REVIEW: Salt and Forge offers a refined, no-frills menu of breakfast and lunch 

click to enlarge The La Havana features slow-roasted pork, country ham, Gruyere, pickles and yellow mustard on brioche, with a bruleed grapefruit wedge on the side.

Scott Elmquist

The La Havana features slow-roasted pork, country ham, Gruyere, pickles and yellow mustard on brioche, with a bruleed grapefruit wedge on the side.  

A staff member quietly admits she eats one every single day. A man having breakfast eats his with knife and fork, whereas we just stuff ours into our mouths like children who can't delay the sweet and sour pleasure long enough to eat in a more civilized manner.

So simple and so brilliant, the bruleed grapefruit quarters at Salt and Forge are available with lunch sandwiches when you request fruit as a side. They also come as a standard plate mates at breakfast. The sweet, crunchy burnt sugar crust atop the grapefruit takes the healthy morning staple and makes it instantly crave-worthy no matter the time of day.

Salt and Forge, the new quick service breakfast and lunch spot on Second Street in Jackson Ward, isn't a showy place. But what it offers is friendly counter service, community tables and local products that include breads from Idle Hands Bread Co. and the Flour Garden, plus cookies and brownies baked by Four Forks.

When it comes to libations, Salt and Forge has you covered with Counter Culture coffee ($2-3). It's available in the iced variety ($4), which is done in a Yama cold brew tower that rises like a piece of glass sculpture on the front counter. House brewed iced tea, both sweetened and unsweetened, ($2) is the real deal, and refrigerated cases hold beer, wine, sodas, juices and sparkling waters.

At lunch, choose from 14 tempting sandwiches including three vegetarian options. Smokey tomato and house-roasted roast beef ($12) is defined by its smoked tomato jam, but the pickled red onions and brie don't hurt, either.
La Havana ($11) is a guaranteed crowd pleaser, thick with slow-roasted pork, country ham, Gruyere, pickles and yellow mustard on to-die-for brioche. And while you could order the classic chicken sandwich ($9.50) grilled, you'd be missing out on an expertly fried breast — crispy, yet not heavy or oily — crowned with Duke's mayonnaise, pickles, tomato and lettuce.

On all three of my visits, the seasonal soup was tomatillo with green chilies, lime crema and cilantro, spicy but flavorful, assuming you're in the mood for hot soup during a steamy Richmond summer. A cooler side is an updated take on coleslaw with notes of coriander on the finish or, not to belabor the point, a wedge of that bruleed grapefruit.

Among the prettiest of presentations is a roasted beet salad ($10) with beets overlapping the bowl's interior and filled with arugula and knobs of herbed goat cheese under a sweet-and-salty halo of candied walnuts and crispy shallots. A routine-sounding Mediterranean salad ($9) is anything but, calling to the taste buds with both ends of the greens spectrum — kale and romaine — complemented by punches of flavor from marinated artichokes, sundried tomatoes, olives, red onions and pecorino.

Although Salt and Forge serves breakfast until 10:30 a.m. weekdays and weekends until 2 p.m., the generous breakfast servings are better suited to a leisurely brunch than a quick pre-work breakfast, unless perhaps your job involves heavy labor.

The house-made sausage gravy smothering a melt-in your mouth biscuit comes across plenty peppery in the biscuit and gravy ($7), but the sausage lacks kick. And while I'm all for culinary innovation, I couldn't get past the lack of ham in the breakfast croque-monsieur ($7.50) given that a croque-monsieur is, by definition, a ham and cheese sandwich. If you can set that expectation aside — or if you're vegetarian — the enormous white bread sandwich combines havarti, American cheese and smoked tomato jam under a blanket of Gruyere fondue topped by a sunny-side-up egg for a belly-filling way to start the day or, better yet, sop up last night's indulgences.

Depending on where you've had it before, the raft of whole wheat bread under avocado toast ($7) may come across as a bit thin and lackluster given avocado's unassertive flavor, even with extra virgin olive oil and smoked tomato jam. Ours arrived with an unexpected sprinkle of pickled red onions that provided the main flavor boost.

While not nearly as trendy, a simple biscuit and jam ($4), especially with the knockout house blackberry-serrano jam, may be as close to updated Southern biscuit bliss as a come-here could hope for. And if that doesn't convince you, here's an added bonus: It comes with a side of that heavenly bruleed grapefruit. S

Salt and Forge
Mondays – Fridays 7 a.m. – 4 p.m.,
Saturdays 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.
312 N. Second St.


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