Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Lunch Room to open Tuesday

Kerrytown's newest restaurant, The Lunch Room—whose name you'll recognize from its former iteration at Mark's Carts—is set to open its doors on Tuesday. I had a chance to visit the restaurant last night for a preview and talk with proprietors Joel Panozzo and Phillis Engelbert.

The Lunch Room's preview on Saturday.

The restaurant is a natural next step for Joel and Phyllis, who were friends and neighbors when they began cooking vegan food together. They started hosting pop-up dining events around town, and were accepted for the first season of Mark's Carts. And after two years at Mark's Carts, Joel said, "It kind of turned into people asking us on a daily basis, when are you opening a restaurant?"

The restaurant features plenty of outdoor dining space in the Kerrytown courtyard.

I asked Joel how the menu has changed from the food cart: "It's increased massively. We've hired two pastry chefs…our bakery menu is drastically expanding. We're making all of our own breads now. Sandwiches, soups, noodle dishes — it's massive. We're excited about having a real kitchen will allow us to do with our menu."

I asked what he'd recommend for someone who isn't vegan and is interested in trying something at The Lunch Room. He pointed me toward their tempeh reuben, a new addition since the food cart days. In fact, he predicted that the reuben, along with their bánh mì, would be among the most popular dishes.

I had a chance to try the tempeh reuben last night, and it was really good; I have no doubt that it will be a popular dish. I also tried their mac & cheese (the "cheese", says the menu, is rich with butternut squash and red peppers), seaweed salad, and BBQ tofu sliders. This is the food we've all come to love from their food cart days: it's delicious and vegan, but while eating you'll forget about the "vegan" part and focus on the "delicious".

For dessert, I chose a piece of peanut butter-chocolate fudge and a gluten-free Mexican chocolate cookie. Both were very good. (And I didn't even know it was possible to make vegan fudge, let alone make it delicious!)

In addition to the standard lunch and dinner menu, The Lunch Room will offer a brunch menu Saturdays 8am-3pm and Sundays 10am-3pm, and a breakfast menu Wednesdays 8-11am. I'm eager to stop by Wednesday on my way to work and try "Josh's Bagel Sandwich", with cashew-cheese spread, sliced tomato, red onion, avocado & lettuce.

The Lunch Room's menu is listed on their web site.

The building was nowhere near ready when Phillis and Joel picked it: "when we signed the lease, there was a dirt floor," Joel told me. The space was transformed by local designers Lisa Sauvé and Adam Smith of Synecdoche Design, two regulars at the food cart. I sat down with them for a few minutes to talk about their design.

Adam says customer interaction was really important at the food cart, and he and Lisa wanted to bring that feeling to the restaurant. To that end, the kitchen is open, and Joel and Phillis can talk with customers at the lunch bar.

Everything in the space is custom-made, Adam told me, from decorative skewers lining the ceiling over the bar to the tables and chairs. Visible welds and grinding artifacts on exposed metal emphasize the restaurant's handmade style.

Lisa told me that this was her Adam's largest project to date. Given this, "we felt that when we approached Joel and Phillis, after being regulars at the cart, that we were a good fit, because we were both at the same place business-wise: we are both launching something permanent, really venturing to the next step…I think we could relate to each other and have a really interesting collaboration."

Lisa and Adam have done a great job; I never would have guessed that this is their first brick-and-mortar project. The restaurant is bright and inviting, with a unique character. There are plenty of windows, allowing natural light to filter in from both east and west, which is something I really appreciate.

Friends and supporters crowded The Lunch Room's preview Saturday night.

Damn Arbor previously noted that The Lunch Room's soft opening is today and tomorrow. The restaurant will open on Tuesday, August 6, at 11am. I'd definitely recommend that you go and check it out (yes, even if you aren't vegan).

Phillis Engelbert and Joel Panozzo

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