New Deal Cafe: a community affair
Nov. 27, 2003
Tamara E. Holmes

Many restaurant owners say their dining establishments have a community spirit about them, but the New Deal Café in Greenbelt is a true product of the community. Formed in 1996 by a group of Greenbelt residents who wanted to create a friendly atmosphere for food, music and art, the restaurant is a nonprofit cooperative with all profits going to the betterment of the business.

"Our clientele is mostly friends and neighbors," said Ellen Siegel, who manages the café. Siegel's mother was one of the founding members of the co-op.

Upon entering the café, the community atmosphere is evident. Tables are pushed more closely together than in most other restaurants, instantly helping to make friends out of strangers. On one side of the restaurant sit a sofa and lounge chairs. A bookshelf filled with books adorns that corner, as well.

On the other side of the café is a stage, and a piano leans against a wall with a sign that reads, "Please Ask Before Playing." The walls are covered with the artwork of Greenbelt residents; each month new drawings, paintings and murals replace the old. With indoor and outdoor seating, the restaurant seats 49.

"We wanted to provide a venue for art and live music in old Greenbelt," said Siegel. "We have a great appreciative crowd, and we're very supportive of community activities."

When the café first opened, it was a weekend coffeehouse. For the last three years, it has been a full-time establishment, serving three meals a day and a heap of entertainment.

The menu's fare is healthy and for the most part vegetarian. There are some chicken and fish offerings, and the breakfast menu has a few breakfast meats, but most of the offerings are meatless.

Among the restaurant's most popular dishes, Siegel said, are its wraps. The veggie wrap with hummus or dressing costs $4.95, while the chicken fajita wrap costs $5.95 and the chicken or tuna salad wraps cost $5.95.

Another popular dish is the vegetarian chili. A cup costs $2.75, while a bowl can be served up for $4.25. The lasagna is another favorite, Siegel said. It costs $6.95 alone and $8.45 with a salad.

Among the sandwiches offered at the café are grilled cheese and tomato for $4.25, turkey and Swiss for $4.95 and tuna salad, also for $4.95.

Patrons looking for a light salad can choose from the house salad for $3.95, the Caesar salad for $4.50 and the Mediterranean salad--another restaurant favorite--for $6.25.

The children's menu includes items such as macaroni and cheese and grilled cheese, both for $2.95.

The beverages aren't your standard colas and other carbonated drinks. Patrons can try a milkshake for $3, a strawberry smoothie for $3.50, a root beer float for $2.50 or chocolate milk for $1.75.

The breakfast menu includes such goodies as French toast, pancakes and cheese omelets, each for $3.50. Muffins, pastries and granola are among the offerings for diners not looking for a heavy meal.

The cooperative that owns the New Deal Café is not a closed organization. Rather, it is always looking for members to donate time, money and support. There are plans to expand the café in the future, Siegel said.

The cooperative wants to add new menu items and "serve our growing clientele better," she said.

Musicians perform many afternoons and nights. A performance could start as early as 3 p.m. and go for as long as 11 p.m. While the artists whose works adorn the walls are all Greenbelt residents, musicians come from all across the country.

"We provide a community meeting place with an opportunity for artists to show their work," said Siegel.

For anyone who likes good food, good entertainment and good company, the New Deal Café is a good deal.