In my humble opinion, cheese shops are too few and far between. Americans settle for the lactic crap that comes in baggies at super markets and fail to enjoy the finer aspects of one of God’s greatest creations. Sure, cheddar melted over tortilla chips has its place, but there’s so much that goes unrealized in the world of cheese. Fortunately, there’s a place in Del Ray called Cheesetique: it purveys the wonders of excellent fromage to the greater DC area.
Cheestique is, perhaps, the brightest star in the glimmering neighborhood of Del Ray, Alexandria. Over the past few years, this quaint area has been a haven for simple, unpretentious restaurants that serve excellent food to the many young families that occupy the neighborhood. None is as well conceptualized or executed as the Cheesetique. By day it serves as a specialized grocery with dozens of excellent cheeses and decent bottles of wine. By night, it’s a wine and cheese bar that is the first stop for a date night, or as the romantic destination itself. The former iteration was my first exposure to it.
As a new comer to Alexandria, I made it my mission to explore my new stomping grounds beyond the confines of Old Town. One, fine, spring morning I found my way to Del Ray. After a few minutes in the neighborhood a logo with a busty woman holding a plate of cheese caught my eye. I made my way over to the store it was hanging from, peaked inside and, much to my delight, saw coolers filled with cheese. I went inside to browse offerings of what I presumed would be a snobbish, over priced cheese shop. Fortunately, I was wrong.
As I gazed at the overwhelming selection, the clerk behind the counter asked me what I wanted, to which I responded that I wasn’t sure. The employee grabbed a hunk of cheese, shaved off a piece, gave it to me and asked me for my thoughts. I answered her and she grabbed another cheese, shaved me another piece and again asked my opinion. This continued until I had settled on a delectable sheep’s cheese and probably would have kept up if I had been less decisive. All the while, the young woman behind the counter was reciting the characteristics and trivia for each sample she handed out. Once I had my cheese, she pointed me towards some wines that would pair well, and offered suggestions on how to serve it. The cheese was shockingly low priced at a little over $20 a pound, so I got purchased a quarter (which is a decent size) and came away only $5 poorer.
I took my cheese and poked around the rest of the store, which was chock full of little culinary goodies. There were tomato chips, fine olive oils, aged balsamics, salamis, beer and serving implements, to name a few. The decor was quaint without being kitschy, maintaining an air of practicality while being stylish. I noticed some tables and a bar towards the back of the shop and decided that I’d have to stop by some evening to scope it out.
That evening came a few weeks later when I found myself in the area again on some inconsequential errand. I went to bar and ordered the street cleaner, a hefty sandwich stuffed with salami, artichokes, and tuscano, and slathered with mustard. I found the combination of strong flavors a tad overwhelming, but the sandwich was still more than palatable. I’ve stopped by several times since to enjoy cheese platters and drinks with friends. These are served on a board with cornichons and jelly, and accompanied by bread and crackers. The offerings are features of what Cheesetique is selling behind its counter and are always generous and delicious. If I have one gripe: its that the service slacks off during bar hours. The wait staff is still friendly, just generally less attentive and slower than the employees behind the counter. It’s above average, just not quite comparable to what I find there during the day.
On a whole, Cheesetique is within my top five favorite places in the DC area. It’s unique, reasonably priced, well ordered, and staffed by a knowledgeable and friendly group. Whether you’re looking for something interesting to serve at a party or for a great place to take a date, you can’t go wrong with Cheesetique.
Cheesetique is located at 2411 Mount Vernon Ave. in Alexandria, VA. For more information, call (703) 706-5300.