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There used to be a time when diners worried about filling up on too much bread before the meal arrived. Now folks have to worry about getting bread at all.
Time-delayed bread service is so common that most of us don’t even pay it much mind anymore, but you know it when you don’t see it: The server doesn’t bring you the breadbasket until after you’ve placed an order, presumably because you’ll be more likely to load up on apps if not weighed down with carbs. The practice seemed to creep into restaurants during the Clinton Administration, which makes some sort of sense. It was the dot-com boom; everyone was looking for new ways to rake in cash.
I recently experienced a new version of this game of hide-the-bread: After ordering an appetizer and entree at the bar of the new Jack’s Restaurant and Bar on 17th Street NW, the bartender took my menu and asked…no wait, he stated, “I assume you don’t want any bread after all the food you ordered.” Just because he was right didn’t make his comment any less presumptuous and arrogant.
A few days later, I tripped upon some old-school bread service at the District ChopHouse & Brewery in Chinatown. Shortly after I sat down, the waiter brought over a small, smoking-hot cast-iron skillet of cornbread (pictured), nestled into a custom-made chopping board, along with the lunch and drink menus. The bread was moist and sweet with yellow corn; around the edges, it also had a welcome hint of skillet char from all those pan breads that went before. But the best part of this free, pre-order bread service: I knew the cornbread was fresh—-not a few rolls made hours ago, tossed into a fancy basket.