Woe is Breadline

I totally foresaw Breadline's tragic fall from fortune. And there are witnesses. Or just the fact that I boycotted one of DC's formerly hottest lunch spots more than four months before its temporary August closure for health code violations. Only 2 months before my boycott, I even endorsed and lauded Breadline on this very site (see below).

My newfound complaints at the time were due to inconsistency in ingredient quality, taste and preparation. Sometimes the ham, turkey and Russian dressing tasted as divine as Breadline's high quality reputation and price tag prescribed. Other times the ham was gelatinous, the turkey full of gristle and the Russian dressing, well, rancid-tasting. I gave it more than enough chances before privately deriding the establishment to all the Breadline fans I knew, and ceased my patronization. But none of the other devout Breadliners (the witnesses I alluded to above) heeded my warnings, and before long I thought I was the crazy one.

Turns out Breadline didn't refrigerate its food properly. Among quite a number of health code violations. Whoops. Crow was eaten. My palette screamed for joy that its reputation was justified. And I was no longer the nut who thought Breadline was not worth its weight in, well, bread.

To Breadline's credit though, it took the wakeup call in stride. Its doors were closed for a month or so, the familiar manager/expediter seemed to have been replaced, and most noticeably, there were no more premade sandwiches and other items lining the prep tables behind the counter. All of the sandwiches are now prepared fresh. What a concept! I feel lucky the improperly-stored meat, cheese and dressing that I had previously eaten hadn't gotten me (or anyone I knew) sick. It sure tasted like it could have.

About a month after its reopening, I was finally convinced to return to Breadline – nearly 6 months since my last visit. I was pleasantly surprised by the changes I noted above. I ordered one of my classic favorites, the French ham and Swiss sandwich on baguette. They made it fresh right then – something I had never seen before with this cold sandwich – and the result was wowing. It was actually good again! Same ingredients – high quality ham, cheese, butter and bread – but completely different story, as these were fresh, plentiful and tasty. I went back again and got the same sandwich a week later and it was good again. What a start!

Now my third time back was just yesterday and I was finally ready to order the fresh turkey sandwich with Russian dressing, a sandwich I once declared a dream sandwich, but also one that nearly made me sick several times prior to my boycott. I believe it is the only food that I am repulsed by due to a bad experience. Unfortunately, while the sandwich was colder than before and did not taste rancid, that once-beautiful, fresh roasted turkey meat still contained ungainly fat and gristle and still REMINDED me of the rancid-tasting turkey sandwiches that I may forever associate with turkey or at least Breadline. The Russian dressing was still awful, though again, not rancid. I'm starting to think they have a bad recipe. The bread was good. As usual.

Breadline didn't lose me this time. I'm all for giving more chances, and I'm convinced that their violations are behind them and that they are still capable of making good food. Their turkey sandwich and its fall from fortune will perhaps be the lasting personal scar that Breadline will never be able to make go away for me. But the bigger scar for Breadline is the scar of the closure itself. Yes, diehard fans may have forgiven and forgotten, but when I've been in there recently the line has been noticeably shorter, the tables not close to the crammed-full of old, the crowd not even close to as dense an hour before or an hour after the main noon rush as it used to be. There used to be a line out the door practically from 11 to 3. No longer. We customers are fickle. Especially when their sky-high prices of old have not fallen a penny. Perhaps Breadline isn't off everyone's list, but it certainly isn't at the top of many anymore either. It's hard to get to the top in the crazily competitive lunchtime market in a large downtown area. Breadline was there in DC and they blew it. But kudos to them for lifting their heads back up and trying to grind away once again, this time the right way. It's what will likely keep them on my list at all in the future.

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