For the last few weeks, Lynda and I had been wondering what was being built on the corner of Dutchmans Lane and Dupont Circle and a couple of weeks ago, we finally found out the answer — a sandwich shop/deli/bakery. We of course, were on our way that morning up to Dennys at 11 AM on a Sunday morning in a delusional attempt to beat the church crowd, but we were quite disappointed to find a herd of breakfasters waiting to get in and had also noted a throng back down the hill at Wild Eggs. Dejectedly, we circled around the Village 8 Theater back toward Dupont Circle to go look for something else when we discovered that the new place — Calistoga Artisan Sandwiches — had apparently opened for business during the preceding week.
We parked quickly and went inside in hopes that they might serve breakfast. Fortunately, they do have what looks to be a nice breakfast menu, but unfortunately, they only serve breakfast until 11 and it was now 11:05. Oh well, we will have to get up a little earlier and try them out for breakfast during a future visit.
The interior of Calistoga feels a bit like a cross between a Panera Bread and a Starbucks, with the worst aspects of both thrown out. Lots of colorful wood trim and a fieldstone fireplace are the dominant design cues in the dining area. High backs to the booths help to keep you isolated from the conversations of your fellow guest to either side and also help cut down on the general noise level. The counter area has a few high-tech touches like the menu boards actually being high-definition video monitors that offer a rotating display of nice pictures of the sandwich choices. Speaking of high-tech, Calistoga offers free WiFi to its patrons, like a lot of restaurants today and this is something Starbucks should study closer (even though our iPhones finally got free access there this past week).
On this, the first of our two visits (so far), I have forgotten what Lynda ordered, so the bulk of this review will concern itself with our second visit a week later. (I am still working out the bugs of this review business.) I do know that on the first visit, we both took advantage of their special Choose Any Two deal, where you may choose any bowl of soup, or any half salad, or any half sandwich for $7.99. I picked the Italian Meatball Melt for the sandwich and the Tomato & Buffalo Mazzarella salad (both $7.99 for full orders). Lynda got one of the Pressata sandwiches (Pressata is original Italian name for what we Americans erroneously call a Panini) and I can’t remember if she got a bowl of soup or a salad. The meals come served in a round plastic basket, lined with sandwich paper with the half orders of salad in a white ceramic, moon-shaped dish. My sandwich was just a typical meatball sub served hot on one half of their asiago cheese baguettes, with the meatballs being rather tasty, but the tomato sauce somewhat undistinguished, not unlike the sauce on a Papa John’s pizza. The salad on the other hand was a pleasant variation on a caprese salad; slices of tomato tossed with field greens instead of basil, topped pieces of Mozzarella cheese, shaved Parmigiano cheese and one of the better Balsamic vinaigrettes I’ve tried around town.
A week later, we paid a return visit — again, not in time for breakfast, so we are going to have to work on that motivation deal — to try a couple of different sandwiches and maybe dessert.
This time, Lynda ordered the Chicken Pesto Cordon Bleu ($7.99). It is hot sandwich served on an herbed focaccia bread and has thin slices of grilled chicken breast, Black Forest ham, Swiss cheese and a pesto aioli. Apparently, all their sandwiches are serve with a little bag of Miss Vickie’s Simply Sea Salt Kettle Chips — I am not that fond of kettle chips, but Lynda likes them, so this is a wash. Lynda took a bite of the sandwich and her face just lit up; pronounced it as probably the best sandwich she has ever had — an 11 out of 10, as it were.
I went with the Roast Beef Helena™ ($7.59). It is one of their cold sandwich selections with a generous stack of lean roast beef, slabs of smoked Cheddar cheese, fresh leaf lettuce, tomato, paper-thin slices of red onion and a horseradish sauce served up on their Asiago cheese baguette. Not being a big fan of horseradish, I asked them to leave it off, but that may have been a mistake as it made the sandwich a bit on the dry side. Perhaps next time I will try substituting the horseradish with mayonnaise, the pesto aioli or even the chipotle aioli. Otherwise, it was a very nice sandwich.
Dessert is not something we usually think about after lunch, but since they have a on-site bakery, we decided to give it a go. Lynda thought that the Lemon Berry Creme Cake ($5.25) looked like a good idea. It is wedge of very moist lemon cake, full of blueberries and raspberries with a ginormous layer of creme filling through the middle of it. Unfortunately, it was too much for Lynda to eat, but she declared it to be a fitting end to a wonderful lunch.
I went with the Triple Chocolate Cake ($5.25). Moist, rich chocolate cake with a fluffy, almost mousse-like frosting with a thick covering of chocolate chips and shavings on the outside. Can’t think of anything negative to say about it. It is CHOCOLATE after all!
We both think Calistoga is one of the better sandwich shops in town. They also have a location down on Chestnut Street at the UofL Medical Complex, one in Lexington, KY, and three in Florida (Naples/Ft. Myers) and are headquartered in Anchorage, KY. Before we left we saw John Schnatter, founder of Papa John’s Pizza by the counter. He is apparently a co-founder of Calistoga, and with his track-record, it should do well. Since our only complaint is about the lackluster sauce on the Meatball Melt, it deserves to do well.
9 stars out of 10.4000 Dutchmans Lane