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Society Fair, Bistro and Market on S. Washington and Duke Street in Old Town Alexandria

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Mr. MV and I enjoyed breakfast at SF a couple Sat. ago. Mr. MV got the biscuit sandwich with bacon, and I got one with ham. Excellent biscuit. I'm not from the south*, so I can only comment that the biscuit was buttery, flaky, soft and amazing. Totally worth the calories.

Excellent lattes too.

I like that you can wander into the Demo Kitchen area and grab a table. I'm looking forward to enjoying the outdoor seating (wonder if they allow dogs.. hmm (we like to bring one along to the markets afterwards)).

*Mr. MV and I lived in Richmond for a few years and have a familiarity with Southern foods from that experience. We are always on the lookout for excellent biscuit egg sandwiches that rival those at Strawberry St. Cafe's Market in The Fan.

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Mr. MV and I enjoyed breakfast at SF a couple Sat. ago. Mr. MV got the biscuit sandwich with bacon, and I got one with ham. Excellent biscuit. I'm not from the south*, so I can only comment that the biscuit was buttery, flaky, soft and amazing. Totally worth the calories.

Excellent lattes too.

I like that you can wander into the Demo Kitchen area and grab a table. I'm looking forward to enjoying the outdoor seating (wonder if they allow dogs.. hmm (we like to bring one along to the markets afterwards)).

*Mr. MV and I lived in Richmond for a few years and have a familiarity with Southern foods from that experience. We are always on the lookout for excellent biscuit egg sandwiches that rival those at Strawberry St. Cafe's Market in The Fan.

I have seen plenty of dogs there and have taken mine there, folks usually keep them outside of the fenced in area.

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I have seen plenty of dogs there and have taken mine there, folks usually keep them outside of the fenced in area.

Absolutely the case. We've done it. It's a great setup for well behaved, quiet dogs inside the fence with more boisterous ones outside it.

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We visited Society Fair this evening, not knowing what to expect because the website doesn't really make it clear what is where and how to deal with it (or it could be my ineptitude). When we arrived we learned it was market on the right, restaurant on the left.

As my SO was parking the car because the Lyceum warning signs scared me enough to make him park elsewhere, I ordered the Whiskey and Wine cocktail. The whiskey was definitely in there, but I thought it was more of a fall cocktail because of the influence of the cloves and star anise. He ordered the Malbec and liked it. We ordered the bread and butter, but because it hadn't arrived when the entrees did we cancelled it. He got the meatloaf (mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts) and I ordered the steak salad. We both noticed that the meat parts of the entrees were cold. My salad and dressing were good and his sides were too, but when the main parts are cold it puts a damper on each dish. I liked the meatloaf I sampled.

For dessert he got the Macchiato, which he enjoyed, and we split the Afternoon Delight. Dare I say I could probably make it myself?

Would I go back again? Yes. But I'd order differently to see what else they can do. He was a bit disappointed, though.

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Fan-flippin-tastic.

The past two times I’ve ventured to Society Fair, I’ve not been a huge fan. Circumstance has found me dressed more casually, a choice for which I should admittedly be more willing to bear the social consequence. That being said, I have been treated with indifference, ignored in favor of diners who appeared to be bigger spenders, dulling my overall impressions.

Tonight's experience flipped that impression on it’s head. The Light Horse was hosting a beer event in the dining room, so we needed another local and casual option. We were once again dressed in post-apocalyptic/gym world fashion, but ventured into Society Fare to see if we could grab a few seats. Not only were bar stools ample, but we encountered friendly, enthusiastic service and a parade of masterfully executed dishes.

Whiskey and Wine ($13) is a B&B lover’s dream, served room temperature, heady with cardamom and warm citrus fire. I definitely agree with Lovehockey's assessment that this drink evokes Autumn. My palate adores this exact flavor profile, and fell in deep admiration.

