403 E Main St, Arlington. 7am-10pm Mon-Sat. 817-617-2054. All major credit cards accepted.
Urban Alchemy Coffee & Wine Bar is located in a section of downtown Arlington that would be hard to reach in ordinary circumstances and is even more difficult now with the heavy construction on Abram Street. The construction will abate eventually, and by then I hope this eatery sorts out just what sort of place it wants to be. If you’re going there with your laptop to get some work in or to talk with your friends over a glass of something, it’s great. If you’re going there to actually eat, it’s got some issues.
The first time I visited, I sat at the bar by myself and had a thoroughly satisfactory experience. The popcorn appetizer with olive oil and herbes de Provence wasn’t anything I couldn’t have whipped up at home, but darned if it didn’t transport me to the south of France with its fragrant and pastoral goodness. (That $2 price tag didn’t hurt, either.) I watched my grilled cheese sandwich come out of the microwave before it went onto the sandwich press, which my server explained was necessary because their bread vendor had delivered the wrong kind of bread that day and that the cheese needed to melt. It came out fine at any rate, with the bread crunchy and the cheese gooey and flavorful. The dugout pie, a chocolate pecan confection with a bourbon glaze, was a serviceable closing dish, if nothing earth-shattering.
The second time I ventured to the downtown locale was with a partner, and we sat at one of the few suitable tables for dining, i.e. one that didn’t have couches for seating and wasn’t already occupied by someone staring at a laptop. Our service was much slower, and at one point my glass of iced tea sat empty for a good 15 minutes while I waited for someone to come by whom I could ask for a refill. To be fair, even though it was lunch hour, most of the other patrons were using the place as a coffeehouse or a wine bar, and when you’re in such establishments, you’d rather the waitstaff leave you to yourself or your company. Still, the place isn’t so big that our server would forget that we were there for lunch, and an establishment that serves a full meal should adjust its treatment of customers accordingly.
We ordered the big charcuterie plate, Tony’s Pick, for an appetizer, and it was a mixed bag. The Texas-made wild boar sausage was excellent and the distinctive tangy note at the end of the authentic Irish cheddar cheese showed me what this cheese so prevalent in supermarkets could be in the right hands. These high notes sat on the plate alongside a mediocre prosciutto and an unmemorable cup of duck rillettes, and we could have used more than four crostini to accompany all this meat and cheese.
My Spanish apple sandwich was disappointing, too, with the slices of green apple so thin that they barely imparted any of their flavor at all. Basically, it was a ham and cheese sandwich made with jamón serrano and manchego. This should have been enough, and it was indeed plenty rich, but I really missed the acidic contrast that the apple should have brought. My guest’s muffaletta was more successful, with the earthy tapenade making its presence felt without upstaging the mortadella.
Urban Alchemy offers five different house blends of coffee, so my guest ordered the blonde roast French press and had nothing but good things to say. Since I don’t drink the stuff, I ordered a glass of Warre’s Otima 10-year tawny port and was delighted to find that it was ever so slightly chilled, like it should be. (Wine authorities who tell you to serve port at room temperature usually forget to tell you that rooms used to be colder than they generally are now.) The few degrees brought out the crème brûlée flavor that tawnies are known for. The wine list ranges from Austrian grüner veltliner to Australian shiraz and touches almost every wine-producing country that matters without incurring the heft of a Dostoyevsky novel.
The decor is your standard cement-and-exposed-brick look, and the music piped overhead goes heavy on the mainstream end of ’90s alt-rock, so get ready to reacquaint yourself with Train, Savage Garden, and Barenaked Ladies from the moment you step in.
All in all, while there’s enough quality on the menu to make it worth salvaging, Urban Alchemy will have to step up its food and service game if it wants to be more than a place to imbibe.
Urban Alchemy Coffee & Wine Bar
Tony’s Pick $25
Spanish apple sandwich $12
Dugout pie $5.50
French press coffee $3.50-6