Thursday, April 19, 2012

Levi's Port Café

Levi's Port Café is a nautically-themed hole-in-the-wall south of the main Barracks Row strip, just up from the Navy Yard.  Serving Southern style dinners and North Carolina BBQ that taste like they came out of a country kitchen, Levi's should not be overlooked.  The Washington Post states: "This Navy Yard-area treasure offers sweet tea and red velvet cake in addition to quality barbecue in a setting that feels as familiar as a favorite pair of jeans."  Closest Metro is Eastern Market or Navy Yard.

Keith and I first went to Levi's about 5 years ago and I remember it being very casual inside and the food being decent, but nothing outstanding that beckoned our frequent visit like other restaurants along Barracks Row.  I think it is only fair to give this reputed oldie-but-goodie a second chance.  I recently purchased a Groupon that inspired me to return to Levi's again for the prix fixe "soul-food meal for two": 2 entrées, 4 sides, 2 jumbo drinks, and one dessert. We were the only patrons in the restaurant at the time, so our server was very friendly and welcoming.  He let us choose whatever table we wanted and recited our options for the evening.  The entrée choices available included: baked/fried/barbequed chicken, baked/fried fish, or meatloaf. Side choices included: collard greens, mac 'n' cheese, coleslaw, mashed potatoes, string beans, potato salad, yams, corn, or cabbage. Dessert choice from: banana pudding, peach cobbler, or sweet potato pie. (I was disappointed that red velvet cake was not available for this deal.)  A hot buffet with all the food is displayed on the side of the room and that is where the servers go to plate your food.

First for drinks, I chose the lemonade while Keith had the sweet tea. And sweet it was!  I think mixing the two Arnold Palmer-style would have been great to cut down the sugar high. For my meal I settled on the fried chicken with a side of mac 'n' cheese and corn.  I asked for white meat and received a large breast and wing.  The chicken was simply seasoned with salt and pepper, crispy outside and moist inside.  The macaroni and cheese was delicious! Very Southern - big elbow pasta with lots of cheese baked together.  Since the ribs, which are cooked in a sweet and smoky vinegar-based sauce, were not available as part of the deal Keith chose fried chicken as well, but asked for dark meat and received two drumsticks and a wing. He got mashed potatoes with gravy and collard greens on the side.  I tasted his sides and the mashed potatoes were good - buttery with nice extra flavor from the chicken gravy.  The greens were cooked well, but still a little too bitter for my taste.  Our server also brought over a couple pieces of the most wonderful corn bread I have ever had.  It was sweet and not too dry or crumbly as other corn breads are. Overall, the food was much better than we remembered and we devoured it all.  For dessert we shared their peach cobbler, which was super sweet heightened by the syrupy canned peaches I think they used.  Not my favorite rendition; I would order the sweet potato pie next time.

By the time we were finished with our meal, the restaurant had filled up with dinner patrons.  I must point out that the table next to us were "first timers" and felt out of place, as they were just unfamiliar with how the service worked.  They were one of the few who left negative remarks on one of the popular review sites (we overheard them doing it on their phone right at the table.)  I agree, Levi's can be hit or miss with the service - but you must understand that local hole-in-the-wall type places have their own personality and nuances.  First timers must go with an open mind and lower your expectations until you get the hang of it.  Be nice, ask questions - the staff is more than happy to answer.  They want your business, so give them a chance. It is not the most refined service at Levi's, but the food is comforting and available at a great price (choice of meat with 2 sides for only $10).  Hours are limited to Monday through Friday 3 pm to 7 pm and Saturday from 12 pm to 6 pm, and be warned - they are known to close early randomly depending on how busy they are.  So try to go for an early dinner before heading to Nationals Park this season - or better yet, get your food to go.  Fill up your #Natitude with some real Southern soul food.

Total Rating: 3.9
Food: 4, Price: 5, Service: 3, Ambience: 2, Accessibility: 4

What I ate:

Fried Chicken (white)
with mac 'n' cheese and corn

Peach Cobbler

Plus Keith ate:

Fried Chicken (dark)
with collard greens and mashed potatoes with gravy

 Levis Port Cafe on Urbanspoon

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