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Food Review: The Luncheonette Northside Admirably Feeds a Neighborhood Starved for Choices

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A tomato tops a mound of coleslaw, which rests atop mac ’n’ cheese, almost covering the pulled pork and jalapeño slices that complete the cheeseburger, which competes for space on the plate with nacho cheese Doritos topped with cheese and chili.

“Oh, you’re hungover? Me, too,” the young woman at the next table inquires when the behemoth Barton burger ($12) is dropped off at our table. Not at all, but I’ve little doubt that the knife-and-fork sandwich in front of me would work wonders had my night before been as lit as hers.

Welcome to the Luncheonette Northside, the second outpost of the brunch restaurant that aims to provide hearty specialties and a mix-and-match menu that allows eaters to customize their brunch needs seven days a week. That alone is notable.

The former Streetcar Café, as well as the adjacent building, have been converted into a vinyl diner, a reference to the décor: Dozens of vintage album covers and records from the ’50s to the ’80s line the walls, while music that predates the current century plays throughout. The classic diner vibe is provided by colorful metal stools and tables, and with huge plate glass windows, any seat affords a stellar view of the street theater happening just outside, but you may need sunglasses to handle the abundant light that streams through them.

Meals begin with mugs — whether water, soda ($1.50), coffee ($2.50) or wine ($3.50) — priced to support the Pinterest premise that brunch without booze is just a sad, late breakfast. You can count on being asked if you want a mimosa ($3) even before your mug of water is dropped off.

And because it’s located in up-and-coming Barton Heights, there are fascinating bits of local history. Signs tell of James Barton, the man who first developed the surrounding streetcar suburb, and early photographs from the Valentine museum show the young neighborhood before its trees matured. Local street names are woven through the menu.

Those aching for a sweet fix need look no further than the Fendall Frenchie ($8) for traditional French toast smothered in sliced strawberries, bananas and whipped cream dusted in not-so-traditional Oreo and graham cracker crumbs. Hands down, it beats the waffle ($5), which appears nearly burnt and tastes one step removed from an Eggo. And while it’s dusted with confectioner’s sugar, a waffle-eater shouldn’t have to ask for butter, syrup or jam to adorn it.

A make-your-own breakfast platter ($6) of biscuit, sausage gravy, strawberries and a sunny-side up egg is hearty enough, although Southern purists may object to the overly light touch with pepper in the gravy and a biscuit run through a toaster.

Giving the Barton burger a run for its money servicing the hungover or truly hungry set is the ultimate breakfast burger ($13), which stacks corned beef hash, an egg and bacon over a cheeseburger on a sesame seed roll, with a supporting cast of overly crispy potatoes, chorizo and chipotle sour cream. For those who don’t like their food to touch, steer clear.

Infinite variations are possible with a menu that allows you to pick your ingredients for an omelet ($6.50), sandwich ($6), salad ($8.50), fry bowl ($8.50) or quinoa bowl ($9). You can’t go wrong with basics such as a fluffy omelet of sausage, sautéed onions and mushrooms or a simple sandwich of turkey bacon, spinach and tomato. For the latter, brioche buns or gluten-free bread are available on request.

With both the fry bowls and quinoa bowls, you’re at liberty to choose as many ingredients as you like from a list that includes 13 proteins, toppings, cheeses, sweets, fruits, sauces and dressings, making both an excellent value and easily customizable for vegetarians, vegans and the gluten-intolerant.

Three brunches in, I couldn’t help but notice that a lot of customers arrive on foot, a good sign that Luncheonette is appealing to the neighborhood. Service tends to be casual — you’ll likely need to ask for coffee refills and getting the check may take a while — which suits the diner vibe, although this isn’t a place where you’ll be called “hon.”

What it is, though, is a funky brunch joint with enough well-priced options to attract those beyond Barton Heights. And it’s certainly mecca for the hungover, no matter what day of the week it is. S

The Luncheonette Northside
Mondays-Fridays, 7:30 a.m.-2 p.m.; Saturdays-Sundays, 8:30 a.m.-2 p.m.
10 E. Brookland Park Blvd.
868-0300
facebook.com/theluncheonettenorthside

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