By Blair Anthony Robertson, Bee Restaurant Critic
As I was sitting in CafÃ© Marika one night, what came to mind were all those touristy towns I have visited over the years. You know the ones. You want to go out to dinner, you pick a spot, sit down and you find out soon enough by the time the plates hit the table that it's pretty much a tourist trap serving inferior food. And you wonder: where do the locals eat.
CafÃ© Marika is where locals eat. At least the ones who can cram their way into this tiny restaurant and its five tables.
The size is only part of the charm. It was the charm - and the consistently good old-fashioned food - that drew me to write about this place.
When I am in the process of sizing up a restaurant, one of the things I look at is personality. Yes, some restaurants have personality and some, just like people, have plenty of flash and not much depth to back it up. After many years writing human interest stories and profiles, I am also drawn to a good story. And eccentricity.
CafÃ© Marika has all that. It opened 21 years ago, has changed almost nothing, has never hired an employee and is perhaps the most consistent, understated restaurant you will ever encounter.
Going out to eat, at its best, is also an experience to treasure. CafÃ© Marika just feels different. It's the real deal, right down to the husband-and-wife team that runs the joint. Watching them work is part of the entertainment. Are they mad at each other? Tired? Or are they simply doing their thing?
After my review on Sunday, I received lots of voicemails and emails from readers who said their encounters with Eva and Louie were a big part of the experience and they did concur that, yes, they do warm up to newcomers - eventually.
So if you're on a chitchat basis with these two restaurateurs, you know you've made it - you're a regular.
And being a regular is a pretty good thing to be at this very appealing - and very real --- little place on J Street. This style of Hungarian/Eastern European cooking will never go out of style.
Finally, when I posted a link to the review on Facebook on Sunday, one of my friends wrote the following: "NO! NO! NO! Now you told everyone about the place, I won't be able to get a table, now!. I love this place, but you are right about the whole restaurant. No glitz, real food, and great favors. Just one comment, Don't Do It Again. Just joking."
Well, it will be interesting to see how CafÃ© Marika handles the extra attention. My hunch is they will do just fine - no panic, no change of pace. They will just keep doing what they've done the past 21 years.
Just FYI, if you can't get a table, CafÃ© Marika also does takeout.