Washington-area neighborhoods: In Clarendon, look beyond the chain stores

By David Malitz and Justin Rude
Friday, August 20, 2010

Sometimes it's easy to see Clarendon as just another generic place to run errands. From block to block, you can easily hop from one super-mega-chain-store to another: Starbucks to Whole Foods to Barnes & Noble to Apple to another Starbucks. (The "Arlington: The Rap" YouTube video wasn't lying about the abundance of Starbucks.) Of course, there's a certain serenity to being surrounded by such stability, predictability, routine. It's not like anyone who moves to Clarendon is under the impression that it's the second coming of the East Village.

Still, that dominant picture of Clarendon-as-Blankville is not a complete one. In the past few years, the area has struck a balance between the corporate and the homegrown. On the block across from the Whole Foods, there's the lovable watering hole Galaxy Hut and the upstart Boccato Gelato. New restaurants including Screwtop and Lyon Hall are more packed than the Cheesecake Factory. And people seem to be happy. Not some of the time or most of the time. But pretty much all of the time. What follows are 10 places in Clarendon that make us happy.

1. Lyon Hall

3100 N. Washington Blvd., Arlington. 703-741-7636. http://www.lyonhallarlington.com.

Located next door to the remodeled post office a block south of the Metro, this eatery offers a menu of contemporary French bistro cuisine. Lyon Hall is a product of the Liberty Tavern team and shares the Wilson Boulevard restaurant's attention to detail, which is reflected both in the good and European heavy beer and wine lists and the exciting selections of cheese. The menu is heavy on sausages and wursts, and it is with the sausage and charcuterie that the kitchen does its best work. The volume turns up on weekend nights and a nightclub vibe takes over, complete with DJs and a more boisterous crowd. One odd suggestion: Make sure you hit the restroom before you leave. The designers installed a mischievous surprise that we won't spoil here.

2. Screwtop

1025 N. Fillmore St., Arlington. 703-888-0845. http://www.screwtopwinebar.com.

Part wine bar, part gourmet sandwich counter and part boutique cheese and wine shop, Screwtop manages to walk a line between trendy dining and food retail while retaining a quirky charm that makes its gourmet selections feel accessible. The staff is friendly, helpful and professional, and the rack of for-sale bottles are labeled with tasting notes to help you make your decision. The cheese selection is good without being overwhelming and always has interesting or hard-to-find options. The cheese plate portions for dine-in guests are generous. The sandwiches and other food options are simple but thoughtful and always taste fresh. It's a fun shop, and if no particular part of it sounds unique, trust us: The charm of Screwtop is that it all works well together.

3. Artisan Confections

1025 N. Fillmore St., Arlington. 703-524-0007. http://www.artisanconfections.com.

Is it food? Is it art? Is it both? Okay, it's food, but it's still pretty to look at. And definitely more delicious to eat. Owner (and former TenPenh pastry chef) Jason Andelman's chocolate creations have been a hit since his store opened in June 2006. But a November move from a Lee Highway storefront into the heart of Clarendon has helped business pick up. That means making even more salted butter caramels, the most popular of the 15 pieces he offers. "There's a little bit of salt that balances well with the chocolate; the texture is creamy. It's a winner," Andelman says matter-of-factly. Four flavors change seasonally and feature intricate designs by local artists. "People think they're hand painted," he says. "That's nuts; it's like a decal process." Andelman also teaches classes roughly once a month in which people can learn the process behind his craft and make and take home their own chocolates.

4. Kinder Haus Toys

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