Friday, March 10, 2017

Soapstone Market Food Review

Chickpea & Avocado Sandwich

I spend a lot of time in the Van Ness-UDC area; but let's face it, culinary options are few and far between. Enter Soapstone Market to the rescue. Come again? How can a seemingly humble bodega/deli rescue an entire neighborhood? It's not as difficult as you might think, especially when you (clearly) know what you're doing.

Let's start with variety. Soapstone is deceptively big... with a bar, plenty of indoor and outdoor seating, and a take-away menu that rivals Dean & DeLuca, minus the exorbitant prices. Toss in a myriad of fresh deli sandwiches, and it's no wonder this place is always packed.

Smoked Turkey & Prosciutto Sandwich

Although still unfinished (especially the right side of the market) there's lots to like/love about the space. The left side of house is always bustling, whether it's folks sipping coffee, or chowing down on some of the best sandwiches in upper Northwest. Bright white tables, hip music (i.e. The Weeknd) and lots of local art give off a welcoming, neighborhood vibe, that's been missing around here for years/decades. You instantly feel at home, and there's zero pretension. Service is pretty terrific, although the deli counter is a bit too casual (easily fixable) for my taste. The manager on duty impressed greatly on my first visit... multi-tasking, tons of energy, checking in on each customer, etc.. Top honors. Seriously, it's hard to ask for more.

Hamburger with Fries

Except for good food, which Soapstone proudly serves in abundance. Their Fried Chicken ($7.99 per pound) is tasty enough to make Colonel Sanders blush with envy. The aforementioned manager was kind enough to heat up a single thigh, so I could try it for myself (it was sold out on two prior visits.) The chicken was juicy and flavorful (skin and meat) and worth double the price. Arrive early in the day (before it sells out) especially on Saturdays and Sundays. I imagine it reheats quite well.

Fried Chicken

Their sandwiches are divine (see below) but you can also get a Hamburger with French Fries for a mere $7.99. Hi-quality meat, cooked MEDIUM-WELL with a gorgeous char, tucked inside an delectable (nice & soft, toasted) brioche bun. The fries are crinkle cut/simple, but taste like Nathan's (lofty praise.) My only concern? That Soapstone will catch on to the fact that $8 is a steal of a deal, and raise the prices. Fingers crossed they don't (at least through the summer.)

Coconut Carrot Cake

Not all sandwiches are hot. In fact, most aren't. The Smoked Turkey & Proscuitto on crusty ciabatta bread may not sound exciting; but keep an eye out for a tangy spread of mustard jam, which closer resembles marmalade (only spicier.) It comes dressed with smoked gouda, atop a bed of arugula, salty proscuitto and a generous chunk of smoked turkey. Even better, the Chickpea & Avocado (also $7.99) on toasted white bread with arugula, tomatoes and a to-die-for avocado spread and chickpea mash. The former features lime and onions, while the latter dazzles with crunchy cucumbers, red peppers and zucchini. Nothing short of brilliant, and a terrific option for non-carnivores. Both sandwiches come with well-seasoned fries. The menu also sports an "industrial" Italian s'wich finished with hot pepper relish, and a Roast Beef option with creamy horseradish sauce and pickled onions. So many choices, so few lunches.

Raspberry Pear Frangipane Tart

Last but not least, make sure to save room for dessert(s.) Stellar pastry chef Huw Griffith (of Tabard Inn fame) joined the team last month, and is already turning heads with quite possibly the best, most decadent Coconut Carrot Cake in the world. Yes, world. Carrot normally dominates (flavor-wise) but the balance with coconut is nothing short of perfection. Watch for hints of cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg too, all for an-easy-to-digest $6 per slice.

For a dollar less, there's a Raspberry Pear Frangipane Tart that looks wonderful, but fails to impress as much. Don't get me wrong: It's good (love the almonds on top, and texture) but I wish it was sweeter. Then again, it's hard/virtually impossible to compete with Griffith's Coconut Carrot aphrodisiac. All desserts are made in-house daily; and I imagine that menu will change frequently. I can't wait to (try and) keep up.

Despite so many positives, there's room for minor improvements. Free wi-fi would be nice, as would larger napkins at the tables. I'm also anxious to see what happens to the rest of the space. The potential for greatness is palpable. Soapstone Market is already fantastic: Can you imagine if it gets better? Don't look now, but Van Ness-UDC is back on the map. Feast on!

Local artist Lena Frumin

Soapstone Market is open seven days a week, from 8 AM to 10 PM. Click here for Soapstone's menus.