Thursday, April 5, 2007

New Deal Café offers comfort, community

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Susan Whitney-Wilkerson⁄The Gazette
New Deal Café cook Eileen S. Murray of Greenbelt shows off the Mediterranean salad (left) and spicy sesame noodles with chicken meals available at the restaurant.
Located off the beaten path in the Roosevelt Shopping Center in Greenbelt, the New Deal Café really lives up to its slogan as the ‘‘Community Living Room for Art, Music and Good Food.”

The name is an homage to Greenbelt’s origins as a construction project that was a part of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Depression-era New Deal.

The place known as the community living room actually began in the community center kitchen, and volunteers provided all of the labor. After leaving the community center for a separate space in 2000, the New Deal Café began to use some hired help, although its board of directors remains volunteer. The many hours they put in are a testament to the spirit of ‘‘neighborliness” the café continues to foster.

As restaurants go, the cafe is a little different in that it is not a traditional commercial enterprise, but a member-owned cooperative. The café aims to please a variety of palates offering vegan, vegetarian and meat options. The café serves meat and vegetarian chili ($3 to $4.50), as well as BLT or VLT sandwiches (made with vegan soy bacon and vegan mayonnaise if you ask) for $6.25.

There are many requests for the popular Bella Rella sandwich ($6.50 with corn chips and pickle), a whole portabella mushroom marinated in balsamic vinegar with tomato, mozzarella cheese and alfalfa sprouts, all on olive bread. Some of the gourmet desserts ($3.95) are vegan, as well.

The New Deal Café is a flexible sort of place with a homey feel. It is divided into two rooms. Both rooms accommodate diners who wish to eat, but one also has a lounge area with couches, bookshelves and a magazine rack.

True to its philosophy of being a community living room, people stop by to eat, chat or play a game.

The café hosts many events and has musical acts almost nightly, including a very popular belly dance night that takes place about once a month. There are also art exhibits and film screenings.

Patrons were encouraged recently to come dressed in their pajamas for the Pajama Brunch, which featured a screening of cartoons made by young Greenbelt residents, and many did.

One was Dorian Winterfeld, who got into the spirit of things by wearing his sleepwear and said, ‘‘I don’t have many occasions to wear them out.”

In addition to the cartoons, the brunch had a special menu created just for that occasion.

‘‘I’ve come to other events here; it’s really fun,” said Sarah Katz of Takoma Park, who ate a brunch that included waffles and veggie sausage.

Of course since it is a café, there are many beverage options ($1.25-$3.75) such as coffee, tea and juices (including organic apple). The lemonade is touted as being ‘‘the real thing,” and there are fruit smoothies, root beer floats, soy milk and something called an Ice Rage (a frosty blended drink with coffee and milk). The New Deal Café also serves beer and wine.

The board’s latest president has lived in Greenbelt since 1993 and says he and the rest of the volunteers make the time to keep the café running because, ‘‘I just love the town and the cooperative aspect. It has a small town feel, yet it is right outside of D.C.”

New Deal Café

13 Centerway (RooseveltCenter), Greenbelt;

301-474-5642

Hours: Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. (closed Mondays in April); Friday, 8 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.; Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. (first Sundays of the month 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.).