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Cowgirl Creamery in Penn Quarter

For lunch: Humboldt Fog goat cheese, olive spread, hummus and greens.
For lunch: Humboldt Fog goat cheese, olive spread, hummus and greens. (By James M. Thresher -- The Washington Post)

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Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Our culture glorifies choice. And that tendency is never more true than at lunchtime. The sandwich chains with lines out the door are the ones that offer dozens of meats, cheeses, toppings and breads and encourage you to mix and match.

Happily, that's not the drill at Cowgirl Creamery. The delightful Penn Quarter cheese shop offers a daily list of two or three sandwiches, all on a chewy kaiser roll from local bakery Breadline. But put yourself in its capable hands, and you're guaranteed one of the best sandwiches in the city.

Each day, Cowgirl offers a cheese ($6.75), meat-and-cheese ($7.25) and, depending on availability, smoked salmon ($7.50) option. The combinations are inspired by what's in season and what strikes the sandwich maker's fancy. One day, we picked up a refreshing mix of local cave-aged cheddar, herb fromage blanc, local tomatoes and field greens. Another day, it was Cowgirl's own earthy, triple-cream Mt. Tam cheese (named for the mountain near its creamery in Marin County, Calif.) topped with olive spread, heirloom tomatoes and greens.

The meat options rotate through various prosciuttos and hams and Fra' Mani salumi (made by Paul Bertolli, the one-time chef at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif.). Our favorite so far is an inspired mix of salami, silky mortadella, the Italian cheese Roccolo and a smear of Dijon mustard, a simple but exquisite balance of pungent flavors.

Cowgirl's sandwiches also challenge the bigger-is-better aesthetic. These are the antithesis of the Dagwood sandwich, with just a few slices of meat and cheese. But the quality and careful selection of ingredients pack in serious flavor and satisfaction.

-- Jane Black

Cowgirl Creamery, 919 F St. NW, 202-393-6880;http://www.cowgirlcreamery.com. Hours: Mondays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. (Sandwiches are available beginning at 11 a.m. and run out as early as 1 p.m.) Call in advance for the day's selection.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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