BOOK REVIEW: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

When Dimple Met Rishi
Sandhya Menon
Simon Pulse
380 pages

By the time I was in middle school, my parents trusted me enough to leave me home alone during the summers. I strictly played The Sims Makin’ Magic, listened to one album on repeat over our old sound system, and read every pink-covered young reader romance book I could get my hands on. I finished about a book a day. All these books were essentially the same: Girl with bratty friends meets boy, complication arises, girl ends up with boy. Switch out “bratty friends” with “bratty rivals and traditionalist mom”, add in a few extra doses of wokeness and feminism, and you’re on your way to understanding why I was a sucker for When Dimple Met Rishi.

A Brief Summary…

Dimple Shah and her mother have different ideas about what an Indian-American daughter’s role should be after high school, but that doesn’t stop Dimple from pursuing her dreams as a coder at Stanford and applying to SFSU’s Insomnia Con, a summer program for coders to show off their web development skills by creating a groundbreaking app. Dimple is singularly focused on the prize: her hero, Jenny Lindt, critiquing her finished product. But when a fellow participant approaches her with the line “Hello, future wife”, she realizes her parents miiiight have only said yes to this convention because her Ideal Indian Husband – or rather, arranged marriage partner?! – would be there trying to woo her the whole time.

Lucky for Rishi Patel (aforementioned I.I.H.), he didn’t know Dimple was going into the conference not even knowing about his and her parents’ prearrangement. When Dimple and Rishi get partnered up for the entire Con, Dimple thinks she’s going to explode. What ensues is a slow burn romance that crops up right under the characters’ noses, until… well, enter “complication arises” here.

This is a novel with a heartwarmingly typical romance cycle (and might I say… delightfully cheesy at times?), a new and techy setting, and intriguing characters with conflicting desires that make their decisions at the end of the summer lessons for us readers.

Props to When Dimple Met Rishi for showcasing Indian traditions, while also giving us two Indian-American kids navigating two cultures… and how different that can look and feel for each person.

Some Love

I listened to this book, enraptured, for days; so yes, I liked it. To me, this novel is that fun love story that every teen girl is writing in her bedroom closet at night; A guilty pleasure, what we all have to be able to imagine for ourselves to sleep during the lonely midnight hours as lovesick teens.

It was also well narrated – to be honest, the print in the physical copy was small, and I’m so bad at reading words in other languages that the dual-narrated performance by Indian Americans really enhanced the experience for me. (And, you know, let me listen on my way to work and when my eyes are tired. Oh how I love audiobooks.)

Favorite Scenes (Possible spoilers??? IDK. Nothing too big though)
  1. When Rishi ends up at a party full of art majors and is in a quick-draw competition. Okay, to be honest, I absolutely loved. every. passage. about Rishi’s comic book art, but this one was tops.
  2. This woke AF quote from page 347:

    “And I’m going to have to have a talk with the organizers about conflicts of interest. If your parents donated the new computer science wing? … You shouldn’t even be allowed to participate…. I wish I could say stuff like that’s a one-off, but it’s not. You’re going to see a lot of it. People getting ahead unfairly because of the category into which they were born: male or white or straight or rich. I’m in a few of those categories myself, which is why I make it a point to reach our and help those who aren’t, those who might not necessarily be seen if I didn’t make the effort. We need to shake this field up, you know? We need more people with different points of view and experiences and thought processes so we can keep innovating and moving ahead.”

Those two elements of the book, along with Dimple’s feistiness, is what really sealed this book as a higher-than-3-star-rating for me.

Could Be Better…? A Few Notes

Pacing. Since the novel is narrated by both Dimple and Rishi, there is a lot of time spent pondering one moment in each narrator’s perspective. This would be fine and continually interesting if only the most pivotal moments were narrated like this, ie: Dimple and Rishi’s first meeting; however, I felt that I spent too much of the story being pulled back at the narrator change when I just wanted to know what would happen next.

Speaking of pacing… the end of the book was a total departure from this type of narration. And that switch kind of annoyed me. Like, you’re going to make me muddle through every moment twice when they’re falling in love, but not when things get dicey?! In fact, the final chapters have such large gaps in time that it’s jarring when compared to the slow plod of the rest of the novel. It didn’t really work for me.

