It was time to start over at The District. My customer loyalty card finally had 10 holes punched in it. It'd been in my money clip for months. Now I could turn that frayed piece of laminate paper in for a free sandwich. There's something about gratis grub that tastes better than paid-for foodstuffs.
Eating 10 times at The District (1021 Market Street) was worth the time and energy. The sandwiches are distinctive, yet none cost more than $10, and some are in the $5-$6 range. They serve lunch and breakfast, and staff recently started getting up earlier to open the doors at 7 a.m. on weekdays.
It's easy to miss the storefront here. It's across the street from Grocery Outlet and nearly catty corner from East Village Tavern + Bowl. There's nothing flashy in The District's windows, but there are attention grabbing picnic tables that get put out on the Market Street sidewalk.
Breakfast is served all day. The winner from the morning menu selections is the downtown hash brown. For $6.95, it's loaded. The bun, from Bread & Cie, is baked. Yes, it's got a hash brown on it. There's also smoked ham, sugar-glazed bacon, Parmesan cheese, tomato (which I decline) and spicy mustard aioli. Oh yeah, and a fried egg. I'd say 40 percent of my loyalty card hole punches came during morning encounters with this hefty dish.
For my free sandwich, I came in for lunch and ordered the muy bueno El Cubano. Inside a ciabatta bun, there's roasted pulled pork, smoked mozzarella, spinach, cilantro, tomato (but not for me) and pickled red onions. It's these colorful onions that put some pop into the El Cubano. I've had more than a couple of these. The pork can be a little dry, though, and once I added the house-made spicy mustard aioli, to positive effect.
Either one of the cold/hot fish sandwiches are worth trying for lunch. The sweet albacore is griddled white bread in a tuna-salad style; the seared ahi comes on a bun with ahi that's blackened and seared, and complemented with those pickled red onions and a lemon thyme aioli.
The District is a local endeavor. Four friends own the spot, and the owner/manager who's most visible is Trong Nguyen-Dinh. He takes orders, serves dishes from the kitchen and will offer a friendly smile if you can slow him down from the frenetic pace at which he operates. Around the corner, Nguyen has partially opened (dinner and special-events only) a sushi spot called The Parlour (550 Park Boulevard). The District, though, has a loyal customer in me. And only nine more hole punches 'til the next freebie.
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