By Corinna Lothar
The Deruta ceramics are gorgeous. They come from the Umbrian hill town where ceramics have been made since the Middle Ages. The salumi and cheeses are mouthwatering; the Italian groceries and wines wide-ranging and delicious; linens are elegant and colorful. All of this greets a visitor entering Via Umbria on Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown. Be forewarned, everything is outstanding but expensive.
Behind the culinary display is a small cafe where sandwiches, salads, soups, pastas, and a few main courses are available with menus changing daily. The cafe is also the space for a monthly movie and simple buffet dinner. The buffet opens at 7:30 pm, and the movie starts once all the participants have served themselves and are seated.
Cooking classes, Sunday brunch, and Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night “Italian dinners” take place upstairs on the second floor. Communal brunch tables seat eight, which is fine for a group, but somewhat alienating for a couple.
Bellinis (strawberry on a recent visit), mimosas, and bloody Marys are bottomless. Brunch begins with a basket of breakfast pastries, an assortment of croissants, fruit-filled and cinnamon-laced goodies, one per person. If you are the last person to choose, there won’t be a choice. Guests then help themselves from a buffet of various types of excellent salami and prosciutto, pickles, salad, and a special dish. At a recent brunch, a potato flan, consisting primarily of breadcrumbs with very few potatoes, was the special. Next, guests choose one of three main courses. The menu changes each week, but our choices were a tasty porchetta (slow roasted pork) sandwich with a fried egg and some arugula. The breakfast sandwich contained lackluster Umbrian sausage and spinach on house-made bread. The third option was a small portion of pasta with squash and a sprinkling of guanciale, a smoked pork product similar to bacon. A lovely poached pear with a zabaglione cream, or chocolate cake with vanilla sauce were the dessert choices. Coffee is not included in the $35 tab.
The four-course dinner menu also varies each week. A recent menu consisted of beef carpaccio, followed by saffron risotto. The main course was osso bucco with mashed potatoes; dessert was lemon sorbet. Wine pairings are available for an additional $40, or guests can choose a bottle from Via Umbria’s collection of Italian wines as part of the restaurant’s CYOB program (choose your own bottle).
Via Umbria offers special events throughout the year, and its second floor is also available for private parties. The kitchen specializes in simple Umbrian dishes. It’s not haute cuisine, but most preparations are good, and sometimes, very good.
VIA UMBRIA: 1525 Wisconsin Avenue NW, (202) 333-3904.
Hours: The shop and cafe are open from 7 am to 7 pm, Tuesday to Sunday, and until 9:30 pm on Friday and Saturday. Sunday brunch runs from 1 to 3 pm. Italian dinners start at 7 pm and last approximately three hours. Closed on Mondays.
Prices: Cafe prices range from $4 to $13; Sunday brunch $35; Italian dinner $75; movie nights $25.