Where’s the coding talk? This premise was so exciting to me because I thought “yes! A romance book that is going to get girls interested in coding! OMG I WILL LEARN SO MUCH”. As it played out, I didn’t learn anything about coding that I didn’t already know from reading this book. In fact, I learned more about art school than coding. There was just so much potential that I felt was not carried through on… Yes, Dimple is a coder, and a geeky glasses sort of girl, but she never really goes into how to code or what she loves about it in a procedural way. I wanted much more of that.

Because of the Hype…

Because of all the internet hype, I had really high expectations for this book. For me, this book’s being published and widely advertised and consumed is the triumph – the book itself is no “wow”. It’s good, but not earth-shattering. This is not to minimize #ownvoices at in any way – all genres and authors need good-but-not-earth-shattering books, and with When Dimple Met Rishi, we’re upping our count of good, popular books written by Indian Americans by one.

Bottom Line

Had this book been available to me in middle school, I would have devoured it and been made the better for not reading another book about another blonde girl on Cape Cod for the summer. But if I’d been told more about coding from a character who adored it, I may have been more inclined to grow from this book.

What did you think of When Dimple Met Rishi?

Tracking My Bookish Statistics

Hello, Paperbackers! My first half-year of bookish record keeping has come and gone and my bookish spirit has at last been revived! Since becoming a reading teacher a year ago, I made it a priority to get back into books. And since I’d asked my students to keep track of all of the books they read, I decided I’d better do it, too. This blog was born out of my love for books, my desire to talk about them with other bookworms, and wanting to hold myself accountable for my reading (oh, and for making my espresso exploration account for something, too!).


As far as record-keeping goes, I keep an updated list of book titles and the dates I finish them on my phone. Finishing a book is always rewarding in its own way, but seeing my list grow over the year has been really empowering. It’s like, oh, I HAVE been doing something in my free time after all! Having something to show for it is actually exhilarating.

However, simply typing out the title and day’s date on my phone can sometimes feels kind of insignificant. This was especially true in February when I was slogging my way through 1,000+ pages of Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84. Thus, I’ve been experimenting with other ways of celebrating my reading successes. Inspired by this Instagram post by @lottie_world, I recently gathered some stats on how many pages I’ve read per month, which I turned into this awesome/fun/even more rewarding graph:

I also think it’s fun to take some time every few weeks to update my Goodreads account to reflect the books I’ve read and am currently reading. It’s not always up to date, and I’m a huge failure at rating and reviewing every book I complete, but it’s just another one of those validating things. Goodreads also tracks how many books I’ve read (you can set your own yearly goal after signing up for the reading challenge!).


Speaking of 40 books, a huge reason why I read so many pages in May was due to the 40 Book Challenge I issued to my 6th grade readers. This idea is adapted from Donalyn Miller, and is basically a fun way to challenge kids to read widely in a variety genres, as well as read a lot of books. It turned into a pizza party celebration for those who had completed the challenge in my classes. Here is a snapshot of my own 40 book challenge record:

In an attempt to push myself to actually reach the goals I set for myself, I went about mucking about on the internet for inspiration. I found this really cool color-your-own-bookshelf printable on The Reeding Librarian’s site. I took the idea and made it my own, and composed a bookshelf housing 40 books (my personal reading goal for the year), and here’s the result:

In July, I got in on Booktubeathon‘s reading challenge, which racked up my page and book counts, and plan on doing #TheReadingQuest, which spans August 13th to September 10th (you can read my TBR for the Quest here!) Participating in readathons are another awesome way to feel supported in a reading community.

Last but not least (and you might already know this), I’m much more active on Bookstagram than my blog. I really enjoy taking pictures of books and using the hashtags, feeds, and accounts to find new book recs. It’s also a lot easier for me to post pictures than write blog posts, because I tend to overthink literally everything I do. Plus, I feel like it’s easier to interact with other bibliophiles (albeit, less deeply) because it’s more of an app than a need-to-be-on-your-computer-and-read-whole-long-paragraphs-of-text-while-being-distracted-by-the-internet’s-wonder thing. Disclaimer: I’m super new to the online book community, so I could just be spewing nonsense. If this is the case, ignore! Ignore!

Looking back on my records, I realize that I’ve done a LOT of reading (more than I expected)! Making fun ways to record my own accomplishments has made it easier to push myself to read more, tackle my huge TBR, and feel rewarded for completing my goals.

How do you keep track of what you read?

