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DC Metro Area's Top Culinary Winners Announced at 2013 Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington RAMMY Gala on June 23

Mintwood Place named Best New Restaurant, Fiola’s Fabio Trabocchi wins coveted Chef of the Year award, and C.F. Folks wins the Casual Restaurant RAMMY 

 

 

C.F. Folks wins an America's Classics Award from the James Beard Foundation

Posted by Tim Carman on February 28, 2013

Art Carlson had a typically Art Carlson response when I asked him what it meant that C.F. Folks, his 32-year-old lunch institution, had just received an America’s Classics Award from the James Beard Foundation.

“The beauty of being an American classic is that you don’t have to produce very good food,” says the 70-year-old (im)proprietor of C.F. Folks, which opened for business in May 1981.

Well, sure, the institutions that have scored an America’s Classics Award are not mentioned in the same breath as Per Se, but the fact is, C.F. Folks does produce very good food. Just read Tom Sietsema’s 2009 review of the place:

“Lunch counters are hard to come by in Washington. Good ones are scarcer still. It would be easy to applaud C.F. Folks just for being there, but Carlson and now [chef George] Vetsch don’t play the nostalgia card to fill the 11 green stools, eight indoor tables and 24 al fresco seats. Instead, they win us over with equal parts eccentric charm and plates of food that taste as if they should carry more than a $13 price tag, which is the average cost of the six or so main courses that change daily.”

But more than its food, C.F. Folks has created a space stamped with Carlson’s idiosyncratic personality. It’s campy. It’s steeped in Americana. And, perhaps most important of all, it’s committed to an ideal underneath the surface bluster. The ideal? To understand the unique demands of the Washington lunchtime diner: A person who wants quality, but wants it quickly and in an environment that’s not carved out of corporate stone.

More than almost anyone, Carlson knows that such a place relies on its people to generate the right atmosphere. He calls it “the feel.”

“There’s a feel when you walk into certain places, and you want to be part of that feel,” Carlson says. “It’s the people in there who are generating a sense that you kind of like.”

And just to be clear, Carlson says he is “thrilled” about the award, which the Beard Foundation gives to “restaurants that have timeless appeal and are beloved for quality food that reflects the character of their community.” Carlson and the other honorees (Kramarczuk’s in Minneapolis; Frank Fat’s in Sacramento; Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack in Nashville; and Keens Steakhouse in New York City) will be recognized at the James Beard Foundation Awards on May 6 in New York City. Carlson will be there.

Here’s what the Beard Foundation wrote about C.F. Folks in its announcement today:

“Art Carlson’s weekday-only lunch haunt on Dupont Circle, open since 1981, is a 600-square-foot temple of honest cooking and good will. (The name combines the initials of Carlson and his business partner, Peggy Fredricksen.) The vibe is is loud and scrappy, and the food is delicious. Art Carlson, the ever-present host, is one of the last of a dying breed: a hands-on owner who schmoozes and teases his customers, often at the same time.

“The place, with its 11 counter stools, is comfortable in its age. Behind the long Formica counter, racks of cookbooks from Julia Child and fellow titans share space with scribbled postcards, a rattletrap stereo system, a collection of old political campaign buttons, and a jumble of knick knacks including a Presidential Barbie and dusty cans of Alpo and Cheez Wiz.

“The cooking is in the hands of George Vetsch, a veteran of a Zagat’s worth of local kitchens. His standing menu is mostly sandwiches and salads. But the sheet of daily specials surprises and satisfies. Garlicky roast chicken with hand-cut fries. Mahi-mahi graced with an herbed cream sauce. Mexico gets its due with pork tacos jump-started with jalapeno-cilantro sauce. So does India, with chicken korma on basmati rice and sassy chutneys. Ditto Maine, by way of a lobster roll, slicked with basil mayonnaise.

“Carlson suffered a medical setback in 2010, but that hasn’t kept the host from dispensing wisecracks and making change at his relic cash register. Waitresses in C.F.’s have embraced Carlson’s attitude. “Wanna dance?” a young waitress asked a customer after she bumped into him in the narrow eatery. “Ready to rock ‘n’ roll?” she greeted a party on the small covered patio.”

 

 

A PARABLE

 

In Appreciation

 

To

 

The James Beard Foundation

 

 

There’s just five of us plus the dishwasher at CF Folks. By some caprice of fate I lost a bit of balance, the dexterity of hand motion and other sweet and delicately pulsed movements enjoyed by my other four companions leaving me the single physical kitchen chore of water boarding lobsters.

 

That leaves the remaining four a quartet and me as the conductor of sorts since quartets don’t have conductors, ever. But I’ve given myself that name because I’m the owner and in looking desperately for an exalted definition stumbled on to this “nom de plum” as in pudding, which I use as a cudgel to force feed our guests into ingesting  our extensive collection of opera recordings some of which are truly ghastly, hastening departures and improving turn over.

