Although the name sounds like a children’s toy, ABC Pony is an all-day café delivering a mix of Asian and Italian fusion dishes in a vintage-meets-modern atmosphere.
Located at 2 I St SE in Navy Yard, the name is an homage to owner and D.C. restaurateur Eric Bruner-Yang’s daughter, who had a toy pony growing up that recited the ABCs. In addition to the restaurant’s name, the decor and Chef Armani Johnson’s menu all work together to create a laid back, playful space weaving in an air of nostalgia.
The eatery’s decor and atmosphere nod affectionately to 90’s pop culture. The beat of classic 90’s hip hop welcomes you as you find your seat among vintage memorabilia, like VHS tapes, lining the back wall.
The wall paper on several columns throughout the space incorporates small black and white cartoon sketches, subtly adding to the relaxed feeling present throughout the space. While the sleek white marble table tops, beige wooden floors and the addition of a few green house plants maintain a fresh, modern atmosphere.
Since its doors opened in 2019, ABC Pony has served as a convenient lunch spot located next door to the South Capitol Apartments. The restaurant’s floor-to-ceiling windows create a light-filled space that’s comfortable for a daytime coffee and work environment while in the evening, the bar and simple menu lends itself to a casual dinner out.
The menu consists of just 13 dishes, but each item makes an impression. I started with the ABC lumpia, a small, thin style of spring roll common in Indonesia and the Philippines, but updated with an Italian twist.
The crisp cylinders of delicate dough are filled with Italian sausage and burrata mozzarella served alongside a chili-ranch dipping sauce. These crisp rolls of meat and cheese pack in powerful flavor, making them a finger food appetizer you’ll want to share.
For my main course I ordered the paid vacation ($12), a simple yet flavorful fried calamari sandwich. Between two pieces of a pillowy brioche bun rests rings of calamari, fried until golden and crisp.
The sandwich marries crispy calamari with a mild spice and sweetness from a smear of house-made hot sauce balanced with a cooling lemon Dijonaise, a creamy Dijon mustard and mayonnaise sauce. The heaviness of the fried seafood and creamy sauce is contrasted by the addition of shredded lettuce, which brings freshness to the dish.
The sandwich’s presentation, wrapped in red and white checkered parchment paper, contributed to the casual diner-esque atmosphere of the restaurant. Listed in the Washington City Paper as one of the eight most memorable sandwiches in D.C., its unique flavor profile strikes a balance between mild spice and sweetness.
ABC Pony updates its menu weekly with specials – this week’s sandwich special is breaded pork loin and melted swiss served atop a bed of peppery arugula, peppers and onions ($15).
To pair with their food options, ABC Pony offers a wide variety of specialty drinks like HIte Jinro Soju ($15), a Korean rice liquor, Taiwanese beer ($6) and ABC Pony’s signature guochujang spicy margarita ($10). Non-alcoholic options are also available, including Taiwanese Apple Sidra soda ($3) and Sarsaparilla soda, a fizzy drink similar to root beer ($3).
The restaurant’s creative and laid-back style of cooking is reflected in the atmosphere of the restaurant. You can seat yourself, place your order on your phone and relax as you enjoy your meal.
To round out my meal, I enjoyed one of the restaurant’s sesame chocolate chip cookies ($3). The touch of sesame in the cookie adds a sophisticated sweetness and nutty flavor, and the soft and buttery inside makes for a sweet and satisfying dessert. In addition to their cookies, you can also try their assortment of cannolis ($3), or their seasonal pumpkin spice latte tiramisu ($5).
The next time you’re in Navy Yard, visit ABC Pony for some specialty drinks and fresh takes on classic dishes.