ADAMS MORGAN, D.C. — Within months of moving into the heart of the bustling entertainment district of Adams Morgan two years ago, I noticed myself spending considerably less leisure time here than I had before. Although new local-friendly parking restrictions and more mature, Obama-approved eateries suggest this could soon change, the neighborhood has long had a well-earned reputation for catering first and foremost to those who live elsewhere. As the proprietor of one 18th Street watering hole that does not offer an all-you-can-drink power hour tells me, “It’s always been known as a party area.” For better or worse, it still is.
As anyone who has attended a NASCAR race or a jam band concert can attest, where intoxicated crowds are present, there too shall be cheap, fast, greasy food. One happy consequence of Adams Morgan’s nightlife scene enjoyed by visitors and residents alike is the neighborhood’s abundance of latenight snacking options. Better still, thanks to its famously diverse ethnic makeup, the area boasts a range of cuisines broader and more exciting than anywhere else in the District.
When it comes to drunk food, I have a simple rule of thumb: If you wouldn’t eat it sober, don’t eat it wasted. My current go-to spot for dining in the wee hours, whether I’ve stayed local for the evening or I’m returning from abroad, is Döner Bistro, a cozy Turkish-German-style café that opened last year in a shopfront on the relatively sleepy east end of the Columbia Road strip. The joint has a homey, distinctly Iron Curtain-era vibe about it. The walls of the narrow, vibrantly-hued space are lined with long, biergarten-style wooden tables. As last call approaches, the din of the day’s Premier League highlights is interrupted with increasing frequency by the good-hearted shouts of revelers and the rhythmic thud of the foosball table that stands in the front window. (Failing to mention the foosball table until the end of the third paragraph is the definition of what journalists call “burying the lede.” That more bars don’t have a foosball table is tragic mystery.)
As importantly, the menu at Döner Bistro is chock full of drunk food par excellence. Being particularly inclined to the miraculous achievement of food consumption that is the sandwich, I gravitate naturally to the outstanding schnitzel sandwich, which features a flattened and breaded veal cutlet stacked inside a German brötchen roll and slathered with a tangy, tangerine-colored “spezial” sauce. It recalls a lighter, less gut-busting take on the fried pork tenderloin sandwiches popular in Indiana and elsewhere in the American heartland, and it is an ideal nightcap after a night of vigorous imbibing.
Elsewhere, the eponymous döner dish is a merely passable example of the popular spit-roasted sliced meat (chicken or beef), served here on a sort of flatbread rather than the more traditional pita. Faring better is the borderline addictive currywurst, which comprises fried pork sausage sliced into bite-sized pieces, slathered in a spicy, curry-laced ketchup sauce and paired with a mountain of truly top-notch pommes. Washed down with any of the surprisingly generous selection of pilseners, kölsch, dopplebocks and heffeweizens, this meal is quite possibly the greatest midnight snack in the history of over-indulgence.
If the grease-soaked paper plates lining Adams Morgan’s gutters on weekend mornings are any evidence, jumbo slice, the neighborhood’s most notorious culinary achievement, is as popular as ever. But for those willing to look a little harder (or for those whose health-consciousness renders them disinclined to eat a piece of pizza bigger this his own head), there is no shortage of diamonds in the rough waiting to be discovered. I can’t promise that a visit to Döner Bistro will lower your cholesterol, but I can promise that even in this marketplace of exceptional culinary variety, it will offer an experience, and a meal, that is unlike any other.
Jack Nank is the creator of the D.C.-based sandwich blog Eat a Sandiwch. You can follow him on Twitter at @SandwichJack.