"It's open! It's open! It's open!" the young woman yelled, stopping short in front of Sona Creamery and Wine Bar along Pennsylvania Avenue near Eastern Market last weekend. It was actual word of mouth in motion.
The establishment, which features a retail cheese operation along with a bar and sit-down dining service, opened its doors for its soft opening on Jan. 29. By the time the weekend rolled around, word had gotten out, prompting Garrotxa consumption and Bichot Macon-Villages corks to pop.
The business is the brainchild of husband-wife duo Conan and Genevieve O'Sullivan, who started construction and renovation on the old MotoPhoto and Sprint phone storefronts last year.
Sona means "happy" in Gaelic and the airy and light vibe of the place matches its name. Staff T-shirts state that Sona is where happy cheese lives. There is also a double meaning there. As any affineur knows, cheese is a living thing.
Conan expects more than 250 different cheeses to start filling Sona's space this week. The soft-opening menu offers a pared-down list, with a nice selection of raw milk products such as Manchego 1605 and Marcel Petite Fort St. Antoine Comte.
The featured selection for a cheese board hovers around 10. There are three meats to populate the charcuterie board. The selection of small plates is a comfort food paradise, including poutine, mini steak and cheese eclairs, a kind of hush puppy dish made with blue cheese, candied jalapeno and pork rillette. There are also crispy Brussels sprouts, apparently a condition of securing a business operating license in the District of Columbia.
Mac and cheese, gnocchi, Welsh rarebit and a grilled cheese sandwich (stuffed with the house mac and cheese!) round out the bigger items. The goat cheese ice cream and a baked bijou fruit dish make up the dessert menu.
The wine list is simple and relatively inexpensive, with most wines in the $32 to $52 range, and geared toward cheese pairings, with a special nod to wines from Oregon and Washington state, from whence the O'Sullivans came last year.
Beer people have DC Brau The Corruption IPA, Bell's Special Double Cream Stout, Port City Optimal Wit and Founders Dirty Bastard Scotch Style Ale on tap. Organic soda pop is also available for one's non-boozy needs.
Sona fills a District cheese-lovers' void left by the departure of Cowgirl Creamery's downtown location at the end of last year. One thing Sona will also add to the table is its own cheese-making facility, which one can see from its front-window placement. "We're about three weeks from passing all the regulatory hurdles," Conan said.
Once that happens, Sona will be able to join the District's growing food and beverage manufacturing class, joining folks like DC Brau and New Columbia Distillers. The O'Sullivans plan on hosting tastings and events now that all systems are getting going. In the meantime, for Monday and Tuesday, they'll be open from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. Regular hours begin on Wednesday, from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Sona Creamery and Wine Bar, 660 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, 202-758-3556.