July Reading Wrap-Up

Happy August! Another month gone, another handful of books read and gallons of coffee sipped. I’ve been busier on Bookstagram than on my blog as of late, especially with the awesome, inspiring Booktubeathon happening last week. I’m still pretty new to this online book-loving community, and I’ve been learning so much! Most specifically, not to take myself so seriously. (Seriously though. I haven’t posted on here in a while because I’m kiiiiind of an anal perfectionist and don’t want to post unless it’s PERFECT. Which is insane.) I’ve also been inspired by “norms” of the Bookstagram community, like #shelfies (I bought a real bookshelf and the comfort level of my new abode skyrocketed), TBR (to be read) lists, and end-of-the-month wrap-ups that neatly tie all one’s reading together at the end of each month. What tidy concepts for my perfectionist brain to contemplate! I’m excited to get started, so let the wrap-up begin!

Here’s what I read this month, in the order that I read them:

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan ★★★★☆

Adult Fiction 

A down-on-his-luck ex-startup millennial, Clay Jannon, embarks upon an epic adventure fueled by equal doses of ancient books and Google technology.

Have you ever walked into an old bookstore and thought, “What ancient adventures await me here?” (Or is that just me?) Mr. Penumbra’s is that adventure; quirky and absurd and full of great characters. I listened to this as an audiobook and never wanted it to stop. If you’re a book nerd or a Googler (or by some divine providence, both), READ IT NOW!



America Is Under Attack: September 11, 2001: The Day the Towers Fell by Don Brown ★★★

Children’s Literature 

An illustrated homage to the heroic people who saved lives across the country on 9/11.

I picked this up because my 6th graders and I had an intense discussion about 9/11, after which I realized that none of them were actually alive during that time. This book does justice to one retelling of that story, for perhaps a younger audience than the 11-year-olds I had in mind.


A Million Junes by Emily Henry ★★★★☆

Young Adult Literature

June, a high school senior, remembers her childhood and her father like they’re magical, out of a storybook. Her family’s longstanding feud with the neighboring Angerts only makes it that much more fabled. Then June meets Saul Angert, and he’s actually nice (and funny, and cute, and only slightly older than her…), and she starts wondering what that feud between their families was really about…..

…Okay, it’s impossible to sum up this story without giving too much away or setting it up quite right. There is just something mythical about this read, and something about the characters and their world of Five Fingers, Michigan that pulled me in. Best friends, departing from familial expectations, leaving home, and loss are all explored (and divinely so!). Longer review to come, but this book had me aching in the best way. I’d highly recommend it to any young person dealing with an incredible loss. Or everyone on the planet. Read it NOW!


Fablehaven, vol. 5: The Keys to the Demon Prison by Brandon Mull ★★★★☆

Middle Grades Literature 

Kendra and her brother Seth are young teenagers, but for the past two years, they’ve been apprentices to their grandparents at their secret preserve of magical and mythical beasts in Connecticut. In this 5th installment of the series, the fate of the world is in Seth and Kendra’s hands as they try to stop the Society of the Evening Star from opening the Demon Prison, Zzyzx.

Very Hercules-sounding, I know. Reading books like this is usually not my style (Harry Potter is as deep into fantasy as I get). BUT! A student I really like recommended the Fablehaven series to me, and though I’d never pick up a book that looked like this on my own, I did it. And I was hooked. The first book enters into the high fantasy realm slowly, so I think that helped my reading taste buds acclimate. There are a lot of good things I can say about this series, so I may have to write a longer review, but let me leave you with this: The characters grapple with such raw human issues throughout the entire series, and have such mature, good influences helping them along the way, that this became really pleasurable (and intensely action packed!) to read. Even though my boyfriend made fun of me because of the cover. (You gotta admit, the cover is totally ridiculous.) Also, if I had kids in whom I wanted to install a good moral compass, I’d read this series with them.


Cinder by Marissa Meyer ★★★★★

Young Adult Literature 

Cinder is working as a mechanic in the marketplace with her android companion when Prince Kai of the Eastern Commonwealth drops by with something for her to fix. He jokes that it’s a “matter of national security”, but can an old android really help the country stop the letumosis pandemic? Or stop the Lunar Queen from her decades-old quest to take over the Earthen Union?

