Quick: Think of a traditionally “kid-friendly” restaurant. It’s likely that one particular genre comes to mind: A loud establishment teeming with chaos, impatient servers, and a small children’s menu offering the usual fare for your little ones. But the face of “family-friendly” dining is changing, and some of the restaurants leading the way in Alexandria may surprise you.
Jackson 20, 480 King St., Alexandria
Wait, wait. Jackson 20, as in the upscale restaurant adjacent to the Hotel Monaco on King Street?
OK, it’s true: At first blush, Jackson 20 may not seem like the ideal fit for a night out with the whole clan. But manager Andrew Carlson says that perception couldn’t be further from reality.
Families “want to go out and have a good dining experience with their kids,” he said. And he’s adamant in ensuring that his restaurant provides a relaxing, friendly environment for diners of all ages.
“(Children) are here to eat, too,” he added.
Pop in to Jackson 20 on any normal weekend and you’ll find the brunch offerings and ambience to be a welcome respite from some of the more stuffy suits in town. Offering a special children’s menu aimed at “the Future Presidents of America,” the kitchen boasts favorites such as pancakes and PBJs, as well as an egg sandwich and scrambled eggs with bacon. Coming for lunch instead? Your future president can select several different versions of sliders, as well as a child-friendly version of one of the restaurant’s specialties.
“Kids love our mac and cheese,” Carlson said, adding that since little ones’ palates often haven’t adjusted to the intricacies of sharper, spicier cheeses, the children’s version is prepared with American and cheddar.
This time of year, Carlson says, the restaurant sees a spike in families coming through at all times of the day and night. Tourist season is in full swing, and diners of all ages are hungry. And Carlson says he and the staff are ready: He knows it takes just a few extra seconds to pull out a high chair or provide crayons for young guests, and that extra time goes an awfully long way for mealtime peace.
For children and adults alike, the sweetest reward comes at the end of the meal. Pie has made its way to Jackson 20, and kids of all ages should rejoice.
“I have been preaching pies for three years,” Carlson said, and his persistence has paid off. Seasonal pies are making their way to the menu, and the rotating offerings are seemingly limitless, ebbing and flowing between Mississippi mud pie, banana-cream pie, and strawberry pie, just to name a few.
Noteworthy Caphe Banh Mi, 407 Cameron St., Alexandria
This popular Vietnamese eatery in the shadow of City Hall may appear to have a menu that’s intimidating to many kids, but they have an off-menu pho option aimed for younger diners’ palates. On the menu, their rice and vermicelli-noodle options are also good ones for children to cut their teeth on, so to speak.
Momo Sushi, 212 Queen St., Alexandria
Sushi may not seem like the most welcoming choice for families of all ages, but Momo does it right. More adventurous young eaters can try some of the restaurant’s specialty rolls, such as the Philly roll (rice rolled with salmon, cream cheese, and cucumber) or the spider roll (rice rolled with fried crab, cucumber, and avocado). In terms of more toned-down but still tasty options, try the avocado or oshinko rolls.
Hope Nelson owns and operates The Kitchen Recessionista blog, which can be found at www.kitchenrecessionista.com.