Let’s peek at two, long-awaited, that opened in the past week and a half:
The food: Tour the whole space first. Cruise the cheeses (cut to order!) and charcuterie, the olive bar (Castelvetranos!), the no-high-fructose-corn-syrup sodas and kombuchas and teas, the chips of many flavors and lands, the chocolate bars and pastries and desserts – and the coffee drinks and fresh-juiced juices, too. That way, you’ll be prepared when you order a sandwich at lunch and are asked if you want a side or drink.
You’ll also be over the sensory overload by then, better able to focus on the short, smart lineup: a thinnish grilled cheddar sandwich with hunks of pickled peaches, for instance, their bite (and that of the handful of arugula leaves) setting off the lush hoop cheese to beautiful advantage.
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Or a modified banh mi, its pulled pork tinged with lemongrass, piled into a chewy length of bread (not the classic shattery baguette on this visit) with pickled carrot and daikon, shavings of radish, herbs and a slathering of spiced aioli. Less fresh heat, more encompassing warmth.
Or a kale salad with a little farro (the menu description suggests the opposite) with a thin rectangle of paneer (a mild Indian-style cheese) and a dash of marvelous preserved-lemon vinaigrette. The sharp fragrance of juices carries; the cheesemonger is in France right now, explains her stand-in; a spray of sunflowers brightens one empty wall. The place has an exotic whiff that’s somehow simultaneously homey.
The look: For a grocery, it’s sparely elegant, grouping items and explanations enticingly, with clarity (though those deli cases are tricky for staff to serve from): Think Dean & DeLuca with a soul. The seating area’s up front – about 50 chairs and stools and a view onto the still-closed-at-the-end Elizabeth Avenue – and it’s industrially spare. Wood-top tables and brushed aluminum chairs are surprisingly comfortable, but noisy to move.
Details: Salads and sandwiches $7.50-$9 (plus all sorts of take-home items to heat/reheat, from tender Vietnamese-seasoned turkey meatballs to bruschetta toppings to fresh pastas in scoop-your-own bins); 10 a.m.-7:30 p.m. (serving lunch til 2:30 right now) weekdays; 8:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday; 1609 Elizabeth Ave.; 704-333-2757; www.facebook.com/earlsonelizabeth.
The food: Short lists for both breakfast and lunch focus on twists. Eggs and ham, but with jalapeno mornay (that’s a bechamel, or white sauce, with cheese – here, with Goat Lady goat cheese; a lunchtime burger features it, too). Rye ciabatta and egg salad, but with livermush. A blueberry pop tart, but with lavender. Pastrami on rye, but done with housemade lamb pastrami – and a fennel slaw. Quinoa pops up in porridge or folded into corn tortillas with eggs, and at lunch, there’s a banh mi here, too, though only attentive readers will notice, since it’s described, not named as such. (It’s a chicken version, with pate.)
A few things are straight-up simple: Shrimp on a roll with horseradish, for instance, or runny egg on a boule with white cheddar and bacon, though not just regular bacon: This is the thick-sliced, caramelized-in-spots, melty-fatty sort of slab bacon, the kind that goes, as a side dish, for $6.50 for three slices.
Which brings up this question: Will the audience support $11 sandwiches when sides, in sides-portion sizes (such as the interesting “crispy root vegetable pappardelle” that’s essentially chips) are $5.50? Get a tea and tip like a human and you’re topping $20 for lunch. That lamb was pretty perfect, though.
The look: Sturdily and handsomely appointed with heavy silver, white linen, simple glassware (and handle-less coffee mugs, which I’ve always loved more in theory than in practice), this holds a clean bistro line: Brick walls, wood tabletops, heavy metal chairs, a banquette, and clear glass fixtures that show bulbs, and bulbs that show filaments. Playing with elements? I get it.
Details: Breakfast $5-$9.50; lunch/brunch $5-$14; 7 a.m.-3 p.m. weekdays; 8-3 Saturday-Sunday; a few dinners a month are planned, featuring varying cuisines and by-reservation-only; 2820 Selwyn Ave.; 704-496-9008; www.facebook.com/littleSpoonEatery