My audiobook game has been on point this month (I listened to this one too, and like Mr. Penumbra’s Ari Fliakos, Rebecca Soler is an awesome narrator.). I didn’t expect to like this book, especially since I feel like I can too easily predict the course of fairy tale retellings. However, Cinder is so different. The world that Marissa Meyer creates is astounding, and the extra complications she gives cyborg Cinder’s character are compelling and empowering, especially compared to the Cinderella I grew up with. I couldn’t put this one down. Read it NOW!


Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks ★★★★★

Middle Grades Literature

Kai chooses to move from the Dao homelands to Nameless City to both meet his father and become trained as a Dao soldier. Protecting the city from its two rivals is a constant job for its latest conquerers. But Kai doesn’t mix with the other Dao kids very well, and on his own, he soon realizes that keeping control of the city is much more complicated than his people believe.

I picked this one up at a library book sale because my students are obsessed with graphic novels, but I hadn’t given it a read until now. I was seriously missing out. What a story! The characters hit me in my soft spot – teens trying to figure out their place in the world – and the pace of the tale kept me hungry for more. A tightly woven and heartwarming book about coming together, whatever our differences. Put it on your TBR!


When Penny Met POTUS by Rachel Ruiz ★★★★☆

Children’s Literature 

Penny’s mom works for POTUS. Penny imagines what a POTUS looks like (a big, fuzzy, friendly monster) as she roams the White House hoping to find her mom’s boss. But when she actually does meet POTUS, who is… it?

This book is so heartwarming. I read it at a local bookstore because the cover caught my eye, and the minute I got to the end, I yelped with joy and just HAD to buy it… for my future child? I don’t know why I do these things… I don’t actually know any small ones who need this book read to them right now. But I DO know that EVERY CHILD needs this book in their repertoire as they grow up. It’s earth-shattering! Read it NOW!


The Crossover by Kwame Alexander ★★★★★

Middle Grades Literature 

Josh Bell has dreadlocks, a wicked crossover, and a reputation as a game-changer on his school basketball team. He’s got basketball in his blood – his dad played for the pros, and his twin brother is on Josh’s team, too. His family is hilarious and tight-knit… until his brother starts becoming more interested in girls than basketball. And when Josh starts piecing together clues about his dad’s early exit from basketball, Josh feels the world as he knew it spinning out of control.

I have been recommending this book to my 6th grader students for a year (it’s a co-worker’s favorite) but hadn’t read it yet. WHAT WAS I WAITING FOR?! This book lives up to the hype. BEYOND the hype, in fact. I was so impressed that a book written in verse could create such real, funny, complex characters and kept me turning pages. It employs really clever devices, too, like the poem titled “Second-Person” that is both written in the second person, and describes the feeling of being alone when, as a twin, Josh has always had a “second person” (!!!). I highly recommend this book to EVERYONE, but especially boys in middle school who might just believe in the power of literature after reading this book.

Phew! That was much longer than I thought it would be, but I read a lot of really great books this month and want to make sure I do them justice! I’m also realizing that my genre and age range tastes are all over the board. Thank you for reading!

Have you read any of these books? What did you think? What should I add to my August TBR? Should I be less random in the types of books I review?! Leave me a comment!

Where To Find: Free & Cheap Books

As an avid pursuer of the next great read, I am constantly in bookstores, reading the New York Times Book Review, on Amazon and Goodreads, and talking to my coworkers and friends’ moms (lol but for real) and students about books: What’s out there, which I might like, and which are must-reads.

But as you know… books can get expensive. So here are some of my life hacks for getting books on the cheap: 

1. Overdrive

I JUST found out about this resource this year…and it’s life-changing. If you have a library, you have something like Overdrive that offers e-books to anyone with a library card. I use the app version, but you can also use the webpage on your computer to check out and read books as well. Once you get into the system, you simply find your library, log in using your library card, and you’re good to go. Yes, the books still need to be checked out, and have due dates (along with limited copies, and therefore waiting lists for new/high-interest books), but Overdrive is a game changer. Once checked out, most books download to your device as a Kindle book. Plus, any notes or mark-ups you make on the library copy of book will save in your account and transfer to your book if you end up buying it later. Books can easily jump across different devices as long as you’ve got the necessary apps downloaded. SO COOL.

It also offers AUDIOBOOKS!!!!!! For those of you (like me) who need something to listen to during travels/long drives, this is pretty awesome. I 100% deleted my Audible account because of this service. LOVE IT.

