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!

REVIEW: Bayou Bakery

Bayou Bakery is one of those lovely places that serves both hearty eats and good coffee – with a southern twist. In fact, they call themselves a Louisiana-style “coffee bar & eatery”, thought they’re located in the Courthouse neighborhood (/metro stop) of Arlington, VA. I’d been reading about this place since I first moved to the area, and, with a lazy Sunday ahead of me, decided to finally check it out.

The only downside to places that serve both good food and good coffee is that they automatically qualify as “brunch” places. If you’ve been in DC on a weekend, you know the sometimes-nightmare I’m referring to. Brunch dominates DC from about 10am to 2pm (no really – Uber even goes into rush pricing), and if you think you’re going to just “pop in and out” of a place that serves coffee and food, you should rethink your scheduling.

Bayou Bakery was packed, yes (which is a sign that people enjoy their wares, right?), but I was impressed by how quickly the winding line was served – and the speed with which I received my food. Don’t let “brunch hour” dissuade you from visiting this place.

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I ordered a macchiato (my drink of choice), some beignets, and a bbq-pork-topped biscuit. I shared some grits with my partner, who had biscuits and gravy (Can you tell that they really do serve southern food?).

So…

The food was good. I liked my bbq pork biscuit a lot – it was sweet with just the right amount of zing… but my partner likes a decidedly different type of bbq than I do and wasn’t a big fan. I also tried my first beignets, and my sweet tooth adored the mountain of powdered sugar they’re topped with. The grits were perfectly flavored by the Crystal hot sauce on the table.

The espresso was brewed from Counter Culture’s Forty-Six beans, which the company recommends for espresso. I’ve had Counter Culture before, at Emissary. Back when I had it last, I wondered if the acidity I was tasting up front was due to the citrus-heavy lunch I’d had, or the brew itself. After tasting Counter Culture beans again at Bayou, I realized it’s decidedly the beans that give off that slight acidity at first sip. In fact, this brew seemed slightly more acidic than the last one I’d tried, and a bit less silky. It was still a good macchiato, but Emissary might have my return business.

Overall, if you’re in Courthouse and need a tasty bite to go with your coffee, Bayou Bakery is the perfect fit to comfort your southern hankerings. You can find it at 1515 N. Courthouse Rd, Arlington, VA 22201.

 

 

REVIEW: Emissary

Located right off DuPont Circle, Emissary is a very chill, partly-underground coffeeshop that brews delicious Counter Culture Coffee beans. 

Emissary’s calming baby-blue-and-white color scheme is attractive from the exterior of the building (where there’s plentiful outdoor seating). Once you enter the underground oasis, exposed brick walls and a mix of dark wood and steel furniture make the space at once cozy and sleek. 

I ordered a macchiato and was pleasantly surprised by how quickly my order came out – and with a design atop the drink! 

Over at the sugar station (I’m sure there’s a more elite-accepted word for this, but you know what I mean, right?), I discovered both raw sugar packets and raw sugar simple syrup (yes!) resting under a beautiful basement window scene of tiny succulents and a “Standing with Muslims against Islamophobia and Racism” sign. What a cool place! It’s got its heart in the right place, too. 


Okay, okay, I need to stop gushing about the environment and tell you about the espresso: 

Simply put, it. Was. Amazing. 

I had just finished a citrus-heavy lunch, and so didn’t fully appreciate the drink I’d ordered until I was about halfway through with it. But when I got there – !!!

I don’t think I’ve ever had an espresso taste so silky before. The mouthfeel of the drink was that impeccable. And tasty, to boot. The drink seemed to have very low acidity, which added to the overall smoothness of the drink. Especially when I drink espresso after lunch like this, I don’t usually drink the whole brew unless I’m willing to stay up extra late. But this espresso? I couldn’t help myself. I didn’t even make a conscious decision to finish it all, it just happened

All in all, I’d definitely recommend Emissary as a lovely oasis from DC’s busy day-to-day, and I’d also press you to try their perk! I know I’m looking forward to having Counter Culture Coffee at Emissary again soon!

