Sunday, February 7, 2010

Good to Go takeout: Big Chair Coffee n' Grill in Anacostia

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Mac Mekonnen serves a turkey burger and fries at Big Chair Coffee n' Grill.
Mac Mekonnen serves a turkey burger and fries at Big Chair Coffee n' Grill. (Michael Temchine - For The Washington Post)
Wednesday, February 3, 2010

When giving directions to their home in Anacostia, my friends often say, "We live just past the big chair." Until last month, they were referring to the giant structure on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue that, as most locals know, was erected in 1959 to advertise the Curtis Brothers furniture store, now long shuttered. These days, in addition to that larger-than-life landmark, my friends are also referring to the coffee shop that recently opened across the street from it. For this community, where sit-down spots are lacking, the new eatery is huge news.

Big Chair Coffee n' Grill is run by Ayehubizu Yimenu along with her son Dave, nephew Mac and other family members. The location used to be a plumbing shop; Dave spent the past two years turning the space into a cozy two-story cafe. The brew menu is fairly standard (from $1.40 for a small coffee to $4.10 for a large caramel macchiato), but soon the owners plan to offer coffee ceremonies, a tradition carried over from their native Ethiopia. (The coffee is Java brand.)

What to eat? We dropped in on a cold night, so house-made chicken noodle soup ($5.25) sounded good -- and it was, with a pleasantly oniony broth, thick coins of carrot and lots of white meat. Selections that rotate daily include cream of broccoli and corn-and-shrimp chowder. Other solid bets are the boneless wings ($7 for about eight), which are sort of like nuggets that have been given the hot-sauce treatment, and the turkey burger ($7.80), simply dressed with lettuce, tomato and a light swath of mayo. There's a beef burger ($4.95), but Mac says the veggie version ($7.75) is "selling like hotcakes" to his clientele who seem, so far, to appreciate Big Chair's health-minded options in a neighborhood where fried food abounds. We'll be back to try the omelets ($5.99, made with your choice of cheese, vegetables and meat), which we're told are a tasty, not-too-filling way to start the day.

Take your meal on the first floor at the bar or at one of the few small tables near it, or head to the lounge area upstairs and someone will cheerfully bring you your food when it's ready. Either way, take a look around at the art hanging on the walls: Available for purchase, it's the work of local artists from the nearby Honfleur Gallery.

Big Chair Coffee has been in business for only about three weeks, yet already it has its regulars. "I'm in here every day," said one customer whose office is just up the street. The people next to us nodded in agreement. With its simple but satisfying food and friendly-cool vibe, Big Chair feels like one of those mellow get-togethers that you hope will grow to a full-on party.

-- Catherine Barker

Big Chair Coffee n' Grill

2122 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE; 202-525-4287, Hours: Daily, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

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