PROSCIUTTO ON CIABATTINI: Pesto, arugula, tomato and mozzarella accompany the charcuterie.
There was reason to expect District Fare to be fabulous: primarily that it was the third Tomas Bohm enterprise. In 2009, when Bohm opened The Pantry in the former home of Alouette's and Gypsy's Grill in West Little Rock, we were instant fans and remember being pleasantly surprised to learn that Bohm and company made their bratwurst in-house. No big deal, he told us. Everyone in his native Czechoslovakia makes his own sausages.
We also remember being worried, and telling Bohm so, when we learned of his plans to open The Pantry Crest in Hillcrest, because we thought Bohm couldn't be in two places at once. His warm presence makes the Pantry even more special. He works a room as gracefully and unobtrusively as anyone ever has. But our fears were unfounded. The Pantry Crest has rocked it from the day it opened in 2014.
Bohm is just getting going at District Fare. But the place is already hitting on all cylinders. And much like at either Pantry, much of the draw is the meat — served on sandwiches and packaged to take out. Of the meats at District Fare, all but the prosciutto are created by Bohm and crew in the kitchen at The Pantry. But Michael Qandah, District Fare's "salumist," tells us they're about to embark on their first leg, so in a year to 18 months we can feast on District Fare's own prosciutto. (The internet tells us "salumist is the term for makers of high-end charcuterie and sausages.")
Nine a la carte sandwiches are featured at District Fare, all $9.95 except the two-cheese melt, which is $7.95. It features a melted, gooey, stringy combination of Swiss and mozzarella, with prominent grill marks on the thick country white bread. We could have used a bit more butter on the bread, but otherwise, no complaints with this high-end grilled cheese.
The ABLT features three slices of the fabulous house-made bacon (more on that in a bit), with a generous helping of avocado and roasted garlic aioli adding a nice boost to the traditional BLT ingredients. The Cuban is not pressed, like most are, but it's still a delight — well-seasoned pork, ham and just the right ratio of pickles and Dijon to bring it all together. We weren't quite as high on the prosciutto sandwich because the puffy "ciabattini" halves between which the meat, pesto, arugula, mozzarella and tomato rest overwhelmed those ingredients.
Folks used to Jason's Deli type sandwiches will quickly note that the quantity of meat on District Fare sandwiches doesn't compare. The prosciutto sandwich highlights that most clearly, but the others feature what is a proper amount of meat to create the intended taste profile. It's just not as much as most are used to.
BACON LOVER'S CHOICE: The ABLT sandwich adds avocado and roasted garlic aioli to the bacon, lettuce and tomato.
We took out-of-town friends and our sandwiches to Knoop Park and consumed them (the sandwiches, not the friends) at the point overlooking downtown. For dessert, we had District Fare's rich shortbread cookies that featured a modest schmear of Nutella ($1 each). It was a wholly pleasant experience that got only pleasanter the next day when we cracked into the four other items we'd purchased.
Not only did Bohm move into Denis Seyer's old spot in West LR, he now sells Seyer's amazing lobster bisque by the quart ($25). It is just as luscious, creamy and just-seafoody-enough as we remember it from the Alouette's days. We also took home a small jar of the same pate served at the Pantry ($5) and found it creamy, well-herbed and not too livery, even though it's basically chicken liver cut with butter.
We ordered four slices of the District Fare bacon ($13 a pound; $3.77 for our four slices), and it is absolutely the best bacon we've ever eaten. We're huge fans of Wright's, preferring it over Petit Jean, but District Fare takes bacon to a whole new level — very smoky, very salty, very substantial. It's not so much that it's thick: It's just meaty and wonderful. Same with the smoked turkey — best ever. It's smoky and tender and worth the $12-a-pound price tag.
Besides tasting great, District Fare looks great, too. The core feature is the expanse of shiny glass curved-front deli cases that anchor the east side of the long, narrow space. But the potentially cold and industrial vibe of the glass and metal is warmed up by the wood floors, shelves and clever L-shaped two-person tables along the wall. The walls themselves are a sophisticated dark gray, which helps makes the space feel different from a typical big-city deli. Also un-deli-like, the lighting is understated: Recessed lights provide a dim glow, and task lighting is provided only where it's needed, such as over each table and in the staff's work space behind the cases. We get the feeling they'd like you to sit a while. And there are plenty of places to do just that. In addition to the two-tops up front, there is a banquette and table in the back, and a bar-height counter with stools facing the Kroger parking lot.
Those beautiful wood shelves in the front hold a tasty variety of locally produced treats such as the aforementioned lobster bisque and pate as well as custom-made cutting boards and District Fare T-shirts.
2807 Kavanaugh Blvd., Suite B
Even if you're just popping into District Fare for a sandwich, consider taking something home for later — whether that's Denis Seyer's legendary lobster bisque or a half-pound of turkey or bacon.
11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.
Beer and wine. Credit cards accepted.