Head-to-Head: Two of DC’s Hottest Brunch Spots

Eggs Norwegian from Le Diplomate is visually more appealing than the goat cheese & beet hash from Founding Farmers. Photos by Meg Williams.

On my recent trip to DC, I set out on a mission to find the best weekend brunch that locals and tourists both love. I scoured online articles detailing every brunch spot in the city. I also surveyed my friend who goes to George Washington University and her friends to find out where they frequented on Sunday mornings. My goal was to find two restaurants that appeared different in what they had to offer. I settled on Founding Farmers, a restaurant run by farmers serving from scratch brunch with locally sourced ingredients, and Le Diplomate, a popular French haunt in DC notorious for having the hardest to nab brunch reservation in town.

Ambiance

Founding Farmers reputation lies in their fresh food. According to their website, the restaurant’s mission is to “make quality food accessible to all.” The atmosphere is a slight afterthought here. The tables and chairs are plain wood, the booths look like any other restaurant booth, and there isn’t much décor to create an exciting ambiance. There is an overall lack of character except for the rustic bar and uniforms the staff wear. This doesn’t necessarily effect the experience diners get from the restaurant because of the familiarity of the design. When I walked in, it instantly felt like a restaurant I visited before making me feel at ease and comfortable throughout brunch.

Le Diplomate spares no details in transforming its space into that of an old French brasserie. Photos by Meg Williams.

Le Diplomate is the complete opposite of Founding Farmers. Ambiance is at the forefront of every diners’ experience here. From the second I laid eyes on the sidewalk tables and blue exterior, I knew I would be treated to feeling like I was back in Paris. It exudes French café culture. The fresh bread table stacked high with rustic loaves is the centerpiece of the dining room. Servers dressed in white button downs and black ties buzz from table to table carrying classics like steak frites, French onion soup and baskets of warm madeleines. The vintage décor is just enough to set the scene without coming across as too much of a themed restaurant. It feels and looks authentically French.

Having visited Founding Farmers before Le Dip (as the locals call it), I thought Founding Farmers was toast. In my mind, there was no way it could stand up to the experience I was going to receive from Le Dip. The attention to detail in every corner of the restaurant made me much more excited for what was to come than when I walked into Founding Farmers.

Food

Founding Farmers: Looks in restaurants can sometimes be deceiving. The Founding Farmers brunch menu is a great take on what most people want for their morning weekend meal. It features a creative variety of waffles, French toast, pancakes and eggs benedicts as well as other brunch classics like chicken and waffles and avocado toast. The variety is what brings the menu to the next level. Diners can choose between vanilla cream stuffed French toast or bourbon battered. They can pick smoked salmon, crab cake, sausage & gravy or traditional eggs benedict. The options are endless and allow for diners to have more of a say in what they want their breakfast to taste like.

We ordered two different styles of their poached egg hashes and the vanilla cream stuffed French toast topped with strawberries and cream. One poached egg hash featured two eggs on top of hash browns fried up with pastrami, bell pepper and onion smothered in hollandaise. The other hash was the same except it featured goat cheese, beets, bell pepper and onion. These are a take on eggs benedict without the English muffin, but much more filling because it comes with a side of bread. The poached eggs seemed to be steamed or cooked in another nontraditional way where the whites didn’t have the usual silky texture to them. It made the eggs a little firmer than normal. Overall, this was a tasty, easily shared dish and is a great bang for your buck at $14.

The lighting in Founding Farmers is quite dark setting an odd tone for brunch which is normally brightly lit. Photos by Meg Williams.

French toast stick lovers will rejoice when they bite into Founding Farmers’ stuffed French toast. It is served in the shape of big rectangular blocks almost resembling bricks. The vanilla filling is not too heavy and doesn’t overflow creating a good toast to cream ratio. The bread is soft and light on the inside with a crispy batter on the outside that is sweet with slight salty notes. The strawberries and cream topping was not the best choice for this dish at three extra dollars because there was already vanilla cream inside, and there weren’t many strawberries. Diners can choose to have it plain or try the bananas foster topping for an extra $3 as well. This dish plain rings in at $10. It is a great sweet treat to split with the table.

It’s also important to note most of their beverages are handmade including juices, sodas and alcohol. The brunch menu has an extensive list of different coffees, teas and cocktails.

