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!

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: 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: Commonwealth Joe Coffee Roasters

Commonwealth Joe’s is my go-to for excellent espresso. And, it’s right in my backyard.

I moved to Arlington in August, and upon finding the upscale, urban Whole Foods in the Pentagon City area, noticed a new, sleek-looking coffee shop under construction on the same block. Fast-forward to October 2016: Commonwealth Joe’s Grand Opening. My partner and I – both coffee connoisseurs – dropped by to try out the product. I ordered a Nitro Cold Brew Coffee, which I never end up liking but always think I will, and he ordered a macchiato. Note, this was a true macchiato, consisting of a shot of espresso with a small amount of foamed milk, not the Starbucks latte-like version.

Predictably, I wasn’t blown away by the Cold Brew, because I’m 90% sure I don’t even like nitro cold brew. But the espresso? We were both blown away (That’s saying something, because my partner is a total snob when it comes to espresso. I’m learning from the best!).

I had only tasted espresso this good one other time in my life (see post on Peregrine Espresso), but what sets Commonwealth apart is that they roast their own beans. I love a place that does it all like that. My partner has his own espresso maker, and we’ve even bought a bag of their Golden Horseshoe Espresso (which, as a sign of good beans, come whole bean and is labeled with the roast date clearly visible on the package). It even makes good espresso at home.

The store itself is very… clean. Think light wood, white walls, air plants and minimalism. It’s not a great place to settle in and get cozy with a book, but it could be a good workspace as long as you don’t require silence (at least on the weekends) or much table space. The minimalistic design of the place really shows off their coffee, and highlights their limited (but totally satisfactory) menu. (The amazing macchiato is only $3!) They also offer some pastry items – I had the banana bread once and it was both rich, and to-die-for-delicious. They also have a rewards program, offering a free drink of choice after 10 purchases. Needless to say, I’ve already signed up.

Find Commonwealth Joe at 520 12th St. S Suite 150, Arlington, VA 22202.