Brunch at Cafe Marianna {Classic Article}

Tamar Alexia Fleishman

Having heard that Cafe Marianna serves a New Orleans-style Sunday brunch, I was excited right away. New Orleans is in the minds and hearts of most Americans these days. Also, the Crescent City is known the world over for its intensely delicious food. Cafe Marianna is much more than that; and, if you plunk down $16 for one of their exceptional cookbooks, you will get a clearer picture. The restaurant donates food to local homeless shelters year ’round and purchases its flatware and place settings from Goodwill. Another socially conscious aspect to Cafe Marianna is their lack of “cruel” foods: veal, fois gras or lobster. In their cookbook, they list Chicken Soup with Matzo Balls… Being a “member of the tribe” myself, I noticed the “DAYENU” license plate in the parking lot.

Cafe Marianna is in Old Town, but outside of the touristy sections. We went there on a beautiful sunny day; outside were bikers enjoying their repast, while inside were old-school proper Southern ladies. What a great mix! I was glad to be wearing my hat. There was light music playing softly in the background. With the exception of the proper Southern ladies, everyone was casually dressed. We started with a Bloody Mary; Cafe Marianna does not skimp on the vodka, either. Then, our attentive wait person brought over a basket of homemade mini biscuits.

This is the place to go, no matter what your appetite level. Several items, like the crawfish and crab cakes, come in three sizes: appetizer, entree and side dish. The appetizers run from $6-$9. We tried the cornmeal crusted oysters in hollandaise and Cajun popcorn crawfish. First of all, our eyes grew wide as saucers at the massive portions! Then, we tasted our dishes. They were truly divine. For many years, I thought I had grown to hate shrimp and crawfish; when I ate them in this area, they seemed tough and sometimes, even gamy. Not so in New Orleans and not so at Cafe Marianna! The seafood has a clean, fresh taste that is so rare here on a Sunday morning. The crawfish had a spicy, creamy sauce on the side — remoulade? Let’s all ask Super Frank, he’ll know. The oysters had a very rich hollandaise sauce, delicious. Both appetizers weren’t just garnished, they had a Caesar salad on the side. Quite frankly, you could make a meal of the appetizers alone.

Main dishes at Cafe Marianna run between $10 – $13. They are all named after famous streets in New Orleans; I ordered the Pirate’s Alley, which was a huge omelet chock full of plump seafood. I ordered as a side potatoes Lyonnaise (which are pretty much breakfast potatoes), though I could have also ordered buttered grits. Dining Companion had a French Toast with pecans. Normally, I’m rather lukewarm about the ol’ “Pain Perdu”; I don’t like eating a half loaf of bread for breakfast. All I can say is Cafe Marianna’s is really, really good. First, I tasted Dining Companion’s choice — I had to write about it, after all. Then, I saw my own mischievous fork abandoning the omelet and trespassing onto his plate, over and over! They take French bread slices, marry them with a whole bunch of butter and sprinkle powdered sugar and huge toasted pecan halves. There is maple syrup for dipping.

We also ordered some “sides”; can you believe it? Side dishes will set you back between $3 -$6. We had a huge portion of smoked andouile sausage and also, a crawfish-crab cake. The crawfish-crab cake was very spicy, if you’re into that sort of thing and was garnished with the spicy-creamy sauce again.

Cafe Marianna’s is known for their desserts, so while Dining Companion and I were rolling on the floor at this point, we shared a creme brulee. It was rich, generously portioned and again, terrific.

Cafe’ Marianna
1201 N. Royal Street
Alexandria, VA
Sunday Brunch: 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Reservations not required.

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