I recently visited Lavender & Honey Espresso Bar on East Washington Boulevard (just west of Hill Avenue) for the first time and came away refreshed and rejuvenated. To help you understand why, here’s a short primer on the herb for which the establishment is partly named and its many uses.
Lavender: “A genus of flowering plants in the mint family,” Wikipedia tells us, adding many members are cultivated extensively in temperate climates as ornamental plants, culinary herbs and for the extraction of essential oils. “The most widely cultivated species, lavandula angustifolia, is often referred to as lavender, and there is a color named for the shade of the flowers of this species.”
Wikipedia goes on to explain, “It is grown as a condiment and used in salads and dressings. Flowers yield abundant nectar from which bees make a high-quality honey. Lavender flavors baked goods and desserts and is also used to make ‘lavender sugar.’” Lavender flowers, the definition continues, “are occasionally blended with black, green or herbal teas. Lavender lends a floral and slightly sweet flavor to most dishes and is sometimes paired with sheep’s milk and goat’s milk cheeses.”
According to webmd.com, lavender is also used to combat restlessness, insomnia, nervousness and depression, as well as a variety of digestive problems.
So now that you’re up to speed, let me empathize with how you’re probably feeling following the almost inevitable Thanksgiving dinner excesses. Those postprandial digestive miseries are partly explained in the paragraph above, along with the equally debilitating emotional reactions to Black Friday and the rest of the necessary pre-Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Year’s preparations. I feel your indigestion, stress and mental anguish.
Although I doubt if any remedy can completely alleviate your symptoms, I’d like to suggest a brief interlude at Lavender & Honey for one of their soothing hot drinks and small snacks, several of which incorporate lavender among the ingredients. Since lavender oil is used in aroma therapy, I almost expected the small café to be permeated with the plant’s perfume, but it was the odor of good coffee (equally uplifting) and toasting bread that predominated.
My friend Pam and I arrived around 11 a.m. for a late breakfast (me) and early lunch (her). Parking (they have their own lot adjacent to the building) was a pleasure. And, being that it was still two weeks until Thanksgiving, we concentrated on filling our tummies and tasting some of the more interesting edibles rather than repairing our digestion or mental state.
Their sandwiches are tempting. The Italiano consists of Genoa salami, mortadella, capicola, ham off the bone, prosciutto, provolone, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, mayo, yellow mustard, pepperoncini and pickles on a ciabatta roll. The Parisian includes ham, Swiss and butter on a rustic baguette. The Caprese is made up of tomato, fresh mozzarella, basil, olive oil and balsamic glaze on ciabatta. A BLT variant (it’s called the PLT) substitutes prosciutto, arugula and sun-dried tomato on baguette. And the roast beef is augmented with jack cheese, onions, pickles and sriracha mayo, again on baguette. We ordered a Caprese ($9) to split.
Their three salads (all $9) are pretty standard: Caprese, chopped Italian and veggie taco. We decided instead to indulge in one of the specialties of the house: artisan “toasts” with various spreads, each only $3. We ordered almost all of them: avocado with lemon juice and red jalapeño, PB honey banana, PB nutella, a seasonal special of apple butter with cinnamon and sugar, and the L&H — goat cheese, dried lavender and honey drizzle.
Of course, there’s no way these spreads, even on store-bought pre-packaged white toast, could be less than good, but they were raised way above good by the fabulous bread underneath. Those slices were likely cut from loaves provided by The Bread Lounge, an artisanal bakery featured on Lavender & Honey’s website list of vendors. Two of our toasts were on walnut bread; the others on multigrain. And the ciabatta that housed our Caprese was equally wonderful; chewy, crunchy and flavorful.
The website explains that the owners, Charlie and Melanie Porter, drew inspiration from their experiences as former baristas, from travels to many major café destinations around the world and from the local artisans whose products exemplify commitment to quality and are used in the edibles made in their kitchen or sold as take-home items. (Had any of The Bread Lounge’s products been available, I probably would have left with a shopping bag full.)
The website further adds that the owners’ “mission is to provide customers with a unique, boutique coffee experience, to ensure that each cup of coffee served is as perfect as it can possibly be, and to remember that a commitment to community is why (they) are here. Coffee is community and … excellent coffee leads to an even better community.”
So, naturally, we had to try some. And yes, it was excellent. Purists, we pondered the French lavender breve, the lavender lemonade, the salted caramel latte and the 10 flavors of hot chocolate before ordering simple but satisfying cups of café au lait and cappuccino.
Lavender & Honey isn’t one of those cozy places beloved by ladies who lunch. The décor is basic, surfaces hard, chairs unupholstered and banquettes made of wood. There’s a patio with seating facing the parking lot, but it has no awning so at mid-day you can bake in the sun. A couple of small tables are set outside the front door, but Washington is a busy street with lots of bus fumes and traffic noise.
However, comfort for short visits isn’t a real issue. Lavender & Honey is a perfect place to take a quick break, grab a great sandwich or toast, treat yourself to a perfect cup of coffee and put those physical and psychological pre- and post-holiday symptoms temporarily to rest.