Earlier this summer, I wrote a lengthy paean to Woodward Takeout Food, the deli-style carryout counter located inside Woodward Table, near the White House. I gushed that “WTF,” as it’s known, was emblematic of a newly invigorated sandwich scene in downtown D.C. At the time I think I’d probably only eaten two of the sandwiches there, and neither of them was the vegetarian-friendly Provençale. In my defense, in choosing from a list that includes such flamboyantly meaty options as the Porky Pig and the Fowl Play, the average omnivore could be excused for passing over the sandwich built around slices grilled eggplant in favor of the one doused with bacon aïoli.
As a sandwich professional, I should have known better. Even among the ceaselessly original, always fantastic menu at WTF, the Provençale is exceptional. On paper, it comprises grilled eggplant, zucchini, portobello, onions, goat cheese, basil, olive-sundried tomato pesto and peppers on a toasted baguette, but like all great sandwiches, it is more than the sum of its parts. While each of the numerous components can be freely identified and appreciated independently, together they make beautiful, meat-free music. The baguette, appropriately rigid, supplies a satisfying crunch. Structurally, the Provençale miraculously avoids the sliminess and lack of cohesion that befalls many mélange-style constructions; where you might expect to look down and find a small salad of oily debris at the end of your meal, there is practically nothing. Tidiness scores big points in my book, and here again the Provençale does not disappoint.
There was a time not so long again that “lunch” in downtown D.C. meant one of two things: a bloody piece of meat and a martini at one of K Street’s myriad steakhouses, or a Cold Cut Trio at the nearest Subway. Food trucks have changed the scene irreversibly, but that’s a topic for another post. As far as bricks and mortar is concerned, WTF is the kind of non-chain, fast-casual sandwich spot that D.C. generally and downtown specifically could use many more of. At the risk of generalizing, it’s probably unlikely your average meat-eater would settle on the vegetarian option at WTF unless purposefully seeking something on the “lighter” side. And while it’s true that the Provençale isn’t accompanied by the queasy, often unpleasant afterglow that follows a hefty pastrami on rye or a 20 oz. porterhouse, this is a legitimately hefty, thoroughly satisfying lunch.
Woodward Table and Woodward Takeout Food are located at 1426 H Street NW in downtown Washington, D.C.