Marx Cafe is a small restaurant and bar located at 3203 Mount Pleasant St. NW that describes itself as having “revolutionary cuisine” (yes, it is named after Karl Marx) and “Mediterranean food.”
<rant> I absolutely hate the term “Mediterranean food” since “Mediterranean food” encompasses several different cuisines including Spanish, Moroccan, Italian, Provençal, Lebanese, Greek, and Turkish, which are all distinct. What Americans usually think of as Mediterranean food comes at places that serve a vague blend of foods meant to resemble some combination of Lebanese, Turkish, and Greek food, and it’s all pretty substandard. But I digress. </rant>
Fortunately, this substandard fare is not what’s on offer at Marx Cafe, at least if you know what to order. The menu is a mix of Greek, Italian and New American fare, but I went with a group who recommended a few of the Greek small plate items on the menu, which were excellent (it helps that one of those in our party was Greek). I’ve been told that a number of the other menu items are not nearly as good. We started with saganaki, which is Greek kasseri cheese flambéed with metaxa (a type of Greek brandy). It’s conceptually similar to grilled halloumi, except it tastes a bit different, and instead of being grilled it is lit up by a huge conflagration of burning metaxa table side while the waiter yells “OPA!” like in “My Big
Fat Greek Wedding.” It’s a pretty awesome sight to behold (who doesn’t love fire?). Also great were the warm dolmades (grape leaves stuffed with ground beef and rice and seasoned with lemon), which were so much better than the cold, crappy “grape leaves” served at most “Mediterranean restaurants.” The tarama (red caviar whipped with olive oil, lemon juice and spices) was great as well. We paired our meal with Mavrodafni, a delicious sweet Greek wine (sweet in a Port way, not a Manischewitz way) that reminded me a lot of the famous Cypriot wine, Commandaria.
The decor was cozy though fairly pub-like; it is also a bar and open late. The people were also very friendly (I’m an absent-minded idiot and left my backpack there, but they kept it safe for me and I returned later in the evening to pick it up). Basically, if you go and order exactly what we ordered, you will have a great meal, and could bring a date there for sure. Our Greek companion also recommended their calamari, tzatziki and spanakopita. Otherwise, you’re on your own, but we had a great experience.