The Kosmos is Big on Atmosphere
New arts-forward restaurant serves local brews and tasty burgers
Within the "casual dining" atmosphere, there's a fair amount of variance. The ways local restaurants compete with franchises is myriad. For most places it's an angle, maybe a specific dish—something that separates and highlights what they're doing. But for The Kosmos, tucked away in a funky art warehouse space, it definitely feels like a spot that's in flux: It's both a well-kept secret, a respite from the typical Downtown lunch hour crush and a dining experience beyond simple definition.
Originally conceived as a coffee spot (the Church of Beethoven before that), it's recently been transformed into a super-relaxed, kid-friendly restaurant with a simple but approachable menu and an eclectic yet recognizable playlist. It's Downtown without being Downtown, and while I'm not sure the "speakeasy" feel is intentional, it's certainly a place you'd have to be looking for—as just stumbling on it is probably pretty rare. The space itself is one of the highlights: warehouse wood rafters, chandeliers, a twinkling space wall, oversized steampunk gears and earthy paint tones throughout. The Kosmos boasts a roomy 15 tables, waited on by a committed and friendly staff. Everyone seems like a regular, which always looks good on a place, and there are surely art-centric events for those in the know. Weather permitting, they open their garage doors to blend inside and outside comfortably, and the restaurant is surrounded by so much artistic energy that it truly feels like something that sets a meal here apart. I stopped in after work, had a weekend lunch and tried a weekday lunch hour and never found the place empty, while also never finding a big crowd—a boon in my book.
For drinks, the selection is small but smart: eight local brews ($4 to $6), sodas and iced tea ($2.50). It's hard to consider it a lost opportunity when they have what most everyone drinks, but perhaps there's room for an arty take on a non-alcoholic beverage—a basil lemonade or juice/tea blend—and maybe some wine. For food, I started with the fried house-made pickles ($4.95)—truly a cut above because of the pickles. They are bright in the mouth, have terrific salt and spice from the brine and either alone or flash-fried are a treat. For the meal proper, I tried the Kosmic Burger ($7.50, $9 with green chile and grilled onions). It's a thin-pressed, hot-seared delight, made with quality, locally-sourced beef. Of the fries on offer, go with the Spudnik ($2.75). They're thick, twist-cut and cooked up more like a potato wedge than a typical French fry. And while I have no issue with ketchup, I'd also take the green chile aioli ($0.75) to dip both your burger and fries in. It was closer to a ranch dressing than an aioli, but worked great as a condiment. It wasn't spicy—so I'd love to see a lot more green chile in it. And, as long as I'm wishing, I'd love to see bacon as an add-on. If you aren't feeling the fries, a stand-out side is the mac and cheese ($2.75 side, $7.95 meal). I added green chile ($0.75) and next time I'll be adding the chicken. The blend of three cheeses, baked-in béchamel and breadcrumbs, clings perfectly to the rotini, and it's a generous portion, even the side dish size.
If you're after a vegan option, the afghan rice and chutney ($7.95 + $1) is the star. An earthy blend of spices including cardamom, cinnamon, cumin and clove marry the long grain rice with some minced veggies for a sturdy and bountiful meal that's good on the dining conscience. The chutney added an herbaceous blend of onion and peppers, giving the dish another layer. I'd love to see an interesting vegan bread or cracker on the side. The house salad ($8.95) is a surprise and a glimpse of what could be. Sliced almonds, bleu cheese, cherry and sunburst tomatoes, and radish sprouts on a bed of spring greens served with a delicious lemon thyme vinaigrette—it's inventive and unexpected, and also available as a side salad ($2.75).
As a dessert, I had the ice cream cookie sandwich with chocolate sauce ($3.75). Vanilla ice cream sandwiched between two pie-slice-wedges of something between a shortbread and chocolate chip cookie, with your choice of sauce (brandy, strawberry or chocolate) drizzled over it. The cookie is dense, and the shortbread-y flavor wisely keeps the dessert from tipping into that too-sweet zone. It's not on the menu proper, but if it's available I'd recommend it.
The Kosmos, like the cosmos, is in flux. In a busy Downtown dining scene, it's a secret getaway. You probably can't walk to it, but parking is a breeze. They could do with a big, flashy sign announcing when they are open to accompany the rusty old typewriter in their flowerbed, and a pair of old boots tirelessly walking on a water feature. The menu is simple, and like the artists around them, seems to focus on doing whatever they do well. And while there's room for a few more risks or surprises in the menu, as a curious diner, I'd say get in on the ground floor.
1715 Fifth Street NW
Hours: Tue-Sat 11:30am-9pm
Alibi Recommends: Fried house-made pickles, Kosmic burger and Spudnik fries
Vibe: Friendly, free-flowing and funky if not still in flux