 

My modest daily performances of securing our place of business, paying bills, updating regulatory requirements, meeting payroll, eyeballing all produce, meats, fish, and savoring the aromatic finish of  skeletal  broth while negotiating with rebellious cooks over menus with a few “fugue yours” and “So’s your Mom” hurling back and forth, is in essence, what I do.

 

But what I really enjoy doing is filching other people’s successes. Others less kindly would call it stealing but the deity of competition allows “filching”, a more innocent less provocative term aided and abetted by my restaurant peers, food critics, endless print journals and newspapers, books, which I devour daily.  To properly filch one must be aware of new delivery trucks in the neighborhood and what they bring and to whom followed by a quick call of inquiry with product and prices to follow. I am and I do.

That’s followed with a visit to said establishment, to observe their breakdown of preparation, presentation, price and the worthiness of the subject for possible presentation to my own ever demanding audience.

 

Our place of business is Washington, DC, a town that masquerades as a city given the height limitations imposed by congressional “regulations” which is pretty much what Congress does , impose, for which it’s members are paid handsomely to do.

 

Our town thusly is absent the vertical base of most cities inhibiting the hue of quick frantic and anxious movements inviting in stead a less frenzied pace, a soft ballet of walk a bouts as a contemplative and leisurely adventure. It’s quite a pleasant place. Our town, a ten by ten mile caste system is also owned thankfully by our country lock stock and barrel.

It’s called a “company town” because it includes the ever changing politicians as well as their many support ganglia.  Hand and hand with the politicians are press people from all reaches of the planet to follow at this date, the woeful workings of the “Greatest Deliberative Body” in the world or universe perhaps, until we have evidence to the contrary. “Pluto?”

 

Many of our congressional guests and cadres as well as many of their press attendants never seem to quite touch the ground of this wonderful place but by choice, hover above in a collective special cloud formation like cumulonimbus clouds threatening to land but unable to quite make up their minds likely avoiding the thunderclaps that they visit on the rest of us below.

 

This obvious duck waddling and political relationship abruptly ends once the press latches on to gossipy snippets especially of the most scurrilous discoveries which rearrange their collective brain circuitry as does blood in the water affects sharks.  Members of the press are then caught in the unenviable position of continuously yo-yoing from cloud to earth or finally capitulating, many coming to ground and joining the rest of the working stiffs most of whom are in the mooch mooch business as vultures are to fresh carrion.

 

Do restaurants not serve carrion?  Well of course we do, wonderfully packaged with alternative descriptions. “Madam, I recommend you put a touch of sweet butter on your gorgeous radish” which is in the final stages of expiration poor dear. “Finish it off, it’s a male. Who cares, long live the sisterhood.”

 

You might discern as many have suggested, that in Washington,” there’s no there there”

a point proven in August for sure when the only breathing specimens are in campers outside the town, suggesting a lack of sophistication, verve, dynamic forces at work coupled with the perception of a very bright but drowsy, staid, terminally boring ,paper machine spitting forth incomprehensible puke for the rest of the country to digest. 

 

Our company was selected this year by the James Beard Foundation as a recipient of “An American Classic” award which well be presented  the first week of early May in the “Wow Wow City” of New York.

 

We are overwhelmed and honored for the recognition from this prestigious organization.

 

Yet we view the award first and foremost as recognition more of our city, our audience if you will then ourselves. So we handoff  the award  to our endless variety of multi mixed hued patrons adorned with attitudes, backgrounds and foreboding  intellects ( just ask them) who stream into our small shop collectively offering a far richer broth to us than anything that we have produced in our thirty one years in business. Compared to our audience, we see ourselves as mere under painters to a yet completed glorious palette leaving us on hold or in a suspension of sorts.

 

The event will be held at Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center which suggests to me a happening of operatic magnitude.  So it must or should begin with an overture of consequence such as Rossini’s “Siege of Corinth”.  This orchestral recipe was originally staged in Italy as Maometto II, poorly received, tweaked and repackaged moved to France staged and performed with delirium acceptance.   As overtures go, this is a dandy choice equal if it was a trading card to three “Barbers of Seville” and two Johnny Depp.

 

 

A comparable up to date eatable comparison of this operatic re-do  might  be “foam” which slight years ago was associated primarily with mad dogs, polluted waters and ladies application in the undercarriage area now tweaked and twiddled into a marketing displays  by kitchen magicians for top of the plate protocols in the tonier restaurants. 

