Last month, Mercantile and Mash, the retail center, casual eatery, and bar located inside The Cigar Factory building, launched a midday specialty menu available at the chef's counter. The menu is available each weekday from 11 am - 2 pm.
The items are subject to change each week, but like many of the other offerings within Mercantile and Mash, the food could easily be described as upscale.
A friend and I spent a recent afternoon snooping around Mercantile's retail space and enjoying that day's Chef's Counter menu. Everything about our visit was pleasant and we both would recommend you spend your next lunch break or day off sidled up at the counter.
Not only is the space beautiful, and the food tasty, but the staff is quite friendly and very knowledgeable. Everyone we encountered was smiling, welcoming, and more than happy to answer any questions we had.
While we dined at the chef's counter, we were able to watch numerous employees go about their day's work. One was making doughnuts, one was "flash cooling" coffee, while another was busy making pasta. None of them minded when we interrupted their work to ask what they were doing, what they were making, or what else happens behind the counter. It seemed each employee had their specific task down to a science, none more so than the gentlemen who gave us a lesson on the cafe's coffee-making processes. He even brought out a fermentation airlock (left), which looked like it belonged in a laboratory. Needless to say, they take their food and drinks seriously.
These interactions with the staff, which sometimes just involved us awkwarding staring at them while they were hard at work, made the dining experience even more enjoyable.
Speaking of, it's finally time to talk about the food and drinks!
I ordered the Steve Palmer to drink. This interesting concoction consists of cold brew coffee and limeade, which I know sounds very strange. Everyone I spoke to said they recommended it, and after just a couple sips, I could see why. Although it is technically a "summer" drink, it was certainly welcomed on this November day. It was sweet and refreshing, but still gave me the sought-after caffeine buzz.
Each food dish we sampled was good. Seriously, not one was disappointing. However, a couple were stand-outs.
Beef Carpaccio with crispy sweetbreads, mustard, apple, arugula: I know this dish isn't for everyone, but it was certainly a highlight for me. The crispy sweetbreads really took it over the top. Add in the creamy sauce and there were multiple textures (and flavors) for your mouth to enjoy.
Rappahannock River Oysters - Oysters from the Chesapeake Bay, shallot, cucumber, kimchi mignonette: The toppings - especially the shallot and kimchi mignonette - somewhat mute the oysters' flavor, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. It's a tasty take on one of this area's favorite bites.
The Elvis - This delicious dessert is fit for the King...of rock and roll. Dollops of peanut butter frosting (the best way I can describe it) and banana jam atop a bed of chocolate, it's practically perfect!
Stuffed Rabbit Leg -smoked bacon, parsnip, brussel sprouts, mashed potato puree, mustard jus: I wasn't too sure how I would feel about this menu item, but I really enjoyed it. The rabbit was cooked perfectly and the bacon wrapped around it was satisfyingly crispy.
Celery Root Soup - house bacon, pickled pear, pecan: I was a big fan, but not everyone loves to order soup. Very creamy broth, but the bacon, pear, and pecan all add a nice change of pace.
NOT MY CUP OF TEA
Seared Scallops - oyster mushroom, grilled scallion, sweet potato puree, miso butter: I've never been a big fan of scallops, so I didn't eat very much of it. My friend said it was very good and recommended it to those of you who like scallops.
Tuna Conserva Salad - local arugula, fennel, pistachio, black olive: Another case of me not being a fan before it was put in front of me. I don't like arugula when it's the focus of a salad and the other ingredients couldn't save a dish that I doomed from the start.