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Restaurant reviews in Tyson's and surrounding area... mostly

Friday, June 26, 2015

Tupelo Honey Cafe - A Taste of North Carolina in Arlington, VA

1616 N. Troy Street
Arlington, VA 22201
Tel: (703) 253-8140

Tucked away on a small newly-constructed block connecting Wilson and Clarendon Blvds in Arlington (Clarendon), Tupelo Honey Cafe is a distinctively unique and cheerful addition to Arlington's vigorously expanding dining scene. Tupelo Honey Cafe began in Ashville, NC about 15 years ago offering a modern twist on traditional Southern cuisine.

According to the restaurant, the name comes from the honey that is used and sold in the restaurants. Tupelo Honey is the best tasting and purest honey known to exist. It doesn’t crystalize like other types of honey and it’s produced only in Southern Georgia and Northwest Florida (where the original owner, Sharon Schott, grew up). Tupelo trees have a very short blossoming season from early April to early May, which makes the supply of pure Tupelo Honey very unique and rare. The mission at Tupelo Honey Cafe is to give customers the same unique, flavorful dining experience by using pure, all natural and fresh ingredients in the food they serve.

Ever since Steve Frabitore took over the Tupelo Honey Cafe in 2008, he expanded its locations around the South, then moved northward and, in the process, proved that Southern cooking with the right added touches can indeed have a universal appeal. Its localness is an added bonus - it has been placed in the Top Ten Farm-To-Table Restaurants in America. We welcome small business owners like Steve, who has already been awarded for leadership, civic responsiveness and for bettering the communities where he works with healthy eating and healthy living.

Tupelo Honey Cafe's outside patio dining area is large, modern and comfortable. At 6pm on a weekday the patio was packed with professional local 20-30-somethings enjoying a popular happy hour. The Cafe opened its doors only on June 1st and the crowd already seemed "regular" - now that's fast!

The Cafe is as welcomingly-outfitted inside as it is outside, in a rustic modern style. Art from local artists adorns every wall of the large dining room as far as the eye can see, from paintings to glass fixtures. We love bright open kitchens where we can see our food being prepared and watch the masterful technique and pleasure the chefs display while preparing our food.  This definitely adds to the fun of the dining experience here.

The food here is exactly what it claims to be - Southern with a twist.  We tasted about a dozen items from the menu section entitled Small Southern Plates. This was really a perfect representation of the restaurant's range of flavors, so we feel comfortable in calling the menu here pleasingly innovative without any pretense or pomp.

We tried about a dozen Southern Small Plates on the Summer Dinner menu. These range from $7 to $14 per plate.  You can see a photo and a description below each photo in this blog of the items we tried. The description reflects the menu as well as our comment, in most cases. A variety of about 5-6 Small Plates can make a great dinner for people like us, who like to eat a lot and walk out full and happy. So, it is a little pricey, but you get value for your bucks.

As Northerners, we often unfairly dismiss Southern cuisine as "everything fried."  Yes, there are some predictably fried items here, such as the classic Fried Green Tomatoes, several versions of Fried Chicken, and Fried Okra. But here they are not the stereotypical boring fatty stuff we Northerners tend to think it is. All the dishes have a flavorful twist that unquestionably set this menu way apart from anything predictable.  One fried surprise in a particular was a first for us - THE FRIED AVOCADO! Go figure, BUT THE FRIED AVOCADO IS DEFINITELY A HIT! It is a perfectly green ripe delicious avocado slice wrapped in a crunchy fried batter served with a house-made tomato sauce and whipped sour cream, and it is delicious.

The Southern Taco Trio platter is available either with beef meatloaf or Cajun fried chicken. Of these two, we definitely preferred the chicken, not only for the curry flavor and the tomato-cuke salsa, but also for quality of the meat. There is nothing wrong with the meatloaf at all, it is quite tasty, though a bit milder than the chicken, but we prefer our meatloaf to be very very lean, which is not easy to get in any restaurant environment. In fact, we are not big beef eaters, just so you have our recommendations within the right context.

We plan to return to Tupelo Honey Cafe to try their Brunch on Saturday or Sunday 9am-3pm. They also serve a Moonrise Brunch on Friday and Saturday night that includes a combination of brunch and happy hour items. The actual HAPPY HOUR is Monday-Thursday 4-7pm, when their signature cocktail "Ode to Eleanor Roosevelt" is only $5 (regularly, $8), all draft pints are $3, all wine bottles are half off and 6 of their small plates are $6.  We definitely recommend Tupelo Honey Cafe and will return here very soon.

View from N. Troy Street

Patio at Happy Hour

An extensive Drink Menu that offers 23 craft beers. The Cocktail menu is interesting, too!
NOTE that the first Cocktail listed "Ode to Eleanor Roosevelt" Sparkling Sangria ($8) is a signature specialty drink of the Arlington Tupelo Honey Cafe, it is on draft, and looks like this:

All Tupelo Honey Cafe's cocktails feature local and regional spirits.

 Meatloaf Tacos with Brussels Slaw and Smoked JalapeƱo Sauce

 Fried Avocado with Fresh Tomato Salsa and Whipped Sour Cream
Definitely a hit!

 Baked Macaroni and Cheese with Cajun Blackened Shrimp

 Salted Beets with Roasted Pistachio Pesto and Goat Cheese
A great appetizer, side dish or tapas plate that will complement practically any item on the menu.

 Curried Fried Chicken Tacos with Apple Salsa and Cherry Pepper Aioli (Garlic Mayo)
The tomato-cuke-onion salsa with cilantro, fresh jalapenos and a squeeze of lime went great with the hint of curry in the chicken.

 Pecan Crusted Goat Cheese with Baked Apples, Sweet Figs and Crostini Slices
Although the Crostini can get a bit soggy from the juices, this is a great appetizer

 Fried Green Tomatoes with Goat Cheese Grits and Red Pepper Coulis

A feast!

 Lamb Meatballs in a House-made Tomato Curry Sauce with Feta Cheese

 Country Ham Wontons with a Brussels Sprouts Salad

 Fresh Blueberry & Lemon Quinoa w/ Arugula & Feta
Includes thin crunchy Almond Slices, not listed on the menu. Turns out that Blueberries and Feta go great with Quinoa!

 Seared Yellowtail Tuna with a Honey Mustard dressing and a Salad of Edamame, Pine Nuts, Carrots and Golden Raisins

 Southern creamy light warm buscuits with blackberry jam

 Kitchen is bright and open (not shown on photo) so you can watch your food being prepared

Art from local artists is displayed throughout the large dining space wherever the eye can see

Wonderfully-accommodating and convivial Sous Chef Andre (originally from Asheville, NC) and Waiter Nick (from Massachussetts)

 As an after-dinner treat, PICK UP A JAR OF TUPELO HONEY, as well as one of their made-from-scratch dressings, to take home with you!

Romantic patio setting at dusk after a heavy rain

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