When I receive an invitation for dinner at the Bon Vivant Cafe and Farm Market, located in the heart of Del Ray near Old Town Alexandria, I take it as my opportunity to finally see what’s happening across the river. This is a neighborhood I’ve never taken time to explore, even though I grew up in nearby Annandale. I wander through the streets, and am charmed by this community dotted with unique shops and independent restaurants, including the appealing yet unassuming Bon Vivant Cafe.
The cafe is owned by Jawad Laouaouda and Tania Leach, two people who bring their passion for supporting local farms to the table. Before they owned the restaurant, opened just about one year ago, they sold grass-fed meats and other local products at farmers markets. Now many of their former colleagues are suppliers.
The motto here is real food = eat happy. Bon Vivant offers a menu with simple but unique sandwiches, salads, and soups. Everything is prepared with a nod to being health conscious, so there’s no guilt. Or at least you can tell yourself that.
One option is to begin on trend with a cup of 72-hour grass-fed beef broth, which is known to benefit both hair and skin. It goes down easy, but I prefer the heartier and more flavorful kale and chickpea soup. Salmon chowder is another way to go, with chunks of potato salmon floating in a creamy base of coconut milk. All soups at Bon Vivant Cafe are noteworthy for being gluten and dairy free.
Our soup course is followed by a scoop of fresh salmon tartare, topped with a zesty twist of lemon and avocado dressing.
Tarragon chicken salad is a customer favorite, according to Laouaouda, who enthuses that food is really about relationships. This plays out in the trio of sandwiches we sample, including the chicken sandwich, roast beef topped with savory blue cheese dressing, and an Italian sandwich with Genoa salami, mortadella, and smoked gouda cheese. As we feast, the proud owner regales us with stories about farms, purveyors, and his personal history. The quality of the bread contributes to the success of these sandwiches. “If you’re going to feature sandwiches, you better have good bread,” says Laouaouda.
A Milano meatball again exemplifies how quality ingredients (grass-fed beef, farm fresh eggs, and almond flour) can transform a simple dish.
Our dessert is key lime parfait which is made from avocado, lime, honey, and coconut milk with texture provided by cashews and dates. Dessert is when I generally prefer a departure from healthy eating, so I’ll deem this one interesting, although not something I’d want to end a meal with on a regular basis.
I like the whimsical decor at Bon Vivant Cafe, and if I had young children I’d be completely enamored of an entire room that’s devoted to keeping them entertained.
The market features a mix of local products that venture beyond food. The website is worth a look, as it includes a blog that delves into such topics as “Is there nutrition in your juice” and “1001 reasons to make your own baby wipes.”
If you live in Northern Virginia, a visit to Bon Vivant Cafe and Market should be a no-brainer. If you don’t, it’s time for a field trip.
Bon Vivant Cafe and Market, 2016 Mt Vernon Ave, Alexandria, VA