 

Only the Met orchestra should be engaged since truth be known a conductor is rarely needed and at times adds nothing but a formalized appendage to these Met players of perfection with rhythmic head bobs and little else. And knowing what we know we should select our own players to join our Met friends. A simple vote is all it takes.

 

From our lively collection of James Beard Candidates, I see a conductor, first violin, and then two others placed in the percussions. Additional Beard candidates could possibly qualify as well for single roles: harpist, the squeeze box for our Midwest associates and let’s not forget a sitar. Good idea? Maybe one more seat for vibes is appropriate. Our President does really great vibes. Might he be available? That makes seven or eight if the President doesn’t show and not enough to bugger up the Met pros known to knock players out of your seat if a performance is untidy. Do bring your union card.

 

Following the overture each candidate is given 60 seconds for their own unique presentation.  My quartet is prepared. We expect our turn will be at the end of the evening following the haute, the high and the humble when polite conversation over oral pleasures gravely shifts to blustery potty talk and guests slip into modest ambulatory state.

 

“Mr. Filch. Your dishwasher has arrived and your quartet appears somber. They did ask, if you would be so kind, to bring a brace of chickens and a few sprigs of tarragon. It shouldn’t be much longer sir.”

 

“Conductor!”   “To the pit.”

 

“With warmest regards to the James Beard Foundation”

 

CF Folks

May 2, 2013


 

The New Republic - TRB From Washington

Labor of Love - By Timothy Noah   

When corporations enforce happiness                                                                                                                           

For a good long while, I let myself think that the slender platinum blonde behind the counter at Pre A Manger was in love with me. How else to explain her visible glow whenever I strolled into the shop for a sandwich or a latte? Then I realized she lit up for the next person in line, and the next. Radiance was her job.

Emotional labor is not itself new. Prostitutes have faked orgasms for millennia. With greater sincerity (one hopes), undertakers calm the grieving, nurses the comfort the sick, and migrant nannies lavish on other people’s children the love they aren’t present to furnish back home. Flight attendants, in the pre-feminist era, calmed jittery flyers by being pretty, friendly, even a little bit flirtatious; this ended with deregulation in the early ‘80s as airlines stopped competing on the service and started competing on price.

 Pret keeps its sales clerks in a state of enforced rapture through policies vaguely reminiscent of the old East German Stasi. A “mystery shopper” visits every Pret outlet once a week. If the employee who rings up the sale is appropriately ebullient, then everyone in the shop gets a bonus.  If not, nobody does. This system turns peers into enthusiasm cops, further constricting any space for a reserved and private self.

 Now that I know Pret’s slender blonde doesn’t love me, I prefer the human contact at a D.C. lunch counter called C.F. Folks. The food is infinitely better. But I also like the service is slower, the staff is older and grumpier, and the prevailing emotion is “Get over yourself.” Try touching someone at C.F. Folks, and you just  might get slugged.

 

Washington Post Magazine

Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012

2012 Fall Dining Guide By Tom Sietsema

What I like about lunch at C.F. Folks is this: It doesn't try to be a Potbelly or a Panera or a Korean buffet, with something for everyone. C.F. Folks also has some nice age on it. Art Carlson, the presiding wiseacre behind the Formica counter, has been dispensing gruff, coffee and sandwiches for the past three decades in a sliver of a cafe distinguished by a can of Alpo on a shelf, opera from the speakers and secretaries squeezed next to One-Percenters. The galley kitchen is basically a one-man show starring veteran Washington chef George Vetsch. His daily specials take customers around the world — if it's Tuesday, it must be Latin America — and show him to be almost as adept with red beans and rice as the Swiss native is with steak frites lapped with bordelaise.

 

USA Today; August 21, 2012

Top sandwich shops: Travelers pick their favorites (Gary Stroller)

On the East Coast, Zagat recommends Washington's C.F. Folks, New York's Num Pang, Boston's Flour Bakery & Café, Atlanta's Rising Roll, Baltimore's Attman's Delicatessen, and Fort Lauderdale's LaSpada's Original Hoagies.

C.F. Folks on 19th Street Northwest in Washington, D.C., is a "lunch-only hole-in-the-wall that's oddball in a good way," Zagat says.

Expect "eclectic fare at bargain prices, extraordinary specials" and some of the city's best crab cakes.

