The Freshman, an all-day cafe that’s been in development for more than two years, has officially opened its doors near the Crystal City Metro station in Arlington, Virginia. Wednesday, April 21, marks the grand opening for the shop that features coffee from Alexandria roaster Swings and breakfast dishes available until sundown, along with sandwiches, toasts, and a variety of small and large plates.
The bar and restaurant (2011 Crystal Drive) features a menu picked out by Arlington native Nick Freshman, a co-owner in Clarendon Bar Spider Kelly’s who heads up the Mothersauce Partners group behind the similar all-day setup at Takoma Brewing Company, Thompson Italian, and game-filled bar the Eleanor.
“I don’t blame anyone for not believing me, but it was not my idea to name it the Freshman!” he says of the name. “I wanted [it] to reflect the concept as a place, not a thing on the menu or a particular style.”
The Freshman, announced in January 2019, was one of the earliest restaurants to sign a retail lease with Amazon HQ2 landlord JBG Smith following the tech giant’s decision to build a home base in Northern Virginia. Officials in Arlington and Alexandria are attempting to group together parts of Crystal City, Pentagon City, and Potomac Yard as one giant district called National Landing. Amazon says it plans to bring 25,000 jobs to Arlington while investing $2.5 billion in the city.
The Freshman is a 1-mile walk from Reagan National Airport and less than a mile away from both of Amazon’s big construction sites. The company is building two new buildings for a Metropolitan Park development that will include 65,000 square feet of new retail space. The second phase of development, the PenPlace project, boasts three 22-story buildings, including the futuristic-looking Helix, and more than 2.5 acres of public space.
“I am incredibly bullish on National Landing,” Freshman says. “That’s why I’m here, that’s why we started working on this project years ago. I believe this area is and always has been the most overlooked, in terms of potential.”
Freshman says he wanted the food menu to reflect cafe classics, which explains a section of six all-day breakfast dishes, including omelets, shredded hashbrowns, and an egg-and-cheddar sandwich built on a brioche bun. Lunch and dinner items (available after 11 a.m.) include a cheeky “judgement-free” avocado toast or steak frites served with a lemon peppercorn steak sauce. Oysters are available on the half shell or “chicken-fried” and served with roasted red pepper coulis, bacon jam, and grilled lemon. Vegetarians might gravitate toward a plate of herb pappardelle with mushroom ragout or a Parmesan and mornay sauce flatbread with mushrooms, thyme, and baby kale.
The coffee and the pastries from Westover bakery Village Sweet were particularly big hits among friends and family, Freshman says. Local drinks include DC Brau’s “Orange Crush” seltzer, an ANXO cider, and brews from Aslin Beer Company, Denizen’s, and Vasen, out of Richmond, Virginia. Cocktails include the $12 La Jefa, which blends chiltepin chile-infused mescal with lime juice, sugar, orange liqueur, and a blanco tequila floater.
The 3,400 square foot space includes an indoor dining room with 120 seats. An outdoor patio seats up to 50. The Freshman will be open for on-site dining and takeout from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday, with extended hours of 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
Freshman originally anticipated a spring 2020 opening, but like so many other plans poised for last year, that plan was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a big sigh of relief to finally open.
“I can say with confidence that the Washington region and our industry as a whole is poised for a strong recovery,” Freshman says. “I would not have said that with confidence as little as three months ago.”
While the cafe was on ice, Freshman stayed busy helping the hospitality industry. In January, he partnered with Hook Hall owner Anna Valero to use the Freshman as a relief center for Northern Virginia restaurant workers. The outpost of Hook Hall Helps has moved next-door into a former Cosi space, where it will remain open to help support area families in need, according to a news release.