Continuing my quest to eat at every new restaurant in DC and write about it (with a lot of help from my friends), I visited Cause last Friday.
Zagat's blog recently posted ten ways to know if you're a food nerd. (Their term, not mine.) They all sounded a bit familiar, but this one especially:
"Hitting every new restaurant that's worth going to is pretty much impossible, but that doesn't mean you can't try. Food nerds are passionate about going out, and they are always looking for new place to hit. Once a new hole-in-the-wall Thai joint or crazy-expensive fine-dining establishment is found, it goes on the list. The selection of potential restaurants is always getting updated, and by its ever-expanding nature it's impossible to hit every one. When looking for a place to go on a random night, they will consult the list (and new friends with similar tastes will compare lists to make plans). Those that take food geekery to the extreme will peruse their list, not find anything appealing and continue to look for new options elsewhere."
And that's how I ended up at Cause: The Philanthropub. Cause, according to its owners, is unique: the only not-for-profit bar and restaurant in the U.S. (if not the world) dedicated to donating all of its earnings to charitable causes. The two guys who dreamed up the concept have no restaurant experience, and aren't naive about any new restaurant's chances. But they hope Cause will succeed and maybe even spread to other cities. I hope they succeed.
We went to Cause to eat, but the second floor has a massive bar and we couldn't resist a drink or three. Unfortunately, most of the cocktails were too sweet and syrupy. It's fine to offer one or two sugary drinks, but a good cocktail bar will offer a variety of flavors and tastes, and Cause isn't quite there yet. I will say that their bourbon and apple cider cocktail, The Truth, is sweet but outstanding, and totally dangerous. (It tastes like campfires and hayrides, not Kentucky's finest.)
The menu makes up for any lack of range in the cocktails, and then some. It includes peanut stew, Asian-style buffalo wings, a variety of sandwiches, and gin-soaked olives, among other things. Oddly, the menu is also heavy on unusual animal parts (what the food snobs call "offal"), with sandwiches stacked with beef heart and tongue and a fried pigs feet appetizer. I'm not sure these options will appeal to the Peace Corps/non-profit crowd likely to visit Cause, but they're consistent with the restaurant's theme of using every part of everything (barrel lids for seats, a sculpture made from soda bottles, etc.)
We skipped the heart, tongue, bone, and feet, and went with more traditional selections: peanut stew, Asian wings, a chicken confit sandwich, and the olive appetizer. The stew was terrific, the wings were good but a bit sweet, the chicken confit sandwich featured perfect chicken but way too much dry bread, and the olives were, um, gross. I could have gladly doubled down on the stew, had a wing or two, and a few doses of The Truth and called it a night.
There are a few other things you might want to know about Cause. First, the servers are extremely friendly. They will all tell you their name and then ask for yours. And they remembered ours. Tia, our Ethiopian-German waitress, was easily the nicest person I've ever met; it's rare for a server to literally radiate friendliness. Also, the upstairs bar seems to have a bit of an identity crises; all the TVs were showing college football the night we visited, which seemed odd given their philosophy and personality. I'm not sure what a non-profit bar should show--Ghandi? Treme?--but BCS games probably isn't it. Still, it's a cool space, and I'm sure they'll figure out how to make the most of it.
We visited Cause the first week it opened, and I expect they'll iron out some of the bugs and menu quirks. I hope they do, because I love the concept and would like to see it take off in other cities. When you eat and drink out a lot, it's easy to feel like you're just throwing money down a hole. Or worse, paying Spike Mendelsohn's rent. At Cause, your bar tab really does contribute to the common good. For me at least, that's an uncommonly good feeling.