Total Food Cost (2 people): $49.50

  • Beef Pastrami Egg Hash: $14
  • Goat Cheese and Beet Egg Hash: 14
  • Vanilla Cream Stuffed French Toast with Strawberries & Cream: $13
  • Arnold Palmer (free refills): $4.50
  • Drip Coffee (free refills): $4

Le Diplomate: A restaurant can have the most spectacular atmosphere in the world, but if the food is bad, there’s not reason to go back. Le Dip is one of those places that is so well-regarded in the city for having the best brunch that I was curious to see how it would stand up to my high expectations. I made a Sunday reservation three weeks prior to the date. At Founding Farmers, reservations are encouraged, but I did notice they were seating people at a 10-to-15 minute wait. The host at Le Dip was quoting walk-ins at an hour and 15 minutes.

Le Diplomate’s warm welcome begins with eyeing their charming exterior and a homemade selection of breads. Photos by Meg Williams.

Upon sitting down, diners are immediately treated to a bread basket with three different kinds of bread. In our basket there was wheat, cranberry nut and baguette. Looking over the menu, the offerings were much more elevated than at Found Farmers with dishes like eggs vol-au-vent, poached eggs basquaise, baked eggs, trout amandine and quiche Florentine. They do have the classics like French toast, eggs benedict and buttermilk pancakes but the menu is mostly French inspired. The price points are also more elevated than Founding Farmers with eggs benedict clocking in at $16 versus $13 and pancakes costing $12 instead of $9.

Besides the bread basket, we indulged on the mushroom soup as an appetizer. It was creamy and filled with chopped up mushroom pieces bursting with flavor. This is real deal mushroom soup. The flavor is very deep and earthy with subtle hints of truffle. It’s expensive at $12, but it’s clearly handmade and packed with maitake, pioppini and crimini mushrooms.

The mushroom soup and duck sardalaise are both heavier breakfast options. Photos by Meg Williams.

Le Dip’s brunch specialty is apparently their duck sardalaise. As a duck confit lover, I was especially excited for this dish. It’s simply duck confit and roasted potatoes topped with a sunny side up egg and creamy hollandaise. This was the breakfast of my dreams. The hollandaise was the deepest yellow color I have ever seen. The confit was juicy and tender, and the potatoes were soft and packed with flavor. I only wish it were a bigger portion, so I could’ve enjoyed it longer.

The other two dishes ordered were the eggs Norwegian, their name for a smoked salmon eggs benedict, and the gruyere omelette. The English muffin served with the eggs Norwegian was toasted too much, so it didn’t soak up the hollandaise well staying crispy and hard throughout the meal. The eggs were perfectly poached. The salmon was good, but overpowered the other flavors with its intense smokiness. Both dishes were served with roasted potatoes that were equally as delicious as the ones in the duck sardalaise. Overall, there was nothing special about this benedict.

The other two entrees were not as showstopping as the duck sardalaise. Photos by Meg Williams.

The gruyère omelette was stunning. French omelettes are so beautiful and perfect when cooked correctly. They shouldn’t have any sear on the outside and should be creamy on the inside since they’re not fully cooked through. The flavor was balanced with just the right amount of cheese and herbs. The hardest part of the omelette to swallow was the 16 dollar price tag considering it did not have any meat in it.

We finished our breakfast with a basket of warm, freshly baked mini madeleines. Real vanilla beans were visibly mixed into each small cake making for the most delicious ending to our meal.

Total Food Cost: $77.50

  • Café Vietnamese: $5.50
  • Black Coffee: $4
  • Mushroom Soup: $12
  • Eggs Norwegian: $17
  • Duck Sardalaise: $16
  • Madeleines: $7
The Winner

It’s hard to concretely say who had the better brunch. Founding Farmers only lacked in atmosphere. It wasn’t off putting, it just blended into itself. There was nothing impressive about it. Le Dip, on the other hand, had one of the most visually appealing and unique atmospheres I’ve seen in a long time. If I had to choose based on my meal alone, I would pick Le Dip because the duck was impeccable, but I have to acknowledge that my friend’s dishes both had their drawbacks especially for the cost. I would save Le Dip for special occasion brunches like a birthday or anniversary and stick to Founding Farmers for my every weekend fix.

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