flavor of the basil and chopped tomatoes that top the crusty bread. It was not salty, in the manner that many restaurants mar this Italian favorite, and it wasn’t burnt. It was perhaps a bit too moist, lending the Crostini to comparisons with the less popular Panaznella, but otherwise a good appetizer. Nachos come in a gargantuan proportion – the $10 price tag is well worth it. A layer of tortilla chips spread over black beans, topped with melted cheese, sliced jalape?os, guacamole, sour cream and a rather unique fruity salsa, the nachos really do hit the spot.

The only unfortunate thing about Afterwords’ innovations is that they are not adequately reflected on the menu. Orders may not be the same as the menu describes. The Pizza Oaxaca is a tortilla wrap of sorts that seems to be a new take on a quesadilla. Topped with a mix of vegetables and a strong hint of cilantro, it is worth trying, but clearly not meant to be eaten as a pizza.

The same applies to the vegetarian chili. Expecting a warm, thick stew of vegetables and beans. Instead, we were served a vegetable soup. The combination of celery, carrots, potatoes and cheese in a spicy broth is delicious, no doubt. The chips and hot sauce served along side of it are a nice addition, too. It was a pleasant surprise, but a surprise nevertheless.

The same goes even for the chicken sandwich, which is buttered bread piled so high with cheese, chicken breasts, roasted red peppers and other toppings that it is rendered uneatable as a sandwich. Instead, it makes a wonderful meal eaten with a knife and fork, with a nice garnish of fresh fruit and the seemingly ubiquitous corn chips. Again good, but not quite expected.

Deserts are Afterwords’ forte. Anybody who orders the cherry pie alone is not likely to enjoy it nearly as much as someone who orders it a la mode with cinnamon ice cream. The rare flavor of cinnamon ice cream, warming and cool at the same time, makes this cherry pie the ultimate comfort food. The key lime pie is also good – it is tart and unpretentious, lacking the green food coloring that many desert chefs mangle it with.

Afterwords has a nice atmosphere, and for the food you get, a good deal. Rarely can you get such a huge meal for less than fifteen dollars a person – my party of five ended up paying just over sixty for the whole meal, drinks not included. Afterwords does serve a wide range of beers and wines, as well as a long menu of spirits from its bar, something that may be worth investigating in the future.

Afterwords at Kramerbooks is located at 1517 Connecticut Ave. near the Dupont Circle Metro Station. Reservations are not required.

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