Coffee will always remain one of the gems of the shop.
Just in time for a January cold snap, Old Town North has gotten a little bit warmer.
Del Ray staple St. Elmo’s opened its doors at 529 Montgomery Street earlier this month – a moment of celebration after more than a year of planning.
“We go back awhile here, in April or May of 2019,” said co-owner Larry Ponzi. “We started talking and ended up signing a lease by November of 2019. We were moving forward, we were in the architectural design phase, and submitted for permits in February – and then when we got hit with Covid restrictions and all of the aftermath of the virus, we had to go to [the landlord] and say ‘Look, we have to put this on pause until we figure out where we are financially.’ … The landlord was very good about it and helped us financially pause the project.”
Once the daily routine of the pandemic set in, Larry and Christine Ponzi were able to continue on with their plans – and the new St. Elmo’s came to fruition.
But don’t expect the new outpost to be a cookie-cutter version of the Del Ray original. No, instead, the Old Town variety brings a little mix of all the Ponzi eateries under one roof.
“This St. Elmo’s is really a culmination of our Market 2 Market and St. Elmo’s [Del Ray],” Larry Ponzi said. As a result, expect some of the most popular items from both stores, as well as a beer and cocktail bar element. “It’s like an all-day coffee shop/cafe.”
And while coffee will of course always remain one of the gems of the shop, there’s more on the menu to try.
“We love our homemade soups. We have a homemade chicken noodle and a tomato soup. We have a Cuban sub, which is really popular. We’re known for our Reubens, and we took our best Italian sub from the market, our 116, and that’s been popular as well,” he said.
But the Old Town crowd has brought different requests from Del Ray, Christine Ponzi said. To wit: Gluten-free and vegan options. And as a result, the new St. Elmo’s is contouring to fit.
“We were trying to keep them similar, but what we’re realizing early on is that we’re going to have to tweak the menus a bit,” she said. “We’ll share the successes of each location and hopefully end up with a final menu.”
And about those cocktails: The new St. Elmo’s has a full bar and intends to use it.
“We’ve developed some fantastic cocktails. I highly recommend the espresso martini and the old fashioned,” Christine Ponzi said. As the café continues to evolve over the coming months, look for a mimosa program with all juices made in-house.
To be sure, opening amid a pandemic brings some interesting challenges. Gone is the business-as-usual style of lingering about the coffee house for hours on end. In its place: Grab-and-go.
“We do have some people that will sit down, open their laptop, have a coffee, have a sandwich, but it’s probably 85 percent walk in, walk out,” Larry Ponzi said.
But post-pandemic, St. Elmo’s regulars can look forward to open-mic nights again, as well as other live entertainment.
“We’re excited for the future,” Larry Ponzi said.
Hope Nelson is the author of “Classic Restaurants of Alexandria” and owns the Kitchen Recessionista blog, located at www.kitchenrecessionista.com. Email her any time at email@example.com.