The Little City Gourmet sign may remain, but the little café on N. Westmoreland Street has changed. Earlier this year, the business changed hands and was renamed Urban Pantry, still maintaining its affiliation with Northwest Fresh Catering.
The menu has changed, but the concept has stayed the same: This is a neighborhood eatery, where you can grab a ready-made bite to eat on the way to the Metro, settle in for an Illy coffee and some free wi-fi, do a bit of gourmet shopping, or dine in and enjoy a meal.
However you decide to make Urban Pantry part of your day, the experience will be a charming one. Hand-written menus detail cheese and charcuterie platters. Potted plants share space on tables with placards listing wine-by-the-glass options. An ornate rack with stacks of newspapers seems like an invitation to linger and read. Outside, patio tables are shaded by bright red umbrellas with logos for the Italian coffee Illy, nearly the same shade as the espresso machine inside where café mochas and cappuccinos are made. At one end of the café are rows of wine bottles in a rack mounted to the wall. At the other is a counter display filled with ready-to-scoop gelato. The display next to it reveals cheeses and meats. Tall coolers chill grab-and-go six-packs of beer and assorted sparkling juices. Low shelves showcase artisanal goods – olive oil, relish, preserves, and more. Packaged desserts offer temptation.
Many food items are at the ready for shoppers, but those looking for a made-to-order meal can make their requests at the counter from the menu. Weekend diners can choose from the brunch menu (from the morning into the afternoon on Saturdays and Sundays) and breakfast is served every morning, but for most of the week this eatery is cooking up sandwiches and salads overflowing with farm-fresh ingredients.
Among the seven sandwiches made here, the panini-pressed The Escalator ($10.95) and The Neighborhooder ($9.95) have become customer favorites. The Escalator may boast a tall stack of moist roasted turkey slices, but the taste of crisp applewood smoked bacon comes through first. Mesclun greens and golden heirloom tomato pieces accent the meaty sandwich. The Neighborhooder features medallions of marinated chicken trimmed in seasoning and some melty provolone cheese for a savory taste with some herb flavor by way of a light basil mayonnaise. Arugula and heirloom tomato round out the sandwich. Each sandwich order comes with the choice of a side dish. You could grab a bag of Virginia-made Route 11 potato chips (also sold as a grocery item), or choose from a few side salads (also sold à la carte). The orecchiette pasta salad has a surprising depth of flavor and is an inspired take on the often bland picnic side. The house potato salad is creamy and tangy.
In the trio of entrée-sized salads, the Southwestern Style Chicken Salad ($9.95) tops the list. The nice portion and abundant variety in this dish makes it worthy of being a meal unto itself. Corn kernels, carrot strands, fresh green beans that snap at the bite, and grilled squash are just a few of the bits of vegetables tossed with a light lime-cilantro dressing over mixed greens with pieces of chicken.
Beyond the delightful dishes on the menu, the versatility of this café-eatery-grocery and its charm are good reasons to stop by this newly changed neighborhood spot.
Urban Pantry is located at 2121 N. Westmoreland St., Arlington. For more information, call 571-335-4983 or visit urbanpantryva.com.