For the past four years this block in the center of Clarendon wavered between luxury condo and luxury apartment construction. But two years ago, the tanking housing market 'converted' condo high rises into luxury apartments, finally open now. Thanks to the zoning system in North Arlington, the ground floor of these buildings is reserved for retail, which is filling up with some interesting eating and drinking options.
I am most excited that Artisan Confections opened its new location in this spot. This small-batch chocolate shop opened a few years ago on Lee Highway. Unlike its original location, which was adjacent to an Indian grocer, in its new home location all you can smell is the chocolate. And trust me, this is a much better smell. There's also a large viewing window so you can see the chocolates being freshly made before your very eyes.
Their chocolates are both beautiful and fantastic tasting. Combinations include bourbon, salted caramel, and champagne. The quality of the cacao is top-notch, the presentation is gorgeous, and the price matches at about $2 per piece. They are worth it though and make a great gift.
Located a few doors down is another confection incubator, Bakeshop. While this shop seems like it could have potential, my initial impressions raise some troubling questions. When we walked in today at 1:30pm, the only thing that was available other than coffee was about a dozen lemon poppy seed cookies. The cupcakes would not be ready for a few hours. Seriously? A cupcake shop without cupcakes? Why even open? Since they are close I will likely swing by in a few weeks and give it another try. But in talking to the owner it sounds like he needs to get his stuff together. I can't imagine the rent is all that cheap; I am by no means an expert at food retail but my MBA-student sense tells me that opening a store with not much to sell does not make much marketing sense to me.
This block also offers the savory; Screwtop is a wine bar/retail shop that opened a few weeks ago. The initial reviews are not overly promising; the space layout reportedly leaves much to be desired, and scoring a table on a crowded night is apparently an experience straight out of The Lord of the Flies. As a side note, this is also the approach EatBar takes, a gastropub a few blocks up the street. Having to fight for a table amid hungry and like Type-A Washingtonians saps away a great deal if not all of the relaxation out of my dining experience, even if the food is out of this world. When I stopped in Screwtop today just to check out their retail area, I thought the wine selection was unique if kind of pricey; however, they were offering free tastings in real glasses! They also have a selection of artisan cheeses, meats, and craft beer. But if the cost of, say, the Abita Purple Haze ($11.99 for a six pack!) is any indication of value, I'd rather skip this and go with Mark Slater's trusty selections from Ray's retail. And, seriously, don't insult my intelligence as a consumer, Screwtop--the same beer is available one block away at either Best Cellars or Wholefoods for $8.99 max, and less at Total Wine. The layout needs some work, but I just might try out the food at least before I completely write it off.
Rounding out this new corner is Amercian Flatbread, a micro-chain with locations in Virginia, Oregon, and Vermont. The interior looks like a chain, so I am in no rush to head there for dinner, but their six taps look promising with Bells, Dogfish Head, and other craft beers. They have happy hour week nights in the bar with $4 pints until 7:30pm. And a sign boasted of a so-called Ladies' Night on Thursdays with unnamed specials?
So my bottom culinary line on this block at this point: not the best combination of places, but not bad either. More to come from me once they are all up and running.