The Dish: beef and mac

The Location: Breakwell’s Coffeehouse and Cafe, 900 M Street NW, (202) 289-4601.

The Price: $6.95

The Skinny: The “beef and mac” dish at Breakwell’s, a subterranean cafe across the street from the Convention Center, sounds like home cooking to me, the sort of thing your mom would throw together quickly to feed a hungry clan of tow-headed mouth-breathers. But the tangerine-toned Breakwell’s doesn’t look like any house I remember—-the Sirius hookup blows classic jazz; heady hardbacks and pulpy paperbacks are flopped all over the place, on shelves, windowsills, and tables; paintings are available for sale on just about every available wall space. Despite the post-hippie Berkeley vibe of the place, the beef and mac turns out to be every bit as homey as I thought it would, down to the fact that the pre-made pasta wasn’t reheated all the way through. Once zapped a second time in the microwave, the piping hot squares of elbow macaroni and ground beef—more lasagna than mac-and-cheese with meat—-remind me of the meals of my youth. The red sauce is slightly sweet, the pasta toothsome, and the mozzarella layer salty and translucent. The flavor of bell peppers dominates every bite. Who among us hasn’t sat around a dining-room table shoveling down heaping forkfuls of this kind of quasi-Italian-American cooking? Sometimes I think good eating can be as much psychological and physiological; a memory recalled can be as tasty as a flavor savored.