Busboys and Poets. The name speaks for itself as each restaurant under the name becomes a landmark in each area that it stomps ground in within the DMV area. Being inspired by Langston Hughes, the name is catchy, and each sign is visually capturing to all that come across it which is one of the large contributing factors for its quick success and expansion. From the moment you walk in, you’ll see a small bookstore with a comfortable sitting area, so that even when there is a wait, you can, sit, roam, read, and allow the time to fly by. And I being someone who loves reading, I always do just that. Between The messages and pictures on the walls, the fun facts that are on the monitors, the lack of coordinated uniform amongst the host and serving staff, the unisex bathroom, and the poetry nights, the vibe of each restaurant is both completely unique to other restaurants that hold the same name, and even more unique to all other restaurants that you will ever walk into.
On Easter 2012, my family and I ate at Eatonville, a restaurant with Southern-Inspired Cuisine named after the town in which Zora Neale Hurston was from (An establishment which has since closed its doors). And even though I wasn’t vegan yet, I wasn’t really craving anything at the moment that I was there, so I just ordered a cajun tofu salad which was simple, yet significantly better than I expected. The tofu was perfectly seasoned, and the salad that was paired, was an excellent choice.To add to the experience that the food hadn’t provided, I was taken aback by +the positive energy that was a catalyst for my family to have a loving debate, the catchy and capturing music, and the jazz inspired artwork that brightened each wall throughout the restaurant. I only went there once, and soon after, I found out that it had a sister restaurant called Busboys and Poets, so I figured that it had to be good since it was also founded by Andy Shallal, who is an entrepreneurial inspiration to me.
Now, even though I heard about it and passed it several times over the years, my first time going to Busboys and Poets wasn’t until New Year’s day of 2016, when my mother and I had gone to the Basilica which is located near the Catholic University campus. My mom is a complete and total foodie and had been there several times so she literally knew the entire menu. So we walk in, and were immediately sat. I was astounded by the comfortable energy that was flowing throughout the restaurant. My mother was overly excited for me to try the crab grits and suggested it before I had a chance to look at the menu fully (I still wasn’t a full vegan at the time) and so she attempts to order them, to which we received word that they don’t have it available and just as quickly as my mother got excited, she was unexcited. As I looked over the menu, my excitement increased because I had never been to an establishment with so many good looking vegan options that didn’t clash with the non-vegan options on menu. So my mother could eat, and I could as well without any complaints of not having enough options. I proceeded to order a tempeh panini which contained vegan mayo, arugula, red peppers, tempeh, and avocado with mixed fruit served on the side, as my entree and a raspberry cheesecake as my dessert. I left amazed at the food, yet perplexed that there were so many solid brunch, lunch, dinner, AND dessert options. This was a brand new experience for me.
From that day forward, I was able to make it the restaurant that I could never say no to going to. If there was ever any dispute about where I should eat either by myself or with a group of friends, Busboys and Poets was the default. And the vegan cheesecake finalized that decision because those that are close to me, know that cheesecake is a priority dessert in my world and I having traveled back and forth from New York for the larger part of my childhood, have become a self-proclaimed cheesecake connoisseur, and that I also had a hard time adjusting to not having cheesecake after I went vegan (but before I found Daiya cheesecake and started making my own so I was definitely going through a rough period). So just a few weeks later after my first visit, my uncle was in town from Upstate New York, and there was definitely a question as to where we should go. Being as he is also a vegan and my father and brother are hard core carnivores, we made BBP the place to go so that all of us could eat good. It was then, I was able to try the life-changing chickpea “tuna” salad sandwich with a side of French Fries for the first time and I loved it so much that when the server came back to ask how we were doing, I looked like how Mulan did when Moo Shu stuffed breakfast into her face. I had seen the recipe a few times before I tried it, but I was going to call BS on the idea of tuna being replaced so easily. But they successfully manipulated vegans into believing that chickpeas can taste like tuna salad, even with the textures of tuna and chickpeas being completely different. So at this point, I’ve found my go-to restaurant and my go-to sandwich. Since those visits, I have had the Avocado Panini, Vegan Pizza, Vegan Nachos, Vegan Quesadillas, Hummus, Baba Ganoush, Plantains, Falafel Wrap, cookies, brownies, and varied cheesecakes, and every single one of those items has given me the itis and caused happy food comas (But I’m dangerously disapppointed in myself for not trying the vegan mac and cheese yet). I’ve even been able to let my non-vegan family members try my dishes and let them know that BBP plays no games in that area. When I have been in completely weird or less than exciting periods in my life, or even super sick with colds, the energy throughout the restaurants have always managed to lift me up, which is something that food alone cannot always do.
It has become a mecca for comfort foods to all demographics that live throughout the Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia Area, and each location have also become large tourist attractions. I can go there with my grandparents, my parents, sibings, nieces and nephews, or friends, and every single time, we would be able to have a wonderful experience that is supported by the light vibe of the always friendly staff, the delicious food, quick service (although I did order my chickpea salad sandwich for take-out and waited well over 30 minutes but I still love them anyways lol), an amazing cocktail menu, and options to have outdoor seating. It is making strides by expanding to multiple areas to secure its availability to all areas so that as time goes on, we won’t be needing to travel too far for good vibes and good food (I know I’ll soon be benefitting from the new Anacostia location and won’t be needing to go to Brookland, Shirlington, or Hyattsville anymore lol). I don’t just recommend Busboys and Poets to vegan or non-vegan food lovers. I recommend them to book lovers. I recommend them to visual art lovers. I recommend them to bar hoppers. I recommend them to spoken word and poetry lovers. I recommend them to anyone that may need a pick me up on any day for any reason. I recommend them to all that need good vibes, good food, and good fun.