Side note: If you haven’t done so yet, make a point to collect library cards if you move, or trade numbers with trusted family/friends in other areas. That’s the best way to navigate Overdrive (imo). I have South-Central Wisconsin, Arlington, DC, and Alexandria library cards, and therefore can scan multiple collections to see who has which books available when I want to read them (or the shortest wait list. Either one.)  Guys, you need to get Overdrive

2. MackinVIA

This is my school’s version of Overdrive. So it might a resource for other library systems, too? Either way, here’s your reminder to ask your librarian if they have an e-book system available for you. 

3. The Library

(Duh. Unless you’re like my mom and can only think about the germs library books collect.)

4. Personal Libraries of Friends & Relatives

Unless you’re an only child/freak about sharing your stuff like I am, borrow and lend from a trusted friend! All throughout college I got my books from a girl in my cohort, and a boss who loaned me her books from time to time. The best part: It’s free!

Stipulation: I say friends because acquaintances can’t always be trusted to return your books… and I add family because you’ll most likely see them again so you can demand your books be returned to you. Tbh you just need to keep track of that stuff. I once lent a coworker my hardcover of JK Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy, then proceeded to move back to college and would have never seen that book again had I not RSVP’d to a work party later in the year and hounded him to bring the book with him. Upon its return, this dude had the gall to say he didn’t even finish it because it was “boring” (OMG can you believe this guy?! I mean, it was grown-up British-suburb-style JKR, but what did he expect?!)! My best piece of advice would be to simply have long-ish conversations about your reading before you trust others with your books. Hint: If people always agree with you or are wishy-washy when you talk books, it might be a sign that they don’t actually care, so try not to force books on them needlessly (Can you tell I’m over-protective about my books?).

5. Little Free Libraries

Have you noticed any cute wooden houses that are too big for birds but strangely located next to a sidewalk? Then you’ve seen a Little Free Library! (Hopefully this is old news to you. I know I have like three of them in a two-block radius of my house (lucky me!).) These can be hit or miss; On one hand, it can be as amazing as lending a book from a friend without having to ask them… or returning it. On the other hand, it can be as anti-climatic as going to a Goodwill and seeing only yellowed romance novels. You win some, you lose some. They sure are adorable, though. 

A sampling of Little Free Libraries located around my neighborhood.

6. Library Sales

As a first-year teacher of middle school Reading, I have become obsessed with finding library sales near me. To find these, I’ve been using The site looks a little ad-heavy, but it’s supremely helpful – you can filter state, zip code, etc. to see where sales are near you. Library sales (like the ones the site tends to list) generally sell lightly used books for under $5 – I got 215 books for $175 this spring! (I’m insane, I know. I’ll never read them all, I know. But what’s life without goals?! Without something to look forward to?!)

An awesome library sale in Arlington, VA sold books for 50 cents to a dollar each – !

7. Garage Sales

This seems too obvious, but I sometimes forget they exist, so here’s your reminder. Garage sales definitely put you at the mercy of the seller’s book tastes, but if you’re lucky you’ll hit up some gems once in a while.

8. Scholastic Warehouse Sales

Remember those monthly book flyers from elementary school? The ones that you gave back to your teacher with a check from your mom and, magically, a few weeks later, those books would show up on your desk?! I was one of those kids who liveddddddd for those book flyers, and school book fairs, and Scholastic is the company that puts them on (And yes, they still do book sales in schools. My teacher status puts me in the know. Yes, kids are still mostly interested in the fun pencils and stuff rather than the books. But some nerds like us dig the books, too 🙂 ). This Scholastic warehouse gig is exactly like stepping inside a book flyer… except it’s a warehouse and all of the books are exposed and in stacks, aisle upon aisle… it’s a bibliophile’s paradise, and you have to have an experience like this at least once in your life. 

When I was a kid, my parents received a flyer about a Scholastic warehouse sale every year in June after I got out of school. I’m still not sure what kind of witchcraft did my parents pulled to find out about these, but if you have a Scholastic warehouse near you, this is an amazing way to get books (new books!) on the cheap, especially books for young folks, published by Scholastic (obviously. But I still had to say it). 

I still have the boxes from these sales in my childhood closet – I asked my dad to snap a picture for me to post!