Pork rillettes ($9) was far better when paired with the mound of bitter frisee than the accompanying baguette. Was that a whisper of horseradish in the mix? A revelatory carrot soup featured a thick shock of orange color, mysteriously deep flavor, and perfect serving temperature. Mussels chowder ($9), an immense portion, showcased sweet cream, brine-enhanced potato, and Virginia ham, with fascinatingly congruent micro-diced chives. Beef bourguignon, a triumph, mirrored an enticing shellac of red wine reduction surrounding fall-apart tender beef. Deftly seasoned, perfectly caramelized cioppino onions held accompanying court with braised, thinly sliced carrots. Today’s seasonal cake, all by itself, would be worth the visit, a butter and bay leaf layer cake barely kissed with sweetness, edging into savory and unstoppable.

A minor service quibble in that our second course arrived well before we finished our first course, but it happened to result in no temperature or other flavor consequences.

A cocktail, glass and a half of wine, several beers, three courses shared for two, $110 plus tip. Monday is the day to fan-up and get reacquainted with the Fair. From a personalized service perspective, I think the day of the week dramatically matters here.

(no mole bitters in the store, alas)

(but on the way out the door)

(we saw several more)

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I tend to avoid posting about negative experiences, but Society Fair served up such an expensive abomination of a sandwich to me last Saturday, that I am saying something about it here, in hopes it will result in some corrective action at the sandwich station. I was heading down to Dyke Marsh to pick J. up after his morning bird walk and we were going to hit the road immediately, headed toward North Carolina. I stopped at Society Fair to pick up a sandwich to eat in the car. I ordered a "Walter"--a roast turkey sandwich served on baguette. I asked that it instead be made on sandwich bread, because I didn't want to deal with showers of crumbs in the car from the baguette crust. Big mistake. First, my request was ignored and the sandwich was made on baguette. When I reminded them that I had asked that it be made on sandwich bread, they remade it, wrapped it up, and I paid and left. I think it cost $9. We were already some distance from downtown Alexandria when I opened the package to find bread so dry and stale that the top piece had cracked in the middle. There was no mayonnaise or any other dressing to moisten the dry bread and the few slices of white meat turkey, a slice of cheese and a couple of shreds of lettuce. I ended up discarding the bread and eating the innards. It was possibly the worst sandwich I have ever been served, especially considering its high price. Big tsk tsk.

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Another shout out to breakfast at the Fair...

...The smallest of mindful touches greet the eye. Three aprons hang perfectly aligned on hooks just outside the chef’s walkway. Two wooden spoons in a jar cradle each other’s hollow, a sharp contrast to the errant antennae appearing on my own kitchen counter. I expressed marvel at the discipline behind such precise attention to detail, and posed a rhetorical question to a friendly staff member: “Who does that, in this day and age?”

“Chef Armstrong” he responded, with a knowing and admiring smile.

Both of the past two weekends, I've found myself having breakfast at the Fair after the Old Town Farmer's Market. I stand behind my original sentiment that this can be a pleasant, inexpensive, and unusual environment in which to enjoy your breakfast with a friend.

A few caveats since my last post:

  • The attention to detail is not what it used to be. The careful, precise, borderline obsessive-but-appreciated placement of overnight storage items has left the building, replaced by neat, tidy, yet unremarkable upkeep.
  • Go early. This is important. Do not plan to be there past 10AM. That's when the lunch service prep begins. And that includes ICE GRINDING. An intolerable, can't-hear-my-companion-talk, my-gawds-make-it-stop, I-must-be-trapped-inside-a-rock-polisher ICE GRINDING. Granted, this task must be completed at this precise time each weekend, otherwise fresh ice would not be available for the condiments. But it turns the dining room into a din of an echo chamber, not a place you or anyone else would want to enjoy breakfast. Plan to vacate no later than 10AM.
  • Do plan to bus your own table. I was shocked with the wording on new tabletop signs that read "Lunch Service begins at 11AM. Please clean up (or was it pickup?) after yourself." The wording struck me as the admonishing mother-wags-finger tone often found on the door of a workplace microwave, not the way you would address welcomed guests. However, as much complaining as I'm doing about the placards, a prepping server offered to bus our table, a sign that the staff here are focusing on service, delivering above and beyond hospitality moments.

