“I wanted it to look like the neighborhood,” I overheard Catherine Vonderahe tell one of her customers in beyond-cute South of Lane. Stylishly clad in a zesty vintage dress, Vonderahe was describing her newish restaurant/curio shop, which does indeed seamlessly blend into its upper middle class suburban environs.
Let’s play a quick game of “what’s in a name.” First of all, as every Upper Arlingtonian knows, South of Lane is a shorthand descriptor for the older and ritzier part of Arlington. Second of all, the giggly moniker Vonderahe knowingly employs for South of Lane — SOL — (for you slowriders, this refers to being, um, out of luck) reveals something about Vonderahe’s winking sense of humor.
She uses this to charm, chat up and crack wise with patrons inside of her small, sorta New England-quaint hybrid business. Equipped with shelves filled with decorative plates, cards, artisanal jams, jewelry, lamps, Fiestaware and various antiques, SOL is like an upscale garage sale taking place in a handsome little coffeeshop/diner. Throughout, SOL generally manages to live up to its motto — which is emblazoned on its for-sale, crown-adorned coffee mugs ($8) — “all in good taste.” SOL’s food adheres to the motto too.
So stake out a place to relax at the big communal table or one of the winningly mismatched and seemingly improvised cop-a-squat-spots or on the tiny patio, where pretty flowers and potted herbs perfume early summer breezes. Then head up to the counter to peruse the limited but, well, tasteful offerings at this menu-on-the-wall operation.
After ordering a locally roasted Thunderkiss coffee ($3 for a good-sized and delicious iced version), you’ll choose from a few engineered-to-get-all-the-small-things-right breakfast standards created in an open kitchen commandeered by a guy in chef’s whites. Some lunch-y stuff (get to that later) is served after 11:30.
The obvious morning star is a killer Waffle ($5). No, SOL didn’t reinvent the wheeled cake, it just perfected it. Thick, crispy and golden brown, this strawberry- and fresh mint leaf-garnished beauty arrives dusted with confectioners sugar and sided with a micro-pitcher of syrup.
SOL’s shorthand for its fluffy-yet-dense and carefully plated omelets ($7.50; they come with toast) is “3-2-1,” meaning “three eggs, two folds and one cheese.” The perky, Kalamata olive-dotted Greek omelet featured salty and creamy feta plus spinach and other veggies that didn’t throw off a bucket of water.
Similarly, the diced green peppers, tomatoes, onions and so forth in a sorta pico de gallo-powered — and prudently cheesed — namesake omelet only added to, and never diluted, its boldly spicy flavors. Pro-tip: Splurge on an order of crisped and highly seasoned, not greasy “Browns” (potato cubes, $3).
At lunchtime, a couple of sandwiches and salads pop-up on a chalkboard. Though misleadingly named (it’s more like a deconstructed guacamole appetizer), the chili-bite-delivering Avocado salad ($8.50) is delicious. Big chunks of fresh and creamy avocado dressed with olive oil and refreshing lime juice were tossed with grape tomatoes, jalapeno slivers, hot sauce and cilantro.
My modest-for-an-entree-sized Mediterranean salad ($7.50) was also fresh and satisfying. The romaine-anchored ensemble had all the expected feta, cucumber, tomato and Kalamata stuff in place and was graced with a bright vinaigrette and oregano.
I also tried a nicely plated if ultra-simple grilled cheese with bacon and tomato sandwich ($6.50). It looked and tasted like something your UA mom might make you.
Moral of this story: Being SOL for breakfast actually means being lucky.
Photos by Tim Johnson