Columbia Heights IHOP: First Thoughts

Gautham Nagesh

I just got back from the new IHOP on Irving Street, here in Columbia Heights. Today was opening day, and our lovely server Briana told us that while the morning had been busy, the afternoon was much calmer. I’m sure the rain was to blame for some of that. Full review, after the jump.

As soon as we passed through the waiting area, we were asked twice if we were dining in or interested in take-out, which surprised me, because I don’t associate IHOP (or pancakes for that matter) with carry-out. It’s good to know that we have that option; if there were a line (like I remember often occurring at the Route 1 IHOP in Virginia), that would be a nice alternative to waiting for a table. And about that– instead of announcing “Anna, your table is ready” or handing you a pager to wait with, the Columbia Heights IHOP has little laminated cards with celebrity names on them…that’s how I learned that I am the same age as Angelina Jolie. I didn’t have to wait for a table today, I just saw the little squares and peeked at one. They have a blurb of trivia on them, to read while you wait. They may be low-tech, but I like them more than the over-sized coasters that some restaurants prefer, which blink and vibrate when you’re allowed to sit down.

We were given a booth and as is often the case when a restaurant is first open, we were constantly asked if we needed anything or if we were happy with our drinks, food, water. I was really impressed by our server, Briana, who was completely charming. When I ordered my eggs scrambled, she suggested I add cheese and I am ashamed to admit that this combination was so delicious, I ordered seconds. My pancakes were fluffy and my hot chocolate was way better than I expected it to be. My dining companion enjoyed his Chicken-fried Steak and Eggs (sunny-side up); he said the latter were excellent.

I am thankful to live within a block of so many restaurants, but many of those places are mediocre, at best and sometimes, I just want simple food that tastes good. If today’s service and food were any indication of what’s to come, I can easily see IHOP becoming my favorite local place, especially since my favorite manager over at Pete’s New Haven has moved to their Ten-Frien location.

Some of my neighbors have been less than enthusiastic about the arrival of IHOP, and have made disparaging remarks about the “sort of people” such an establishment caters to (my retort is always, “hungry ones?”), but an IHOP next to a Panda Express and across from a Five Guys hardly seems incongruent. If so many of us are concerned about gentrification, I’d contend that this is exactly the sort of development Columbia Heights needed, to honor all of its residents vs the elite few who live at Highland Park. There ought to be a range of places to eat, from sandwich joints to gastropubs.

The fact that after Thanksgiving, IHOP will be open 24 hours a day is something I am happy about, for two reasons. First, it’s ridiculous that I have to leave this neighborhood and head to Adams Morgan or U street for late night eats. Second, I think IHOP is going to make Irving street safer because their friendly staff will be around at all hours of the day; that’s not trivial if you’re a single female coming home late on a non-party night. On Fridays and Saturdays, I don’t worry if my puppy needs to go out at 1am; the other five nights a week? I’m on edge, wondering what might happen on an empty street, where no one is nearby to hear me scream.

And contrary to what many had fretted about, I didn’t see a single urchin or gang of teen hoodlums lurking anywhere; I know, it’s only the first day, but I was at IHOP for the two hours just before and after school is out. I didn’t notice a surge of youth as I was leaving. Even if I had, the staff I spoke to sounded determined to encourage civility; I was told about an incident earlier in the day, when one inebriated patron had a tantrum and threw his water glass. He was immediately escorted out.

The menu clearly states that they reserve the right to refuse service to anyone, so if someone wants to act like a fool in a restaurant run by a D.C. police officer, well…I pity that fool. For the two hours that I was there, the place was bright, cheery and well-run. I saw families, couples and groups of friends enjoying pancakes while being fussed over by the omnipresent staff.

I sat down with the co-owner of IHOP, the gregarious Clarence Jackson and talked to him about how the restaurant has been received by the neighborhood; that post is coming up tomorrow.

  • Mildredlabigmia

    I am from New Jersey and a real IHOP fan. I was so glad when the IHOP opened in Congress Heights but I live downtown so it was a bit of a trip to get there. Now the new one is very convenient for me! When I visted the new one on Irving St, it had only been open two days. As the location is kind of small for an IHOP, it was very busy. One thing I noticed was there lots and lots of waitresses and servers and greeters. They were all over the place and I had to say excuse me several times when I walked to my table because they were in the way. And, as some of the servers/waiters are very young, there was a lot of loud chatters and joking. I think the manager shouldn’t be afraid to tell his employees to remember that they should try to act a bit more professional. I don’t mind the cheery faces and smiles but the young ones were joking with each other and two were actually flirting with each other.
    The person who served me was Angel and he did an excellent job – very pleasent and professional. He did ask me countless times if I needed anything – but that was ok by me. I think he just wanted to be sure I was being treated well.
    The meal I orderd and got was quite good – right up there with the great IHOP standard. It did take a while to arrive though. I guess the cooks are also getting the hang of the routine. So I will return to this new IHOP but may wait a month or so until the crowds die done a bit.