One of the things I loved most about Berkeley as a student was the café culture. There were literally three dozen cafés I could go to in Berkeley and Oakland, and I could go to any number of these shops to fit a particular mood. The standard was Caffe Strada, which being on the corner of College and Bancroft was the most convenient place to get caffeinated in the morning or between classes.
For a $10 meal of iced coffee and a fresh-baked pizza I would go south on College to Espresso Roma. Further down College Ave. was the great Cole Coffee with its poached eggs, toast, and jam, and way down College, near where College became Broadway, was Hudson Bay Cafe, which with its triangular nook and plate glass windows always seemed to me to be the edge of the world. Of course, there were a number of other cafes not on College (Free Speech Movement Cafe, owned by the same man as Caffe Strada; the International House Cafe; Nefeli; Au Coquelet; the original Peet’s Coffee on Vine Street). It’s something I miss in DC, where the only options for me are Peregrine Espresso, Big Bear (which is inconvenient as heck), SoHo (where I was once caught in the crossfire of a transvestite-lesbian catfight), Bourbon, and, thankfully, the excellent and recently-opened Filter Coffeehouse.
But I can add another one to that list: Northside Social, all the way out in Arlington a few blocks past the Clarendon Metro stop. It opened in April in the spot of the old Murky Coffee, in a two-story wood house that once served as a fire station to the Clarendon Citizens Hall. There is ample parking and ample seating outside and inside, though it tends to get crowded during peak hours. There’s a downstairs section with the front seating area (filled with wooden chairs and tables, some couches, stools, and the serving area) and back seating area, which is quieter and seems to me to be a bit isolated. There’s also an upstairs with more seats and tables and what looks to be a large bar for serving wine. There’s also free Internet and two restrooms.
They brew Counter Culture beans, which means that the raw product is pretty much exactly the same as at Peregrine Espresso–not that I’m complaining. They have pour over and a killer cold-brewed iced coffee; they also serve flat whites if you’re into that sort of thing. They seem to have an extensive selection of teas brewed by the pot, as well as a number of wines they serve in tasting and full-glass sizes. I haven’t tried the wines yet, but I did spy a Grüner Veltliner that I had tried previously and enjoyed.
The coffee and espresso are unimpeachable, so I want to turn next to what I think really sets Northside Social apart: its food. Sure, Big Bear serves sandwiches, and SoHo serves sandwiches, but Northside Social serves sandwiches. Really delicious ones, in fact. I fell in love with their crisp pork belly sandwich which comes between slices of an Italian feather loaf with brocolli rabe, pesto, and smoked mozzarella. FREAKING DELICIOUS:
My God, this is everything you could ever want from a sandwich, from bread, from pork belly, anything. This sandwich, simple yet elegant, was the greatest sandwich I’ve ever had at a coffee shop. And I’ve had a lot of sandwiches at a lot of different coffee shops.
On another occasion I ordered a leg of lamb salad sandwich, which is served with mint cucumber yogurt sauce, pickled shallots, and olive tapenade on a baguette. Rebecca, who accompanied me a few times to Northside Social, ordered the Amish chicken salad sandwich, which comes on absolutely fantastic oatmeal stout bread and green goddess dressing. Their menu is available here.
There are a lot of hipsters, yes, but they’re the gracious kind. There are also a lot of moms and kids on playdates with other moms and kids, students, and business people–all in all a pretty good crowd. Go, go, go to this place. It’s right off the Orange Line, so it’s not far for you GWers. Yes, it’s Clarendon, but I never thought I’d want to go out there and I can’t wait (figuratively) to go back!