9. Costco

Yes, I’m saying it. I just got a Costco membership for the first time in my life (#momstatus #idontevenhavekids) and they sell books there, mostly for the same price that Amazon would sell it. Not sure about the ethics of this, but hey, it exists. And, I picked up a signed copy of The Hearts of Men in a Wisconsin Costco on my last trip!

10. Amazon

Okay, let’s be real, yes I’ve bought books from Amazon, but you also have to think about the negative impact the company has on the local bookstores we all love. PSA: Read the next paragraph. 

Last but not least, books on the cheap are great, but if you’re looking for new books, a lot of times we readers just have to bite the bullet and pay cover price for them. Remember to support your local independent book stores! A lot of the ones I’m familiar with have to do a lot of business just to break even, so they love your love. It literally keeps their doors open (I worked for a small independent toy store that my neighbor owned when I was a teen, so I know from experience that small businesses really do love your love!). Don’t let online sales force them out of business! You can also do what I do, which is read books for free, then buy the ones I really need to have on my shelves from the lovely independent stores I love. 

Go forth and read cheaply!

Book Review: Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan

The Basics: 

Clocking in at a whopping 587 pages, Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan is a multi-layered book that is hard to categorize, but will easily win your heart. Part historical fiction, part fantasy, the book centers around a harmonica and a prophesy that three sisters lend to a boy lost in the woods. This frame narrative holds together the three successive stories, which culminate in a literary crescendo. The harmonica finds its way to those who need it, starting with a birthmarked boy in Germany during Hitler’s rise to power, two orphaned boys in Philadelphia during the Great Depression, and a Mexican-American girl in California during the era of American’s Japanese internment camps. Friedrich, Mike, and Ivy all share a special connection to music that helps them through their various hardships…. Which sounds vague, but I can’t give too much away. The wonder is in the mystery, and no synopsis will do it justice!

What I Liked About It: 

There is an element of mystery in the book from the start. Three sisters trapped by a witch in the woods? Music as the uniting factor? All of these different storylines? That all end in cliffhangers?! My main concern throughout the book was “how does this all come together?!” and it kept me reading feverishly. I love books that have that effect on me. I have to admit, though, I once flipped to the back pages and read the ending before I was even halfway done with the book. Luckily, it didn’t make sense to me at that moment, so I just sped up my reading until I could fully enjoy the natural journey of the book.

And enjoy it I did. The three major story sections are so well written that you really fall for the characters -Friedrich and Ivy’s stories were my favorites – and when each section ends in a cliffhanger, it’s maddening beyond belief (in the best way possible)! But each time a story ended, I knew the next tale would be just as riveting. As you continue to become emotionally invested in the next character, and the next, and after entering three different worlds spanning three contentious, important historical moments, the book rewards you with the MOST AMAZING ENDING EVER. What I mean is, the ending is worth the wait, if you can stick out 500 pages to get to a good ending.

The Downside: It’s long. It’s meant for middle grades readers (and up, of course), but I don’t know a ton of 9-12 year olds (or… me) who have the patience to wait for the ending to come together without peeking.

Overall Rating: 4.5/5

Why I’d Recommend This Book: 

Even if you’re not the type of reader to tackle a book this large, you HAVE to read Friedrich’s story. This section of the book goes on my required reading list! It’s so good because, though I’ve read pretty much every book about WWII that has ever existed (I had an obsession for a while, okay?), the context here was so different and new. Friedrich and his family are not Jewish. Friedrich has a birthmark that makes him the object of teasing, but he has a very loving family in his father and older sister, who have always taken care of him. His love for music shines throughout the story. Then, while his sister is away at nursing school, she becomes a member of the Hitler Youth, throwing Friedrich and his father into turmoil – especially when it is no longer accepted to be neutral in Hitler’s Germany, or have a birthmark. This take on family dynamics in Germany was so fresh, and so compelling. A must-read!

REVIEW: Bon Vivant Cafe + Farm Market

I began my weekend dodging raindrops at Bon Vivant Cafe + Farm Market, an eatery offering a menu of 100% sustainable, free-range Real Local Farm Food in the Del Rey neighborhood of Alexandria. If you’ve been on the “Del Rey strip” before, you’ll recognize this place as the green-striped exterior with an awesome vine-covered trellis surrounding its outdoor tables. Upon arrival, I was met by a short-but-quickly-moving queue… and was immediately side-tracked by the temporary pie tasting setup (can you believe it?! Pie sampling! So awesome!). Mechelle’s Baking Company was sampling their product (which Bon Vivant carries), and Mechelle’s son was our taste test specialist. An aside: you haven’t lived until you’ve tried Mechelle’s sweet potato pie!

