I don’t always go through the paper as thoroughly as I’d like — okay, I usually don’t — but I was glad I picked up the Food section a Wednesday or two ago. After reading the article on Pastry Xpo, I knew I had to try the place. The herb mixture described in the thyme herb croissants sounded a lot like za’atar, a delicious concoction I’d first discovered years ago in Israel. Hot, freshly baked breads covered with this dark spice mix, available from bakeries open to the streets like stalls, made for an unforgettable snack or breakfast experience not generally available around here.
This storefront coffee/pastry shop is located in a block long strip of recently-opened shops off of Gallows Road and Lee Highway, not far from the Dunn Loring Metro. The Post article refers to this as the Merrifield Town Center; I must be missing something.
The savory aroma as I came into the store, which I soon confirmed was the thyme-herb croissants in the oven, had me feeling right at home. Though I glanced at the cases of tantalizing house made chocolates, cakes and cookies, that smell was unmistakably what I was there for.
The decor is slightly stark: think Dunkin Donuts meets Starbucks. There are a few tables outside, a few tables inside, a couple of seats at a sort of lunch counter, and several large club chairs arranged around a coffee table. I got my food and headed for the club chairs.
While the lunch menu is limited, it’s reasonably priced and just good food. For about $10, I got lentils and rice, tabouli, a couple of Cokes (yeah, I drink a lot) and one of the aforementioned thyme herb croissants, delivered to me piping hot, straight from the oven. The croissant was perfect: flaky, steamy, and filled with just enough za’atar to be flavorful, but not overpowering (as the Israeli street breads can be). The lentils and rice dish was plain and hearty, perhaps a little bland for some tastes, but fine for me. The tabouli took me back to my college days when my friend Tony, homesick for Beirut and his mother’s cooking, used to spend hours trying to balance the garlic and lemon to get the perfect accent for this wheat and parsley salad. The rest of us would watch warily as he kept adding more garlic, more lemon, then more garlic again, and we wondered how this dish could ever be edible. It always turned out right. Needless to say, Pastry Xpo gets the balance right too.
In the interests of research, I took home some goodies, so I can also recommend the bourbon bundt cake, the honey-almond brioche, and especially the four-cheese croissant. This week’s 90-plus degree weather didn’t put me in the mood for soup, but you can bet on the first cool day of the fall I’ll be in to try the lentil soup. In the meantime, there’s the rest of the lunch menu and a lot more pastries to try . . . and how did I miss the scones?