 

The Washington Post Magazine; October 16, 2011

Tom’s Fall Dining Guide

Surely I can’t be the only food lover who thinks Art Carlson’s 31-year-old, lunch-only shoe box in Dupont Circle deserves to be on a historic-preservation list, with its delightfully scruffy appearance (the shelf of cookbooks was sagging years before the recent earthquake) and quirky personalities behind the Formica counter. “Wann dance?” a young waitress asks a customer after she bumps him in the narrow eatery. “Ready to rock ‘n’ roll?” she greets a party on the small covered patio. Carlson, 68, suffered a stroke two years ago, but that hasn’t kept the host from dispensing wisecracks and making change at his relic of a cash register. The standing menu is mostly sandwiches and salads; the sheet of daily specials lets chef George Vetsch, a veteran of a Zagat’s worth of local kitchens, strut his stuff. In one week alone, a regular could experience the American Southwest, with Pork tacos jump-started with Jalapeño-cilantro sauce; India, with chicken korma on basmati rice and sassy chutneys; and Maine, with a lobster roll slicked with basil mayonnaise and served with fries the Swiss-born chef cuts himself. C.F. Folks can be chaotic at rush hour. Its utensils are flimsy, and the nearest restroom is in the next building. I wouldn’t change a thing.

 

Washingtonian; May 2011

Dupont Circle & Adams Morgan Dining Guide: Where to Go if You're Craving. . .

An offbeat work lunch

At C.F. Folks, lunch-counter fare (turkey sandwiches, Reubens) and great crabcake sandwiches are supplemented by unexpected highbrow specials that might include tagliatelle with a rich Bolognese or Arctic char with a Mediterranean-inspired eggplant purée.

 

Washington Post Magazine; October 18, 2009

Tom Sietsema’s Dining Guide

Grilled Scallops and tomato-tinted risotto for less than $13? No wonder all the stools are taken at this tiny American lunch counter downtown. CF Folks has been serving good food at fair prices for more than a quarter-century, but tasty sandwiches and a daily-changing board of specials aren’t the only reason customers line up here. Art Carlson, the ever-present host and resident crank, is one of the last dying breed : a hands-on owner who schmoozes and teases his customers, often at the same time. (I don’t care about you.” He says to a man he asks to move over so an attractive brunette can sit at the Formica counter.) The place looks its age, evinced by well-worn gags and sagging shelf of cookbooks. (Will Carlson ever take that dusty can of dog food off display?) Yet the cooking, now in the hands of veteran Washington chef George Vetsch, is serious. Garlicky roast chicken with hand-cut fries, and Mahi-Mahi treated to an herbed cream sauce are among the pleasing possibilities. Is the salad overdressed? Is that risotto under-seasoned? Blame the chef’s too-small kitchen and a flurry of orders at high noon.

 

The Washington Post; July 19, 2009

Hungry, Obamas? Tempting Menus Abound

Any restaurant that has been around 28 years practically qualifies as a monument in this town. C.F. Folks (1225 19th St. NW; 202-293-0162), the crumb-size lunch spot next to Power Central (a.k.a. the Palm), has the advantage of being tasty as well as timeless. Conservative eaters might opt for a well-made chicken salad or crab cake sandwich, but regulars know to head for the daily specials, maybe peppers stuffed with lamb or red beans and rice, a Monday staple. Carryout is an option, but a green stool at the counter guarantees face time with one of the last of the great restaurant hosts, owner and wisecracker Art Carlson.

 

Washington Post Magazine; Sunday, July 12, 2009

Personality on the Plate  By Tom Sietsema

 Half the thrill of going to lunch at C.F. Folks is the chance that the owner is going to mess with you. Art Carlson knows just what to say to simultaneously embarrass and endear a customer to his shoebox next to the Palm. Especially if you're a guy.

Consider the gray day I took a colleague and two umbrellas to the place. "What a bunch of [wimps]!" Carlson bawled as we sheepishly positioned ourselves in front of the beige Formica counter where the 66-year-old restaurateur has held court during weekday lunch hours for the past 28 years. Throwing out his chest and pretending to barrel heroically through a storm, Carlson asked aloud, "Whatever happened to ... ?" His mugging suggested that the rest of the unfinished question was "real men."

Something as routine as a carryout request for a tuna fish sandwich comes with a side of shtick here. When a customer mentions that the sandwich is for a colleague back at his office, Carlson wants to know, "boy or girl?"

Girl, the customer says.

"Multi-grain" bread, the owner jots down. Had the recipient of the sandwich been a man, Carlson says, he would have written "white" bread on the slip, "and [the guy would] want a milkshake, too," even though milkshakes aren't on the menu here.

But red beans and rice are, at least on Mondays. Seemingly forever, this tiny kitchen has promoted the New Orleans staple as a Monday feature. By now, regulars also know that Tuesday means a Latin American special, Wednesday alternates between an Italian and an Indian dish, Thursday brings something American, and Friday highlights a Mediterranean-flavored entree. There are more than a dozen sandwiches, too, and they're perfectly respectable, but visiting C.F. Folks for a sandwich is like going to Starbucks for tea or a wine bar for a brew.

