An affordable meal at the Willard

Cafe 1401
The Willard Hotel
1401 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, D.C. 20004
(202) 637-7401, phone
(202) 637-7326, fax
Just a few blocks from Metro Center, a short walk past the White House

Many tourists make their way around D.C. and ultimately end up with their hands grasping the fence that separates them and the White House. There is always a swarm of sightseers from the United States and beyond trying to get a glimpse of the “old school” D.C. we GW students have grown so accustomed to. Yet for townies and visitors alike, many pass over the classic Willard Hotel, just a few blocks from the White House.

As you walk into the Willard Hotel, you are welcomed into a grand reception room. The high ceiling is painted with all states’ seals and a grand chandelier hangs from the ceiling. High arches and lush seating around the ground room all are quite a sight. Then there is the long hallway with the equally high ceiling and lavish ornamentation, ballrooms on either side of the hall and more chandeliers hanging overhead.

But then you walk into Cafe 1401 and all that stops. It seems that you leave the grandeur of the hallway and walk into what seems to be a dining room in a retirement home. The walls are wooden and decorated with large paintings. There are no high arches, no beautifully painted ceiling and no grand seating areas. The restaurant is also relatively small, with low ceilings compared to the mile-high ones in the main reception area. If you look to the other side of the hall, you see another grand ballroom that always seems to be full of people at a brunch or dinner party. After seeing that room, you may feel like you took a wrong turn into a nook or cranny of the grand hotel.

The casual restaurant that does not require reservations was envisioned to be a place where the D.C. power brokers and elite could come for a quick breakfast, casual lunch or good dinner at the end of the day. It would also be the place where visitors staying at the hotel could join in the mix and see the other side of Washington that they can’t watch with Martin Sheen on “The West Wing.” But somewhere the Willard went wrong-the small dining room is rarely filled up and is populated mostly by the people staying at the hotel instead of people from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

But what’s even smaller than the dining room of Cafe 1401 is its menu. For breakfast there is standard fare. But the one-page menu is less than spectacular. The pancakes, waffles, French toast, eggs and toast could be ordered at any restaurant serving breakfast. There aren’t any frills or twists, nothing to write home about.

The all-American buffet gives a little of everything. While you may expect a grand buffet full of decadent pastries, made-to-order omelets and fluffy pancakes, the Willard’s small one falls flat. There are little boxes of cereal, containers of yogurt, dried fruit, fresh fruit, cottage cheese and a small assortment of cold cuts and cheeses. The spread will make you reminisce about all the Sunday mornings when you dragged yourself out of bed and down to the Thurston Dining Hall for brunch.

The hot breakfast buffet comes in the form of pancakes, scrambled eggs, bacon and sausage. But as you move down the hot line, don’t stock up too much. The pancakes are heavy and gritty, the eggs are runny and the bacon lacks something. The best of these choices is the large sausage links, and yet they are still too tough.

The safest bet is the pastry and toast station. You will find an assortment of muffins, bread, danish and English muffins. The danish are small but are covered with fresh fruit. Toast a bagel and grab some cream cheese and smoked salmon. This is definitely the best choice, but not worth the price. You’ll also be served a big glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice, but it may taste like all the squeezing went on yesterday, because the juice just doesn’t have the fresh zesty taste.

But $18.95 for the all-you-can-eat buffet option just isn’t worth it. If you want a spread like this, go to Thurston Dining Hall on Colonial Cash. You won’t have your orange juice refilled by a waiter, but you’ll be getting the same spread, if not with more choices. If you choose a dish off the menu, beware of the $8 to $15 price that will take you a lot farther just around the corner at the Old Ebbitt Grill.

Have your parents stay at the beautiful Willard Hotel, take them by the White House as you walk back to campus, eat at the Willard Room, but skip Cafe 1401. It’s more like a continental breakfast at the Hampton Inn but with a much higher price.

Cafe 1401 is open for all meals. The restaurant is open Monday to Friday from 6:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. for breakfast and 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for lunch; and Saturday from 7 a.m. to noon for breakfast and noon to 2:30 p.m. for lunch. Sunday is for all meals-Cafe 1401 serves breakfast from 7a.m. to noon, lunch from noon to 2:30p.m., and dinner from 5:00p.m. to 9:00p.m.

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