This winter, I was craving some serious comfort food and so I went out in search of eggplant parmesan. Nothing says winter comfort like fried eggplant, warm tomato sauce and melted cheese. During my online search I was surprised to find that many D.C. restaurants have eggplant parmesan, and so I decided as your loyal vegetarian food writer that it was time for me to sample all the different options and report back to you in case you too are craving some comforting winter fare. Read on to learn all about the good, the bad and the ugly of eggplant parmesan in D.C.

 

The Brilliant

Centrolina
974 Palmer Alley NW
Washington, DC 20001

I must admit, I am impartial to Chef Amy Brandwein’s culinary style. I love her delicate handmade pastas, her decadent sauces, her earthy vegetables. Her eggplant parmesan is no exception; it is easily one of the best in the city, with strips of eggplant that come smothered in just the right amount of melted mozzarella and swimming in a warm, savory tomato sauce. The eggplant is impossibly light, the cheese is melted to the point that you can swirl it around your fork, and the tomato sauce is heady and luscious. Be sure to mop up any leftover sauce with hunks of bread.

The Bucolic

Bibiana
1100 New York Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20005

Executive Chef Loris Navone of Bibiana is a new addition to the restaurant, but if his eggplant parmesan is any indicator, he’s here to stay. Beautifully presented in a small red casserole dish, his eggplant parm features hunks of fried eggplant, piled high, doused with tomato sauce and blanked with fresh mozzarella cheese. The dish is served piping hot after the cheese is melted to perfection under a broiler. The dish is wonderfully hearty and rustic. Enjoy it for $14. Welcome to town, Chef!

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Eggplant parmesan at Bibiana

The Breadcrumb-Topped

All-Purpose
1250 9th St NW
Washington, DC 20001

The eggplant parm at All Purpose is listed as an appetizer, but its definitely hearty enough to be a whole meal. Either that, or get it as an appetizer to share because believe me everyone is going to want a bite of this dish. Thick rounds of eggplant are baked with fresh basil, tomato sauce and layers of mozzarella cheese, then doused in heaps of crunchy bread crumbs. The dish comes bubbling to your table where you will then want to devour it. The breadcrumbs add a great texture to the dish, as all the other ingredients are soft and silky. For $16 this dish is a steal.

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Eggplant parmesan at All Purpose

The Bland

Calico
50 Blagden Alley NW
Washington, DC 20001

When I ordered the eggplant parmesan at Calico I was not sure what to expect. The bar menu is rather eclectic, with dishes from all over the map (hummus, Philly pizza, and a salad with Mexican cheese and chipotle), so I was didn’t have high expectations…which turned out to be a good thing. The “eggplant parm” at Calico is chunks of eggplant breaded and fried, and covered with cheese and served with a tomato dipping saice. The eggplant largely has no flavor; all you can taste is the greasy breading. And the cheese is similarly flavorless. The only redeeming aspect of the dish is the tomato sauce, which has onions, garlic, and pieces of tomato but frankly I would rather just see the sauce served over pasta. It is only $9 so I guess that is a bonus.

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Eggplant parmesan at Calico

The Bad

Bar Elena
414 H St NE
Washington, DC 20002

Having heard good things about Bar Elena, I decided to meet a couple of friends for a Sunday night dinner. Sunday night dinner always requires something hearty and comforting, so of course I went for the eggplant parmesan. It was a decision I still regret. The Eggplant was rubbery, mushy and greasy and the tomato sauce was so brutally salty I had to chase each bite with water. The menu said the dish comes with an herb pesto, which was nowhere to be seen but to be honest why would eggplant parm need an herb pesto? The addition of cheese only made the dish saltier and more unpleasant. And at $17, I was even more miserable. Sorry Bar Elena, but it is clear I should stick with drinks only.

 

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