Besides, there's a new face in the kitchen, the talented and nomadic George Vetsch. The Swiss native has done time at a lot of Washington restaurants -- among them the Oval Room, Circle Bistro and the late Etrusco -- but to hear him talk, his latest gig might be his best yet. "I don't have to manage people," he says, and for the first time in years, "I have Saturday and Sunday off." Better still for customers, "I'm cooking what my mother used to make" -- cabbage rolls, peppers stuffed with lamb -- "and what I loved as a kid." Plus, it's no secret that his boss, who suffered a stroke three summers ago, is mulling retirement and would like nothing better than to hand the reins to a chef who shares his philosophy of good food at a good price.

Lunch counters are hard to come by in Washington. Good ones are scarcer still. It would be easy to applaud C.F. Folks just for being there, but Carlson and now Vetsch don't play the nostalgia card to fill the 11 green stools, 8 indoor tables and 24 al fresco seats. Instead, they win us over with equal parts eccentric charm and plates of food that taste as if they should carry more than a $13 price tag, which is the average cost of the six or so main courses that change daily.

A glance around the 600-square-foot interior of C.F. Folks (the name combines the initials of Carlson and his business partner, Peggy Fredricksen) shines a light on the host's interests. One shelf sags under the weight of a small library's worth of serious cookbooks; another is a showcase for old campaign buttons -- and also cans of Alpo and Cheez Whiz. Alongside a display of potato chip bags hangs a paper "mood meter" that starts at "Beloved" and ends with "Postal." The last time I was in, the sign's marker was set to the middle: "Like We Care."

The phrase is a joke within a joke, because Carlson and company so obviously do care about what they're doing. Those irresistible french fries with your entree come from potatoes cut by hand and twice-fried in flavorful duck fat. It's a small but telling statement, especially given the closet known as the kitchen. Its size prevents Vetsch from doing two things he likes: baking his own bread and making pasta.


One afternoon I find myself slicing into a piece of mahi-mahi that could pass the fish test at
Pesce, Dupont Circle's sunny seafood spot. The fillet is perfectly cooked, lapped with a creamy herb sauce and served with skinny green beans tossed with bits of bacon. Another day, I feel as if I've been transported to a French bistro, thanks to rosy slices of duck arranged over a bed of wild rice, halved grapes and bits of mango. Tasting Vetsch's homey roast chicken draped with a winy gravy, I imagine I'm back at his childhood home near Zurich. Like most entrees, this one comes with a small, well-dressed salad, a chunk of decent bread and a foil-wrapped pat of butter.

There are few subjects Vetsch can't nail, although Carlson jokes otherwise: When the chef was hired over the winter, "he couldn't spell India," an allusion to the dal (lentils) Vetsch now makes as an occasional Wednesday special.

The crab cake is described on the menu as "Washington's Best!" I wouldn't go that far, although I do appreciate the generous round of crab, mayonnaise and mustard patted down with fresh bread crumbs and cooked so that the surface develops a dark golden crust. The filling of a pork barbecue sandwich includes crisp edges of meat and a tangle of fried onion ringlets, but the sauce is too sweet for my taste. Both sandwiches come with a bit of coleslaw that emphasizes cream over cabbage.

The guys and gals who help Carlson take orders and deliver food are a chip off the old block. "Can I hustle you for dessert?" one asks me with a straight face after he clears my plate (plain white china, of course). If peach cobbler appears on the chalkboard, go for it. The fruit is canned ("We're a diner, okay?" sighs Vetsch), but it comes in a cover of warm white cake that makes up for that fact. Add a scoop of vanilla ice cream to the deal, and you'd better have time in your afternoon schedule for a nap.

Lots of questions swirl around this pint-size institution as I type. Will Carlson successfully negotiate terms with his landlord that allow him to serve alcohol, and thus afford the cost of renovating the gently faded interior? Will Vetsch stick with the game and eventually take over the show?

"I don't know what's going to happen," the chef tells me on the telephone. "For the moment, I'm very happy." And so, when I ask him, is the boss.

Here's hoping these folks stay put at Folks.

FEARLESS CRITIC

 C. F. Folks is the kind of restaurant you could walk past every day without stopping in. With its chalkboard specials and tiny storefront, it looks like it should be ignored. Yet if you observe more carefully, you’ll realize that when it’s open, this lunch-only joint is crammed full; it’s so busy that waitresses buzz back and forth between tables and the kitchen at a jog. The décor is haphazard, peculiar, and endearing. Behind the long counter, racks of old cookbooks share space with old postcards, a stereo system, odd knick knacks (including Presidential Barbie), and a boisterous staff. Orders are barked from afar and cooks declaim their opinion on everything. It is loud, scrappy, and delicious.