REVIEW: Cuppa Giddy Up

Cuppa Giddy Up is located in Middleburg, Virginia, which is a popular day-trip destination for DCers. Middleburg is known for its shops – and apparently a rich history of fox hunting – in the middle of equine and wine country.

Cuppa Giddy Up reminds me of the close-to-my-heart shop that I frequented in high school – both have a cozy, below-ground scene that offers a sort of intimacy shared between the people in the shop and its customers. Cuppa serves Lexington Coffee Roasters beans in their tiny underground oasis. (It also has a clever name – it’s in horse country, remember?) The two baristas were personable, and, when I asked about what beans they brewed, I was offered a sniff from a newly-opened bag, told where it was roasted, and – get this! – was told where I could find the same beans in DC (Baked & Wired in Georgetown, FYI). Talk about awesome people! They also took interest in what I’d been up to in town so far, and where I was visiting from. And… my espresso was only $1.60 (!!!). Try finding that kind of price in DC!

If I’m ever back in Middleburg, Cuppa Giddy Up will have my caffeine-based business.

 

 

REVIEW: Head House Books

I love a good quirky, local bookstore, and Head House Books is such a great shop, it deserves to be my first bookstore post.

Here’s the thing about bookstores: You can go to your basic Barnes & Noble or Amazon anytime. As an independent bookstore, you need to do something that sets you apart and offers more than just the usual New York Times Bestsellers browse. Head House Books has done just that.

When you walk through the doors, you see two giant wooden bookcases filled with books – but not in a way you’d expect. Instead of spines out or covers only, these books are layered like the petals of a tulip, separate enough to show their beauty and grab your attention, yet subtly shadowed by the next book, then the next.

This is an awesome book display, and something I’ve never before seen.

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Walking through the store, I noticed dozens of titles on display that I had never noticed either on Amazon lists or in Barnes. To me, this is another sign of an independent bookstore making its mark – a refreshing curated collection.

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Walking toward the back of the store, wooden floors creaking and the warm glow of fairy lights brightening the way, you reach the children’s section.

What a joy!

Not only did Head House feature adult literature I’ve never seen, but it holds the record for the most picture books I’ve seen in an independent bookstore, as well as a fresh collection of Middle Grades lit.

And, of course, I was in love with their display featuring books about strong women. And just my luck, two chairs dotted this back section, where I perused and previewed to my heart’s content.

My best find? I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy (required reading for every American!)

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BOOK REVIEW: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

I just finished Station Eleven by Canadian writer Emily St. John Mandel, and after reading it, I think I need a reading break.

This is not to say that the book was so bad that I need to stop reading, nor was it so good that everything else would pale in comparison. Station Eleven is an intricate book, one that needs to be read slowly in order to fully appreciate all of the connections in the plot and poetics of the writing. I just need some time to decompress.

The storylines in Station Eleven follow a Hollywood actor’s rise and demise in the present time, and a group of Shakespeare-and-symphony performing survivors in a post-pandemic futuristic world. Strange combination? I know. If I had read that last sentence before reading the book, I wouldn’t be convinced. But the way these storylines meld together – how the pop culture of the past has an impact on the post-pandemic future, the connections between the characters with a 20-year gap between the timelines – it just works. Who knew Hollywood could be a perfectly sad and beautiful foil for a dystopia?!

But it’s perfection. Station Eleven is surprisingly beautiful and haunting, and really poignant. It brings to your attention the incomprehensible intricacies of our modern way of life, and what we do and should treasure. If you’ve been a consumer of dystopian fiction in YA, this is the perfect first step into the more complex possibilities of well-written adult literature… following intriguing characters in a world you’ll love.

So, if I claim to have loved and highly recommend the book so much, why do I claim that I need a break?

I finished the second half of this book in one day – the connections were growing and just getting too good to put down-! – but… because I focused all of my energy on chasing plot, I was missing the beauty of the book. The poetry of the writing. The real-world implications I wanted to linger upon. See, with books like these, I have to constantly remind myself to slow down. Savor it. And I’m not sure I did enough of it. In fact, I’m feeling pretty melancholy about having finished it so fast.

So… perhaps what I need isn’t a reading break. I could easily go back and start reading Station Eleven again from the beginning. By choice. In fact, I may be doing just that before I move onto another book.