The uneven brickwork outside Jimmy T’s Place has seen better days, though it makes for a remarkably pleasant view. When it’s warm out, the sidewalk—striped with moss-filled cracks and speckled with chewed gum, leaves, and cigarette butts—is a sunbaked stage for pedestrians. Most are waiting for a seat inside the diner. Others, like the kids who’ve taken control of their strollers in a makeshift demolition derby, are simply loitering in the early spring heat. The scene outside the restaurant, which casts its shadow on a corner of 5th and East Capitol, is comfortable, almost quaint.
Thirty-odd years of submitting to the elements have been hard on Jimmy T’s, but the building’s well-worn appearance suits it. Badly chipped windowsills are adorned with geraniums and potted herbs. The bricks of the structure have taken on distinct hues of gray, white, and maroon. If you didn’t know that Jimmy T’s existed, you might never spot it; its sign, once painted prominently on one of the restaurant’s five gargantuan windows, is so weathered that it’s hard to make out the words.
Jimmy T’s aging exterior is one indication that this is an archetypal greasy spoon—a restaurant that lives proudly in the past even though the years have plainly taken their toll. The other telltale sign is a menu that shuns invention. People have a basic need to revert to familiar things when dealing with more pressing matters than food—like waking up—which probably accounts for Jimmy T’s friendly, homespun breakfast vibe. The prices don’t hurt either: If you rack up a bill much higher than six bucks, you’ve ordered too much.
Even on manageable mornings, hard choices are best left for the office. The hardest decision to make at Jimmy T’s is where to sit: at the bar facing the crackling griddle, in the isolation of one of the four-and-a-half booths, or at one of the open tables, the best of which sit by windows that boast a view of the sidewalk.
Ordering from Jimmy T’s menu is merely a matter of obeying your mood. The place has eggs, prepared however you like, served with meat and toast. Pancakes and waffles are made from scratch and, if you ask, can be topped with fruit (the waffles with blueberries and peaches are good enough to be a dessert) and hot maple syrup. Jimmy T’s home fries are a little on the soft side (anyone serving grated, crispy-to-hard hash browns should contact me) but go great with eggs and a splat of ketchup. The specials, written on a chalkboard behind the bar, offer some variety, but the selections remain pretty constant. A plate of gravy-soaked sausage on toast was served as a “daily special” during all of my visits, though a friend who ordered it on two separate occasions didn’t seem to mind. My habit has been to complement a steaming bowl of oatmeal with an egg, ham, and melted-cheese sandwich, which renounces the symmetry of the McDonald’s version, overflowing its toasted English muffin.
Jimmy T’s does do lunch (it closes every day at 3 p.m.), though I can vouch only for the cheeseburger and the corn chowder—perfect medicine one rainy day when I’d neglected to eat until 2 in the afternoon. But to visit Jimmy T’s other than for the first meal of the day seems a waste. To gulp down the day’s first jolt of caffeine at a window seat in Jimmy T’s is to realize why it’s crucial to keep handy a fresh list of why-I-was-late-for-work excuses. You never know when you might want to take in the view.
Jimmy T’s Place, 501 East Capitol St. (202) 546-3646.
Former New Yorkers have complained to me that finding a decent falafel in the District is as difficult as nabbing a parking spot along Connecticut Avenue. If the falafels aren’t served overcooked and hard, they’re probably overpriced. “I don’t pay more than $3 for a falafel,” says one reader. Nonbelievers should try Cafe Nema, a Middle Eastern restaurant and bar that opened four months ago. Nema’s falafel sandwich is standard, coming wrapped in a pita, doused with tahini sauce, and accompanied with a small salad of cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, and red pepper. Frugal Gothamites can rest easy. The veggie patties, which achieve the sublime midpoint between crispy and squishy, are only 3 bucks.
Cafe Nema, 1334 U Street NW. (202) 667-3215.
Eatery tips? Hot plates? Send suggestions to email@example.com. Or call (202) 332-2100 and ask for my voice mail.—Brett Anderson