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Do plan to bus your own table. I was shocked with the wording on new tabletop signs that read "Lunch Service begins at 11AM. Please clean up (or was it pickup?) after yourself." The wording struck me as the admonishing mother-wags-finger tone often found on the door of a workplace microwave, not the way you would address welcomed guests

I haven't found the signage offensive because you basically have the run of the place so I can see how plates etc. can be left on the tables in the bistro area, whereas in the main store area, it seems a bit more intuitive to bus because you see the station.

If that makes any sense?

My problem with the signage is that I get hungry for the weeknight specials while I'm eating a butter-laden biscuit sandwich :wacko:

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I haven't found the signage offensive because you basically have the run of the place so I can see how plates etc. can be left on the tables in the bistro area, whereas in the main store area, it seems a bit more intuitive to bus because you see the station.

If that makes any sense?

My problem with the signage is that I get hungry for the weeknight specials while I'm eating a butter-laden biscuit sandwich :wacko:

Oh, the "bus your own table" guidance is a fair policy, for sure. If there is no table service/tip situation, people should be expected to clear their own plates. My shock was directed at the phrasing.

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Yesterday Society Fair had a crawfish boil that was actually quite pleasant.  A pound of boiled crawfish, which is a small amount for a crawfish boil, served the correct way, with boiled corn, potatoes, cipollini onions, and andouille sausage. Drinks for the occasion included Abita Springs beer and a very well made Sazerac cocktail.  Louisiana music, of course.

We haven't been down to Louisiana for a crawfish boil in a long, long time but annually attend the Louisiana State Society crawfish boil at the Navy Yard park.  This year the Louisiana State Society crawfish, while much more plentiful, and, indeed, all you can eat, were not very tasty, well seasoned but overcooked, and many of them had a sort of blackish patina that I associate with roadside ditches. Very high percentage with straight tails, which means they were dead or near dead when boiled, and had to be discarded.

In contrast, the Society Fair crawfish were sweet, fresh, and clean.  Only one with a straight tail out of two servings, which happens even in Louisiana. They may have even been purged, they were that clean.  I don't think they were Belle River crawfish, which is the epitome of crawfish, but much better than I have had in years.

Larry, apparently a chef?, is from Slaughter, Louisiana, not far from my home town of Baton Rouge.  He definitely did it right.  I believe the corn was local Silver Queen, much more delicate and sweet than the tougher yellow corn one usually gets.  The andouille was better than average.  The cipollini onions were a nice touch.  Everything well spiced.  We would definitely do this again.

Our waiter said that Larry was thinking about doing this again in November, which seems odd.  Crawfish season does not really start until January, and corn will not be in season.  They are small in January, don't get to a good size until the spring, and by June and July, tend to be tough. Nevertheless, if they cook it, we will come.

I hope they consider getting Belle River crawfish next time, and ordering andouille direct from LaPlace, the andouille capitol of the world.  Also, it would be nice to be able to add more crawfish to the order rather than a second order.  Corn and potatoes are all very nice, but the point of a crawfish boil is crawfish.

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A couple weekend's ago we went to Society Fair with Max, we got sandwiches to eat in and a number of take home goodies.  I was happy they moved the Pope's Lunch from old Virtue, it is such a good sandwich.  Matt loves their shortrib sandwich.  Of the take away goodies, the Guatemalan tamales were great, the piece of strawberry basil cake didn't hold up well in the fridge even for a day.  I also liked their kale salad.  

