by Tom Sietsema
Feb 19, 1987
529 14th St. NW (in National Place) 347-1138 Hours: Monday through Friday 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sunday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Prices: Appetizers 49 cents to $3.75; sandwiches, salads and entrees $2.25-$9.95. Cards: American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard, Visa.
Club LT-the upscale offspring of the ubiquitous green-roofed hamburger houses-is unlike any Little Tavern you’ve seen around town.
It’s bigger. It’s splashier. And it’s got hamburgers worthy of competing with Washington’s best.
Fans of the 49-cent, two-bite Little Tavern burger needn’t worry. The tiny trademark sandwich is still on the menu (listed, appropriately, under appetizers).
The signature chrome and tile decor, on the other hand, has been replaced here with a blaze of colors, mirrors, neon and cafe-style appointments, including a handsome bar. There are silk flower arrangements resting on polished wood ledges, as well as dark wood pillars and brass railings, to lend a touch of warmth. The rambling dining room, which combines cozy booths and closely spaced tables, spills out onto the terrace of The Shops at National Place.
When ordering, keep this restaurant’s diner roots in mind. The mammoth charbroiled hamburgers, served on toasted buns, are fine, smoky ones, and perhaps best savored with Club LT’s intensely rich and filling malts and milk shakes. (Only the commercial whipped topping detracts from the nostalgia.) The sturdy french fries are on the greasy side, but of good flavor. And for dessert there are such mainstays as bread pudding, an appropriate albeit heavy finish, plus rice pudding and apple pie.
Club LT serves a rib-sticking breakfast throughout the day. Don’t miss the lacy, crisp waffles, topped with a surfeit of whipped butter and prettily accented with a fanned strawberry.
Where would a diner be without its blue-plate specials of hot roast beef, grilled ham and meat loaf? Though a bit too sweet for my taste, the chili, garnished with raw onion and a dull layer of cheese, was a warming and sinus-clearing meal.
Sandwiches round out the menu: One of the best is the herbed steak sandwich, savory slices of flank steak seasoned with parmesan cheese and stuffed in a soft twist roll. Curiously, the turkey and bacon club is described on the menu as made “the ole fashioned way.” What I got on my plate, however, was nothing more special than that offered by many a sandwich shop. For the kids there is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich-with sliced bananas, no less. A nice touch.
What’s not vintage diner fare is less likely to impress. (You wouldn’t expect a great pizza from a Chinese restaurant, would you?) The grilled marinated chicken breast was satisfactorily juicy and well cooked if a bit bland, served with overcooked broccoli and a boring rice pilaf. And the dry salmon steak with hollandaise was clearly overreaching on the part of the kitchen. (Actually, the best part of both meals was the delicious hot rolls that preceded them.)
When it comes to service at Club LT, there are as many ups and downs as a roller coaster. Unless you arrive early, lunch is barely controlled chaos. Recently, I sat and watched my malt melt while waiting for a straw. Looking around, I noticed I had a lot of company in patrons waiting for checks, change, water and soup. At night, the opposite is true; not long ago, the staff seemed so concerned about leaving that I was practically swept out of the dining room after I paid my check. (Technically, the restaurant was open for another hour.)
Such irritating service practices aside, Club LT captures our attention with its funky modern decor. For the most part, it also captures the spirit of an old-fashioned diner with its prices and reliable home-style fare.Tom Sietsema is on the staff of The Washington Post Food section.
Club LT: A Bit of the Little Tavern
by Phyllis C. Richman
Mar 4, 1988
DINER DAYS are here again, with meatloaf and mashed potatoes, milkshakes and mid-century lingo such as Wet Hen – a sauced and cheesed chicken sandwich, of course.
Club LT is the diner revisited, stretched across the top floor of The Shops at National Place mall rather than along a roadway. It combines the neon-and-formica look of a diner, though, with the burger-strong menu of the old Little Taverns, for which it is named. Add to the mixed metaphor such modern inventions as potato skins and Chocolate Chambord Cake, and you’ll see that the spirit is more authentic than the flesh.
It is a menu for hankerings from the good old days: Tuna melt and Greek salad, fried chicken and London broil are on the menu, and for kids there is even a peanut butter jelly club – with fries (ever seen pb&j with fries before?). Some are authentic in name only: the mashed potatoes are instant, and the gravy tastes like brown tinny liquid salt.
One modern lapse, though, is welcome, as well as astonishing: Under the appetizers are Three Little Tavern Burgers, “made the original way,” for $1.50. It’s the best bargain in the city. Not only does the waitress ask how you want your burgers done (the real Little Tavern never did that), the kitchen actually cooks them to your specifications.
The three burgers are bigger than the old LT originals – about two inches in diameter and nearly a half inch thick – and lightly formed by hand rather than machine, which makes them also better than any fast-food burgers on the market. They miss the old LT’s minced onions and pickle slices which add a flavor punch, but why nitpick when you are offered three little burgers of excellent caliber, each of which probably outweighs a single McDonald burger. Add a breezily friendly waitress and a decent cup of coffee, and Club LT could make its own place in diner history.
THE UNSPOKEN PRICE –
For years I have been complaining about restaurants where waiters don’t tell you the prices when they recite the specials, and recently many restaurants have begun to do so. Some still complain that it is undignified to mention prices. However, the most expensive restaurant in New York, The Quilted Giraffe, has managed to find a way around it. The menu is fixed-price, but a couple of dishes such as the Beggar’s Purses and foie gras have a supplemental charge. So when the waiter recites the specials he says something like, “with the same supplemental charge as the foie gras.” No Victorian lady ever went to greater lengths to circumlocute such delicate issues.
TRUTH IN ADVERTISING –
At the opposite end of the spectrum is the January/February advertising supplement by Museum & Arts magazine. Often advertising supplements look and read like normal editorial copy, with a tiny “Advertising” designation at the bottom. This culinary arts supplement, however, came right out front and headed its “Favorite Menus” sections as “Recommendations from our Advertisers.”
GARCON, YOUR BEST TABLE –
A reader sent a saying from his “Quote of the Day” calendar which I consider sage advice: “In a restaurant, choose a table near a waiter.”