Chances are, if you’ve ever been to Wisconsin or M Street, you’ve seen Martin’s Tavern. The iconic long yellow-and-green building sits on the corner of Wisconsin and N, across the street from Pablo’s and just a stone’s throw away from the local favorite Mai Thai. Martin’s is iconic for more than its exterior, however. The local restaurant has hosted some of this nation’s political leaders, including Harry Truman (booth 6), John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and George W. Bush (table 12).
I entered the tavern on a Sunday morning, and was promptly greeted by a very gracious hostess at the door. She led me and my brunch buddy to a small table in the center of the room— unfortunately, we did not have the honor of sharing seats with Presidents Truman or Bush— and our Sunday Brunch began.
Atmosphere and Originality
Martin’s is a dimly lit, old-fashioned tavern, complete with a mounted bronze deer head and animal photo prints covering the walls. Every booth lining the borders of the tavern has its own unique stained-glass lamp, which lights the tavern’s dark, wooden walls in small pockets. Our table, while cramped, was nicely presented, and featured the quintessential brunch items: sugar packets, ketchup, hot-sauce, and a plate with a doily and a tin pot of maple syrup. The tavern definitely has an unique interior, but was a little crowded. Our table in the center of the room forced us to pinch our elbows into our sides when passers-by moved through the restaurant.
Service, however, was fantastic. Our waitress was extremely friendly, and refilled our coffee and water glasses almost immediately after we emptied them. She chatted with us while we selected our food, and definitely made our brunch experience all the more enjoyable.
Diversity of Menu
Brunch at Martin’s Tavern is traditional English fare: options included steak and eggs, omelettes, bagel with lox, pancakes, shepherd’s pie, fish and chips, and creamed chipped beef. My brunch date chose the challah french toast with bacon and a side of fruit, while I had the eggs florentine, which came with breakfast potatoes and a fruit cup. Our prelude to brunch was a pot of hot coffee.
The food at Martin’s Tavern is nicely presented in standard plating style. My eggs florentine looked just fine on the plate—nothing fancy—while my brunch buddy’s french toast was stacked and dusted with powdered sugar. We had trouble fitting everything (our two platters, fruit, and coffees) on the table, however, which hindered the food presentation. Overall, it was a nice arrangement, but nothing special.
It’s hard to have truly exceptional eggs florentine and french toast, as they are such classic brunch staples. My eggs florentine was delicious, however: the eggs were poached perfectly, the spinach was nicely seasoned, and the biscuits were fluffy and buttery. A sprinkle of smoked paprika over the top of the florentine added a depth of flavor to the dish. The fruit side was a generic melon-and-pineapple cup, and didn’t add much besides a refreshing bite to the platter. The real star of the dish was Martin’s breakfast potatoes— they were wonderfully seasoned, sauteed with caramelized onions and diced bell peppers, and made the dish stand out from other generic eggs florentine dishes I’ve had in the past.
My brunch date devoured the challah french toast, and called it a “substantially filling meal.” The bacon was cooked very well and was of high quality— perhaps the equivalent star of the breakfast potatoes for my brunch date’s dish. Our coffees were pleasant and not bitter at all, despite the fact that Martin’s brews their coffees by the pot rather than in single servings. Overall, the food was filling and flavorful, a solid meal to start our Sunday.
Many of the generic options on Martin’s menu were reasonably priced. My date’s challah french toast and bacon cost 11.95, while my eggs florentine were a bit pricier (and in my opinion, overpriced) at 13.95. Our general consensus was that the brunch was a bit overpriced for the quality, but not ridiculously so. If anything, Martin’s is nice for the history of the place, which can overshadow (or distract from) the quality of the brunch.
Overall, Martin’s Tavern is a solid brunch spot, and a great option for those interested in historical relevance of people and places in DC. For visitors looking for a little bit of everything—history, breakfast potatoes, and decent coffee—Martin’s Tavern is the place to go.
And if you can get booth 6 or table 12 and brunch like our former presidents, all the better.
Diversity of Menu: 8