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You would think with everyone that lives on Columbia Pike and in that area it would be a busy area, but it seems to me there are a lot of places that went in there that are struggling- RedRocks is now doing delivery, Taq Poblano Lee Harris does discounts if you will go to their Columbia Pike location.  As both my husband and I work in Alexandria area and end up doing a lot of stuff in that area we end up at the Alexandria locations so often we don't go to the Arlington location often.    

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You would think with everyone that lives on Columbia Pike and in that area it would be a busy area, but it seems to me there are a lot of places that went in there that are struggling- RedRocks is now doing delivery, Taq Poblano Lee Harris does discounts if you will go to their Columbia Pike location.  As both my husband and I work in Alexandria area and end up doing a lot of stuff in that area we end up at the Alexandria locations so often we don't go to the Arlington location often.    

I agree about the difficulties in this new Penrose development.  Not sure why, but I've noted that the businesses in this development (including Red Rocks and T. Poblano) seem to be struggling quite a bit whereas Bangkok 54, Drafthouse, Bob and Edith's, etc. continue to do brisk business.

That said, I think that Society Fair's closing is mostly due to their own failings.  I absolutely love the Old Town location, and I think it was foolish to try and bring an outpost of that into such a small space.  They had an inconsistent menu (and lacked dinner options), they had almost zero seating (besides the bar), the "market" aspect was a complete afterthought (occasional prepared/packaged foods in the cooler, but not even a fraction of the variety or quality of what they have at Old Town), and service was awful (the high schoolers working there would outright ignore you).  I think they would have been better served by straying from the Society Fair image a bit and getting creative with the space.  It just doesn't feel like they tried very hard in this location.

I continue to go to the Old Town location on a very regular basis for their excellent bakery and butcher shop.  Still miss when Julien was working there.

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Grab and go dinner last week included a cold cooked chicken breast, their kale salad, curried cauliflower.  I know this sounds completely stupid, but it was great to be able to have a cooked chicken breast, as many of their grab and go options don't have that much protein.  I didn't want a salad, and this was so much more than a salad, although probably technically still a salad.  This is such a convenient spot for me to grab dinner before board meetings, so I like it when they change up their selections.  They also had cooked sliced meatloaf which I will get another time.  They would probably have heated up the chicken for me, but I actually prefer it cold sometimes in a salad.

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I feel like the loss of their catering manager was a big loss.  We worked with her and really liked her.  I think their events went really well with her experience.  Parking also really didn't help this space, there was just not enough parking, and it was just far enough outside of where a lot of bigger offices are and the tourist web that the walk was just a little too far.  I will really miss this place, I really liked it.  Their grab and go items that were very vegetable focused were great.  I feel like if they had come along a little later, when uber eats/door dash were more established and built up a delivery following that would have helped.  But I feel like this is a big loss for Old Town in a lot of ways, especially that part of Old Town.

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21 hours ago, ktmoomau said:

But I feel like this is a big loss for Old Town in a lot of ways, especially that part of Old Town.

I wholeheartedly agree, and it leads me to an unfortunate observation about Old Town. As an avid home cook, I used to very regularly shop in Old Town for meats at the phenomenal Butcher's Block, kitchen equipment and specialty goods (Italian flour, beans, grains, spices) at La Cuisine, bread and cheese at La Fromegerie, and a variety of goods at Society Fair.  Over time, BB closed. La Cuisine closed. La Fromegerie stopped its retail component and switched to a restaurant. And now SF will likely close. If it does, I don't imagine I'll make it over to Old Town much anymore, and that's unfortunate. 

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Well it seems like they are staying alive- for now.  We went on their "last" evening and they weren't running any bottle specials, so I figured they weren't closing.  Service was ackingly slow, as the bartenders were also servers and it was busy, but I am sure they are trying to keep expenses as low as they can.  The food was good.  I treated myself and ate some fries, which were excellent.  I also had seafood stew, which was good.  Friends brought snacks to a winery on Sunday from there, so maybe they have a chance.  I really hope so, it just seems like it is going to be a difficult road.

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