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: 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: Old City Coffee

Found in Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market, Old City Coffee is a cornerstone of good coffee made right. And, in the chaos of Reading Terminal, it’s a safe-haven of good smells and service.

The cozy corner location is a three-sided affair: One side is for ordering drinks, another side offers tantalizing views and aromas of all of their bean varieties, as they’re stored in see-through flour-bins – this second side is for ordering bulk coffee – and a third side for enjoying your brew at a countertop. (You can also see their roaster from this side!) The decor, blackboards with menu and specials, white-painted wood with blue-gray accents, ranks Old City as one of the most inviting, comforting coffee stops I’ve visited since moving East.

If the atmosphere weren’t enough… Old City also roast their beans on the premises, in small batches. The aroma is to die for, and the espresso is amazing. On my most recent visit I had an iced caramel latte, and the fact that I could still taste the quality of the espresso as the backbone of the drink really says a lot about Old City’s perk game.

Their brewed coffee is also excellent. In fact, my partner’s mom requires us to send her a bag of beans (her pick is the Sumatra-Viennese Roast) each time we travel to Philly.

Old City Coffee has more locations, including its original on Church Street, but I’ve only been to the lovely Reading Terminal outlet. Here are some photos, including a bag of Sumatra and the weekly special Horticultural Blend which I took home.

 

 

REVIEW: Ox Coffee

What is it with local, upscale coffeeshops being totally awkward and bougie, but having the most amazing espresso ever to pass my lips? There has to be some sort of correlation….

Found literally on Google Maps when I was in Philadelphia, Ox Coffee is a beautifully minimalist, independent coffee shop. Upon entering, you can’t help but notice how small the place is… until you realize the woodsy, dimly-lit back room, that is. Like Commonwealth Joe’s, there is a limited menu and lots of clean, white-and-light-wood decor. This could be endearing, but upon entering the shop, I was given some major side-eye by the baristas – I have a feeling I didn’t look enough like an edgy hipster to be welcomed.

Regardless, Ox serves Stumptown beans, and my macchiato was of the Hair Bender variety. It was made perfectly, and was one of the most delicious espresso to pass my lips.

After making the move to espresso somewhat recently, I’ve been amazed at how good East Coast coffeehouses make their brews. I’m so glad to celebrate them on this site!

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.