Almost every block in DC has its own cafe, but the hidden gem of the district’s cafe scene is the downtown Asian-American Rose Ave Bakery, which serves innovative pastries with Asian flavors.
Despite its popularity, Rose Avenue Bakery is hard to come across, isolated on the back of The Foodhall DC Block on Vermont Avenue with limited hours Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The Hidden Cafe is one that many visitors still know to find, and the place’s fruit-flavored donuts and floral decor are quite the treat, keeping guests coming back for Suite.
Upon entering the food court, rainbow-colored metallic butterflies and cherry blossoms line an ivy-covered wall to the right to greet customers. In the center of the wall is a pink neon sign reading “Love DC”. On a nearby wall, a floor-to-ceiling mural celebrating the food hall and neighborhood displays pop art with paintings of cherry blossoms, the Washington Nationals, and landmarks that combine to spell “The Block.”
Although the bakery is a small storefront, visitors are welcome to sit in the food court, which offers plenty of seating at tables, bar counters, and even a covered wicker swing surrounded by flowers. and flowers on the side. Diners looking to bask in the summer sun can also park at the picnic tables outside.
Rose Ave Bakery shares the food hall with four other restaurants spread across the dining hall, including Pogiboy, a much appreciated Filipino-American restaurant, Piccoletto, the self-proclaimed small pasta shop, Block Bar, a late-night bar open Thursday through Sunday, and Snocream, which serves a cross between ice cream and shaved ice.
Rose Ave Bakery maintains the floral theme of the rest of the food court, appropriately adorned with roses lining the corner bakery stand. The female-run bakery, owned by a former nurse with a passion for cooking and creativity, describe its goal is to provide customers with “fun, inventive and delicious” Asian-American pastries, and the establishment certainly succeeds.
The company sells a variety of pastries, but the standout is donuts, which combine chewy dough with fruit, all for less than $5. The cafe also offers breakfast sandwiches ($4.50 to $7.50), cookies made with traditional flavors like sugar and chocolate chips with added elements like matcha and sesame (3 $.25), flaky pastries called cruffins inspired by Filipino cheese rolls ($5), fruitcake slices ($5.50), coconut mochi puffs ($4.50), and kouign amann ($4.50) – a caramelized croissant with a sweet filling like sticky coconut rice and fresh mango.
For a hot beverage to enjoy with your sweets, try Rose Ave’s coffees and teas ($5 to $5.75). True Rose Ave Bakery fans can also purchase sticker packs of the various bakeries for $10.
When I visited, I ordered the Lychee Strawberry Pink Donut ($4.50), which arrived in a plastic container. The batter consisted of a soft, doughy, generously granulated sweet base topped with cream icing, sliced fresh strawberries and a globe of lychee, a sweet and juicy tropical fruit native to China, with rose petals on top.
The subtle sweetness of the strawberries blended well with the thick frosting and sugar to create a saccharine taste. The dough itself had no holes or fillings inside, which helped balance the very sweet fillings into a more neutral flavor, preventing the donut from crossing the line into sickeningly sweet territory.
The lychee on the donut may be hard to bite into, but don’t give up – removing it could cause the donut to fall. The fruit even adds flavor to an otherwise sweet dish, complementing the strawberry slices and frosting. Overall, the Strawberry Lychee Donut provided a unique blend of sweet and tangy flavors, making it an ideal treat for someone who likes either taste.
I also ordered a green chai tea ($5) after my meal, which came iced and provided me with a sweet aftertaste and caffeine kick I needed to get through the rest of my daytime.
Despite the many dining offerings located in The Block Foodhall, nearly everyone I saw on my visit headed to Rose Ave Bakery, a testament to the quality of baking at DC’s hidden cafe.