 We like the Reuben, but in general, sandwiches are nothing extraordinary. The best food at Folks is the rotating menu of daily specials (Monday: Louisiana, Tuesday: Tex-Mex, Wednesday: Italian & Indian, and so on). At many places, the specials are something you avoid because you can’t imagine that it could deliver—especially with the pan-world menu. Yet at Folks, savvy diners order plate after plate, gleefully scarfing it all down.

 Food is delicious the way home-cooked meals are delicious—simple, hearty, and filled with...well, love. You’ll be served half a cow with hanger steak salad, flesh loose and tender and charred from the grill atop a bed of arugula. You’ll be surprised by the quality of the blue cheese. Crowned with crisp apples and toasted walnuts, it is a basic dish, but wonderfully executed. Bolognese is homey and thick, several meats cooked down to a thick ragù and dashed haphazardly on a nest of pasta. Eating it is like being a child at a table in front of your favorite dinner. People in DC and Maryland are always looking for or claiming to have the best crab cake in town, but C.F. Folks actually has it (or has something very close to it).

 Folks’ dessert specials also change by the day and feature honest, clean food. Blocks of dense shortbread scented with vanilla and lemon are crumbly and buttery, baked until crisp on the edges. Surrounded by fresh berries and a thick fruit purée and topped by a big dollop of ice cream, it all tastes wholesome, fresh, and sweet: like 4th of July in the Heartlands.

WASHINGTONIAN

 A $29.50 bowl of shrimp ’n’ grits, bringing together head-on shrimp, house-made andouille sausage, and sweet-onion ravigote, is the most popular dish at Jeff Buben’s Vidalia. A few blocks away, a humbler rendition of the low-country specialty appears most Thursdays at C.F. Folks, a feisty downtown lunch institution. The shrimp aren’t as photogenic, the sausage isn’t house-made, and instead of ravigote there’s a white-wine sauce, but it’s a tasty, generous plate for $11.95.

THE WASHINGTON POST MAGAZINE  - By Tom Sietsema 

"Nice to see you" a customer salutes the trim, silver-haired man behind the counter at the cramped C. F. Folks. "Nice to be seen!" shoots back Art Carlson, a faux crank who could probably have his own TV sitcom but prefers the easy hours of a weekday-lunch-only cafe. In an age when corporate sandwich-makers dominate the landscape, it's a relief to know about an  independently owned joint that takes the high road with its food but doesn't take itself too seriously. (Yes, that's a Julia Child cookbook on the shelf, and, yes, that's a can of Alpo sitting next to the rack of potato chips.) The tiny kitchen is famous for its daily specials, but what it slips between slices of bread is special too. These days I'm keen on No. 8 ($6.95), which brings together shaved turkey, pink roast beef, Swiss cheese & a thin layer of crunchy fresh coleslaw on your choice of bread (make mine rye). There's more: a veneer of Russian dressing, a crisp pickle on the side, maybe one or more ribs from the jokester in chief. "Did you bring money?" I overhear him "welcome a couple of arrivals. "We need money!"

ZAGAT  2005

Below Dupont Circle is “the best lunch counter you’ll ever encounter where local workers in-the-know” go “gourmet-style” for very little dough in a “hole-in-the-wall” the size of a “railroad dining car”; a “different ethnic cuisine each day” is served “with a side of sass” from the town’s “gruffest” chef-owner, and “insiders” insist the “tasty, adventurous” Eclectic eats are “worth trying to figure out how to order” (“specify”) “and where to sit” (outside, if possible) – just do it “correctly”, or “be harassed.”

ZAGAT  2004                                                                                                          

Granted, this "hole-in-the-wall" International lunch counter below Dupont Circle is "dingy" and "cramped" and the service can be "pushy" (if not downright "surly"), but it has its priorities straight "its all about the food here", and it is "shockingly good"; those in the know advise "don't bother with the menu, just stick to the daily specials" and then sit elbow to elbow with "Washington bigwigs" while listening to opera in the background.

THE WASHINGTON POST - by Phyllis Richman

 Lunch at C.F. Folks is a truly urbane experience. A friend walking by stopped to say hello. He was having lunch at one of the steak houses on the block. It was going to cost three times what my lunch bill would be, and I bet mine was better.

WASHINGTON BUSINESS JOURNAL

Arthur Carlson - President, C.F. Folks

On page 5 of your May 31-June 6 issue, we are curious as to why the headline read: "Palm restaurant landlord gets $16.5M for downtown building".

We've been in the same building for some 20-plus years. Why not say "C.F. Folks landlord gets $16.5M for downtown building"?

We're both restaurants. We both sell soup. The difference is that a "fly in the soup" is a real fly. At the palm you get Jeff Goldblum.

The original is entitled to top billing. Shame!

