The café, which opened in May as the latest outpost in a small local chain, stands apart from the towering grey buildings that surround it (and even house it). The storefront windows are lined with white picket fences. The tables, each topped with a flower pot of sunflower seeds to nibble on, are made of rough-hewn and lacquered wood. Wooden crates fixed to the walls display some of the café’s assortment of antique-y farm finds, like glass milk bottles and other aged trinkets. There’s a sitting area off of the dining room, like a living room replete with a tufted couch and armchair. The farmhouse touches give the space a warm and casual air and invite diners to settle in and stay awhile, even though the fast-casual meals the café serves are quickly prepared and ready to eat.
Orders are placed and prepared at a wood-paneled bar. Sandwiches and salads are the focus of the menu, with easily customizable options in both categories. Each sandwich is served on the diner’s choice of bread, from a field of five that includes French baguettes and wraps, and choice of four toppings from a list that includes sandwich staples like jalapenos and lettuce and less common add-ons like capers and pesto.
In addition to eight Original Sandwiches at $7.50 apiece, four signature sandwiches are highlighted. The San Remo ($8) goes Mediterranean with chicken and cheese coated in herby pesto and sweet sun-dried tomato spreads that play off of one another, accented by avocado.
The café packs globe-trotting variety into its Signature Salads menu section, 10 in all including the Santa Fe ($7.50) which features black beans and salsa and the Asian Chicken ($7.50) which features mandarin oranges and wonton noodles. The salad ingredients are tossed in a large metal mixing bowl, for ease of combining the toppings and dressing, before being packed into a plastic take-away bowl (or, by request, stuffed into a wrap).
The Nikos ($7.50), one of the more popular Sweet Leaf salads, showcases fresh, crisp mixed greens with just enough toppings and dressing to make the dish interesting. Hot banana pepper ringlets, cool cucumber discs, red onion slices, halved grape tomatoes, and soft chickpeas come together in a roasted-garlic vinaigrette with a little bit of heat, with a few sprinkled pieces of feta cheese that give a big flavor boost.
The salad selection covers many different tastes, but those who want a little more control over shaping their bowl of greens might take advantage of the make-your-own option and see just how plentiful the toppings are at Sweet Leaf. For $7.50, salad-crafters can choose from five different types of lettuce, then pick four from a list of more than 30 fruits and vegetables – strawberries, black olives, hearts of palm, and the list goes on. For a dollar more, some cheese can be added (blue, cheddar, brie, and more), and for $2 the salad gets a bit of protein (grilled chicken, of course, but also other meats, and tofu and falafel). Each bowl of greens can also get a crunchy topper like wasabi peas or walnuts. But a salad isn’t complete without the dressing, and picking from the Sweet Leaf selection can be challenging. Crowd-pleasers like ranch and thousand island are offered, but so too are several clever and intriguing selections like creamy dill vinaigrette and cool wasabi.
But salad and sandwiches aren’t all that Sweet Leaf serves. This café has the full range of coffee-house drinks, frozen yogurt and ice cream, and smoothies and milkshakes. So whether lunch is in order or a coffee, yogurt, or ice cream break is needed, Sweet Leaf has plenty to entice busy locals to enjoy a slow-down, if only for a bit.
Sweet Leaf Community Café is located at 2200 Wilson Blvd., Arlington. For more information, call 703-525-5100 or visit eatsweetleaf.com. Restaurant hours are Monday – Saturday: 7 a.m. – 9 p.m. and Sunday: 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.