Back to Bon Vivant’s menu: For brunch, I usually go savory since it stays with me longer, and this week that was especially important because I’m moving apartments and had to truly fortify myself. I went for a macchiato and the grilled breakfast sandwich (eggs, bacon, smoked gouda, whole grain bread). The macchiato wasn’t quite what I’m used to as a macchiato, since all the foam was on top and none of the milk seemed to make it into the shot, but it was good, and woke me up enough for my moving day (seriously, has moving ever been fun for anyone on this earth?). Bon Vivant also offers a fun milk & sugar station with jugs of 100% grass-fed milk and creams on ice, and a selection of syrupy goodness to sweeten. When the food was ready, I was relieved to see a whole, 2-slices-of-bread kind of sandwich bookending an arugula salad. The price was very reasonable for the amount of food I received (are my midwestern roots showing?), and tasted good to boot. I even had leftovers! The meal was great, and wholesome – it really did stick with me through the morning move – and the salad had a light dressing that complimented the meal, which is hard for a lot of places to get right. Well done, Bon Vivant!

Perhaps the best thing about Bon Vivant is the seating. There was ample space; a mixture of tables, comfy chairs, and bar facing the front walk that seemed perfect for setting up a laptop and staying a while. Also family friendly, there’s also a kid’s room stocked with playthings, as well as board games for adults in the general seating space. I would highly recommend this place for meet-ups of any kind since it’s so versatile!

The same can be said for the menu. It has a wide variety of meals, sandwiches, and grab-and-go’s, so if you’re visiting with a mixed bunch, you can easily satisfy everyone’s needs without going overboard.

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The Report: 

Espresso: ****

Food: ****

Decor: ****

Seating: *****

Service: ****

Ample space, warm lighting and furniture (and board games!), and a menu for every level of hunger make Bon Vivant Cafe + Farm Market a go-to for the hungry Del Rey wayfarer. 

REVIEW: Junction Bakery & Bistro

Junction Bakery and Bistro opened in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria last July. It’s located on the corner of Mt. Vernon Ave. and E. Monroe Ave., just a few blocks down from the Del Ray main drag. It’s a tan-painted brick building with their logo painted on the side, and if you’ve ever been past it, you’ve felt its pull – This looks like a cool place. I need to go in!

The first thing I noticed upon entering were the bags of Commonwealth Joe beans on display, so obviously, I was pumped to start my morning there (Commonwealth Joe roasts my favorite espresso beans)!

Junction is a we-do-it-all type of establishment. It has a warm-but-chill vibe with its train depot lights, blackboards and caramel-stained wood, lots of seating, a full menu, and amazing espresso. They also bake and sell their own bread. And they serve alcohol. I told you… they have it all!

Their menu, however, does necessitate some inferring – it doesn’t always spell out in exact terms what you’re ordering, just gives you the main ingredients. I ended up going for the “country” from the “bigger things” menu, not really knowing what to expect other than a plate with egg, sausage, and a cheddar & chives biscuit arranged… somehow. Was it going to be an egg sandwich? A platter? My partner and I took bets, and placed our orders. The mystery intrigued me. It annoyed him. I also ordered a macchiato.

Yes, the espresso was brewed from Commonwealth Joe beans, and done so with precision. And yes, it was amazing. What can I say about CWJ other than it’s consistently the best in the area? And the Junction baristas know how to do it justice.

When we got our food, my partner and I realized we ordered the same thing. I was sort of expecting an egg sandwich at this point, since I’d seen a lot of them around the shop, but my partner was expecting a deconstructed version – you know, scrambled eggs, sausage, and a biscuit on the side. The sandwich was good, and came with a side of grapes to make me feel less unhealthy for eating such a rich and buttery biscuit. Overall, the meal filled me up and was good enough, but I feel like their coffee is where the money is at Junction Bakery & Bistro. Of course, I’m going to go back again and check out other dimensions of their baking game (they are a bakery and bistro, after all). Besides, their menu might evolve as they grow as a business.

The Report: 

Espresso: *****

Food: ***

Decor: *****

Seating: ****

Service: *****

Oh, and their music gets five stars as well. The folk classics perfectly complemented the depot decor!