BON APPETITE 

The narrow storefront and dive-y look of the place belie the friendly servers; innovative fare and interesting crowd always on hand at this Dupont Circle lunch counter, High powered politicos and journalists from the nearby Post rub elbows while munching on delicious sandwiches and salads.

 

WASHINGTONIAN

Glorious Crab cakes

Owner Art Carlson says the secret is to take good crabmeat and resist the temptation to do much to it. Deep fried and creamy, they're generally served Wednesday through Friday in the form of a crab cake sandwich, but they are best appreciated by ignoring the bun.

FORTUNE - by David Shribman

C.F. Folks is next door to the Palm, but it's a world apart in spirit - and menu, There's no place else in D.C., or maybe in your town either, where at noon you can gorge yourself on one of the curiously unexplored delicacies in American cuisine, a plate of chicken thighs. Or slurp down a bowl of white bean and lamb soup.

THE KINSLEY REPORT

Arthur Carlson-President, C.F. Folks

 In ME & MY Money (August), you referred to a "C.F. Folly" in Washington, D.C., frequented by the penurious Michael Kinsley. There is no C.F. Folly in D.C., but there is a C.F. Folks, and Michael has been a valued customer for years. We cannot attest to his stingy nature, other than the occasional wince when we "elevated" his charges (which we did with great frequency and great pride). We too believe in income redistribution. Your description of us as a "joint," however, hurt deeply. For years, prided ourselves on being A dump.

GAYOT

Why wait in line for one of the few barstools or tables that are premium commodities at this lunch spot? The food is reasonably priced, which for downtown DC is remarkable. The jocular bantering of the staff puts a light-hearted spin on things. The food is both wholesome and delicious, and even slightly quirky, as such specials as catfish with Cajun remoulade or acorn squash stuffed with shrimp and béchamel. Specials change daily, but you can always count on good sandwiches such as a Reuben with pastrami rather than corned beef and almond-chicken salad sandwich. There are brownies and chocolate chip cookies, for desert, plus a daily special. Sitting outside may be an almost year long choice because of the overhead heating. But indoors or out, you'll get a kick out listening to the DC gossip at neighboring tables.

FODOR'S

The sandwiches and salads on the menu at this no-frills weekday diner are nothing special: order instead from the daily specials, which feature a different cuisine daily. On Monday, it's Cajun; on Tuesday, Mexican; on Wednesday, Indian and Italian; and on Thursday and Friday, seafood. the cooking is superb and the crowds know it.

WASHINGTON POST DINING GUIDE

 "Did you paint?" a customer asks the owner. "The entry looks brighter." Art Carlson scans his tiny domain--11 green stools lined up at a Formica counter-- in mock seriousness before delivering the punch line. "No, we must have mopped the floor."

While other restaurants bend like contortionists to please their patrons, Carlson lets his audience know it's his way or the highway, Bud. Newshounds (and there are plenty in this crowd of lawyers and journalists) have to settle for no TV:  Carlson prefers opera and public radio. C.F. Folks is open only on weekdays and only for lunch because that is how the owner want to work--period.

The printed menu is mostly salads and sandwiches, and good as the almond chicken salad is, you'd miss the point of eating here if you didn't take your cue from the small backboard on the wall. That's where you'll find the five or so specials each day. Monday showcases Louisiana and red beans and and rice and chunks of andouille. Wednesday detours to Italy (and maybe a fine pasta Bolognese) and Friday it's "Something from the Middle East."

 

WASHINGTON BUSINESS JOURNAL

Eleni Kretikos, Staff Reporter

"Lunch Spot:  A stone's throw from blue- chip steak houses and trendy ethnic eateries, C.F. Folks has become the place for a quick bite."

 The goal was simple: find a five-day-a-week job, with nights and weekend off.

After more than 23 years of doing just that, Art Carlson and Peggy Fredricksen can safely look at each other and say; mission accomplished.  The pair started in real estate. Carlson worked for companies such as Tauber and Charles E. Smith. Fredricksen also worked for real estate developers. But they wanted a place of their own, a manageable place where they could make their own hours and their own rules. The Jefferson Coffee Shop at 1225 19th St. N.W. seemed to be just  what they were looking for.

In the early 1960's, it had started out as "Linda's" but was sold to Pete and Ruby Pelecanos in in 1964. The Pelecanoses -- the parents of popular D.C. crime novelist George Pelecanos -- operated the restaurant in the Jefferson Building for 13 years. "It was a fast food type of place," says Ruby Pelecanos. "We had hamburgers, hot dogs, steak and cheese. We did a lot of carryout." The 19th Street neighborhood below Dupont Circle was much quieter then. The Palm 

Restaurant was (and still is) next door but that was it. The customers were largely from the law firms that surrounded the building, sprinkled with a few blue collar workers. "IBM was there. The house next door was Teddy Roosevelt's home and it was where the original Arnold, Fortis and Porter was," says  Ruby Pelecanos, 80. "Our building was brand new when we moved in. We didn't have a sign on the building itself. On the door it said Jefferson Coffee Shop. If you didn't know we were there, you couldn't even see us."

