Alexandria, VA 22314
Society Fair is Cathal Armstrong's latest addition to his Old Town Alexandria empire. On it's website, they describe it as a "a boutique emporium of epicurean delight ~ where everything we do is devoted to food." Think of Eataly on a much smaller scale and decorated by Liberace. Okay, the second part may be a bit of an exaggeration but there certainly were lots of reflective surfaces, chandeliers, gilding, lavenders and overall frou-frou. I went there for lunch and I still don't quite know what to make of the place.
About a quarter of the space is a long sprawling kitchen/bar that with an accompanying counter top that separates it from the seating area. The seating area is made up of long couches some round tables surrounded by ottomans. The only chairs that had backs were at the high top tables which I found a bit strange. There were large chandeliers attached to the black padded ceiling (or at least that's what it looked like) along with some gaudy artwork and gilding around the stove top in the kitchen. I guess I was expecting a more casual/country place since there was a market and sandwiches.
They had an impressive array of sandwiches from an elevated peanut butter & jelly to a Spanish riff with pork shoulder to a Turkish sandwich with lamb shoulder. I chose the DQMW which was braised short ribs with a horseradish sauce and hot pickled leeks on top of a toasted ciabatta roll. They included some pickled carrots and a few squash blossoms (I think). The short ribs were perfectly braised, the leeks mixed with the horseradish proved to be creamy and flavorful (though not as pungent as you would expect) and the homemade ciabatta was a appropriate complement to the richness of the sandwich. I liked the tarty coolness of the pickled carrots that allowed you to cut through the richness of the sandwich when you ate one. Overall, not one single thing stood out (maybe the pickled carrots) but a well composed hearty sandwich.
I wanted to mention briefly that I ordered something called Blenheim ginger ale for my drink. It isn't homemade but I gotta say, it's one refreshing drink. It was refreshingly cool but with a bite of heat from the ginger that kept you drinking more and more. I usually only drink my ginger ale with gin but if I come across more of this, I may be changing my soda choice from Diet Coke to Ginger Ale.
I'm still a bit torn about lunch at Society Fair. I suspect that the value of the place is really in the private Demo Kitchen dinners they offer for you and your closest friends. Since the sandwiches are also available as carry out through the market and the decor is more apt for a fancy, intimate dinner party; the lunch time service feels as if it's more than an afterthought than the main attraction. I'm probably going to go back to sample the delicacies in the market but I will definitely wait for a special occasion and reserve a night for friends rather than eat lunch there again. Unless, of course, I take a sandwich to go.