Sunday, March 15, 2009

Banana Cafe & Piano Bar, Barrack's Row/Capitol Hill

In my years of dining experience, I've come to realize that you have to be in the mood for Mexican or Caribbean food. It's not the type of food you can eat randomly.

Now, apart from chips and salsa, Liza is rarely in the mood for Mexican food. When she is, I'm on it. I enjoy spicy meals and spicy flavors. I actually like Taco Bell, but I keep that on the down low because Liza thinks Taco Bell is "yuck-o."

So this evening we go to the aptly named Banana Cafe & Piano Bar on 8th Street SE along Barrack's Row. Call it a big yellow oasis in the middle of the city. (The Piano Bar is upstairs and has a different menu.) It's a combo Mexican-Cuban-Puerto Rican-Tex Mex restaurant and the menu has all sorts of Caribbean-style dishes.

It's always very loud at Banana Cafe. Kind of hard to have a quality conversation when there's a roar of conversation all around you. In any event, a smiling waiter placed the obligatory chips and salsa on our table, and Liza and I went to work. We were hungry. She ordered a glass of white sangria and I ordered a Corona.

Liza was there for her favorite: plaintain quesadillas. She loves plaintain quesadillas. This is not a plaintain quesadilla blog, though.

I ordered Cuban Pizza. It's the only pizza item on the menu and I had to try it.

It came with a fresh salad. (I could have opted for French fries instead of the salad. But who eats French fries with pizza? Or Mexican food? Not a good combination.)

This Cuban Pizza is a personal size pizza. The menu says it is topped with Picadillo consisting of ground beef and pork, ripe plantains and mozerella (sic) cheese. The fine chefs at Banana Cafe also lopped on some peas, corn, diced red peppers, onions and parsley. What a concoction! I'm surprised there are no banana slices on there.

By the way, Liza is a vegetarian, so she is going to have to sit out this review.

The pizza toppings were piled on and as I picked up the first slice, I was wary the entire thing would fall apart. It didn't. No droopiness, either. Well done.

Now the crust was thick--which helped keep the generous toppings in place--but it was a bit rubbery. Not good. This is a Mexican restaurant, though, so I suspect the chefs are not twirling fresh pizza dough in the kitchen.

The Picadillo ground beef and plaintains combined for a sweet flavor. The ground beef seemed to add a taste of barbecue to it, actually. Some might say the ground beef tasted like a Sloppy Joe, but that doesn't do the this concoction justice. It's probably the same ground beef the chefs use for their tacos.

Overall, I enjoyed the Cuban Pizza. It was something different: a unique pizza dish in a city where Margherita pizzas are all too prevalent. Plus, with the salad and chips and salsa, it's a quality meal for just $10.95.

Maybe you have to be in the mood for Mexican food. If you are, then give the Cuban Pizza a go.

Gary's Rating: 3 stars

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