After the Pelecanoses sold it, the Jefferson Coffee Shop changed hand a couple of times before it was bought by Carlson and Fredricksen.They dubbed the place C.F. Folks (the C.F. stands for Carlson and Fredricksen). They began with a Southern-style menu and a no-frills look. Breakfast service petered out after about five years. The daily lunch specials--about 70percent of their sales on any given day -- focused on stews, fresh chicken and open faced roast beef sandwiches.

Even after a second mortgage on the house and pouring significant capital into C.F. Folks, the first two years didn't go so well. Carlson took a part-time job as a cook at Cousteau's, a seafood restaurant on L Street. On a typical day he rose early to visit a nearby market, worked through lunch at his restaurant and then finished up the evening at Cousteau's. "I was thinking 'What are we doing'" says Carlson, drawing on a Marlboro. "I was looking for sufficient income to hire a cook, and it took me two and a half years. We went through a learning process." As time went on, C.F. Folks attracted a following.  It was lauded by Gourmet magazine and regularly among The Washington Post's Best Restaurants.

The decor hasn't changed a bit, except for the 11 green stools that were e-covered eight years ago. A cooler for drinks in the corner and a tiny kitchen is in the back. Table edges are rubbing through green-and-white speckled tablecloths. The walls are decorated with politically themed pencil drawings by Jose Perez, a formally local artist. There are 10 outdoor tables and a dark green canopy extending to the sidewalk.

After eight years business was good. Carlson and Fredricksen decided to branch out. Across the street they launched a catering operation, which Fredricksen runs. In 1986 they started the Well Dressed Burrito, a Mexican carryout next-door to the catering operation.

Little has changed during Carlson's tenure at C.F. Folks. The media folk who used to drop in disappeared when CBS and NPR's offices moved. The clientele is still predominantly professional men "who want to come in, have a good meal and be gone in 20 to 25 minutes." There have been a few improvements: The fish and meat have gotten better, menus have become more elaborate, prices have only doubled, and the restaurant takes plastic. "I have 150 recipes that will feed into this place over the next year," says Carlson, who keeps a crowded bookshelf of cookbooks in the restaurant and subscribes to dozens of food magazines.  The problem with today's restaurants, he says is they get caught up in theatrics and showiness.

"Buy well," he says "Buy the best you can, and then say 'How little can I do with it?'" His rules are like his food: basic and easy. Buy good olive oil. Use only butter. Make presentation simple; don't needlessly clutter dishes. Large portions are ridiculous. "It's what I want; it's always what I wanted." Carlson says of C.F. Folks. "The way we were gonna do it is how we've done it."

"CITYGUIDES" 10 Best Lunch

C.F. Folks, which only opens for lunch, attracts hungry folks who jostle for position at open tables in the small, nondescript eatery. Some of Washington's biggest movers and shakers are known to line up at this popular lunch counter to place an order. Be sure to carefully inspect the blackboard's daily specials, because they seem to be the most appealing. The regular menu offers a collection of tasty soups and salads. Casual dress. Outdoor dining available.

 

Washington City Paper -  by Amanda Hess

The Well Dressed Burrito

Tucked into a narrow alley south of Dupont Circle, The Well Dressed Burrito is very much a hole-in-the-wall—¬but it’s far from a dive. The place looks a bit like a home office dressed up for Cinco de Mayo: Multicolored rugs and a cow skull share space with somebody’s baby pictures and a desktop computer producing soft tunes. But the small Southwestern joint is run with a friendly efficiency and draws a considerable crowd during its abbreviated, lunchtime-only hours—¬so carry out or prepare to jockey for one of the few eat-in tables. The draw is clear: The fare is no-nonsense and regularly outstanding. The fresh ingredients leave little to quibble with, but the Well Dressed Burrito’s real achievement lies in its spot-on ratios, which ensure that each bite strikes a satisfying balance of cheese, beans, greens, and meat. The menu is simple but elegant, offering up burritos, tacos, nachos, quesadillas, fajitas, flautas, and salads, each with the option of beef, chicken, or veggies. A few minor kinks—¬the chimichangas are fried a tad too crispy, while the refried beans could use a third frying¬—are more than accounted for by the affordable price-tag. The food’s cheap enough, so spring for the Coke: The Well Dressed Burrito is home to one of the District’s best-balanced soda fountains.