Leaf & Ladle

Lunching with the ladies

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

From my office window on the sixth floor of Bellingham’s Herald Building, I can look down to the old Dream On Futon building and see the sign for Leaf & Ladle, a new soup and sandwich-focused eatery that opened recently on State Street. I can also see a couple of flaggers wearing fluorescent yellow vests and the numerous laborers and assorted machinery necessary to renovate a streetscape.

Although owners Linda Melim and her daughter, Morgan Gaunt, didn’t plan on opening their restaurant during the same week State Street was partially shut down for street and sidewalk upgrades—construction is currently going on literally right outside Leaf & Ladle’s doors—the duo are making the best of it. A note on their Facebook page proclaims that “We are open in spite of this little sidewalk situation” (right below the quote “That which does not kill you, makes you stronger”).

When I accepted a date to lunch with a couple of lady friends last Wednesday, we bravely walked by a “sidewalk closed” sign and into the long green oasis that is Leaf & Ladle. Melim and Gaunt welcomed us with big smiles from behind a sizeable bar counter, and pointed us to the roll of butcher paper behind us that spelled out that day’s menu items.

While we hemmed and hawed over the choices—which highlighted the aforementioned soups and sandwiches, as well as salads, assorted side dishes, seasonal quesadillas and various specials—the long, narrow space started filling up, so we knew we had to act fast to beat the crowd.

I considered getting that day’s “workers lunch,” sausage ratatouille over pasta ($6), but ultimately decided on a chicken panini ($8), which came with grilled onions, roasted red peppers, provolone and spinach on a torta roll. For good measure, I also ordered a side of “Grandpa’s potato salad” ($3). When I inquired if this was indeed inspired by Gaunt’s grandfather, she nodded her assent, and noted that, in addition to being her relative, he’s also a caterer.

We ran into another lady friend who was ahead of us in line, and she told us that even though Leaf & Ladle had only been open a little more than a week, this was already her fifth visit. Assuming she’d tried a variety of items on the menu, I asked her what her favorite was. “Well,” she said with a sheepish smile, “I’ve ordered the same thing every time—a vegan Caesar salad ($10).”

After my cohorts made their decisions—the media magnate opted for a regular Caesar salad ($8, plus $4 for chicken) and a cup of Joe’s garden vegetable soup ($4 for a cup, $6 for a bowl) while my coworker chose the ham panini—we went to the back to sit with Ms. Vegan Salad.

By the time our lunches came, the joint had filled up nicely, despite the construction issues. The vegan Caesar showed up first, and we all took bites from the metal pan it was served in. Despite not having any dairy or eggs in it, the flavor was hearty and tangy, and we all agreed it was a fine lunch choice. When the other orders showed up, however, the dairy- and meat-eaters among us agreed the chicken Caesar would probably be our go-to salad.

My potato salad was everything a potato salad should be. It had big wedges of taters and crunchy bites of celery, and was filling and mustardy. The ingredients in my panini were obviously high quality, and after the addition of a layer of Grey Poupon, it hit the spot. If I had to choose over again, however, I probably would’ve opted for my friend’s ham panini, which was served with brie and green apple. It had a little more personality and punch, even without the addition of mustard.

The star of the show, in my eyes, was the serving of the media magnate’s soup. The two bites I took exploded with flavor—like a pumped-up minestrone. The amount of veggies added were ridiculous.

“Soups are her thing,” my coworker pointed out of Melim, who spent seven years managing the nearby Honey Moon, and is well known for what she can put in a bowl.

According to the edict on Leaf & Ladle’s Facebook page, the eatery is committed to giving their customers “a never-ending supply of amazing, fresh food that you can grab on your short lunch break, on your way down to Boulevard [Park], or anytime you want to feel good about what you’re eating, without having to cook.”

For now, Leaf & Ladle is only open during the week, but weekend hours are in the works, and, before long, the construction outside their doors will be finished, making it much more welcoming.

Ms. Vegan Salad, who’s been there pretty much every day since they opened, must’ve realized that she was limiting herself. On Thursday, I got a message from her saying she’d actually tried something new on menu—a black bean hummus quesadilla ($6), which she proclaimed to be delicious.

“Now I have two things to have every single time,” she informed me.

I’ll be back, too. I won’t wait until the construction ends—and neither should you.

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