Not So Guilty Pleasures – Dama Pastry & Cafe

Sunday morning is a busy time for the staff of Dama Pastry & Café, a family-run Ethiopian bakery and coffee bar in Foxcroft Heights, a short walk from the U.S. Air Force Memorial in Arlington.

As I fork into a typical breakfast—a trio of scrambled eggs with jalapeño peppers and tomato; creamy cracked wheat; and flatbread fried in spicy butter—a steady stream of customers pops in to pick up specialty cake orders.

That’s when I ask co-owner and manager Amsale Saife Selassie if business is always this brisk. Her answer: “Yes.”

“On weekends, families visit and they would never arrive at a home empty-handed. You may take wine; a cake is enjoyed by young and old,” she says, delivering to my table a perfect cappuccino made with fine Yirgacheffe coffee beans from the highlands of her homeland.

The shop’s busiest season is the Christian fasting period of Lent, observed this year in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church from March 3 to April 19. (The denomination has a total of 250 prescribed fasting days throughout the year.) During this period, the faithful abstain from all animal products. That leaves room for a nice slice of vegan cake.

To meet the demand, pastry chef Almaz Dama makes eight varieties of European-style iced cakes (8-inch for $25; 10-inch for $36.50), both with and without dairy products. The most requested are the chocolate cake with raspberry filling, and the vanilla sponge cake topped with assorted fruits. The vegan cakes I sampled had a grainy, pleasing texture, the smooth icing and filling made with soy milk.

The Damas also operate a small Ethiopian market and full-service restaurant in adjoining buildings.

Dama Pastry & Café, 1505 Columbia Pike, Arlington, 703-920-5620,