Comfort food with flair. Gratis baskets of bread with their goods baked in house. Outdoor seating. Friendly service. I’m not sure why Liberty Tavern in Clarendon hasn’t made it into our heavy rotation for dining but its loyal following of other fans have certainly discovered the love.

My friend Jill and I met up for lunch on a recent warm afternoon to take in some fresh air in the middle of the workday. Fresh off the metro, I arrived first and was greeted with a warm smile from the host who gave me the option of outdoor seating (win!). The patio area of Liberty Tavern doesn’t take much space – only about two bistro tables deep with a snake around the corner of the building – and it may not have a world class view but I’ll take a fresh breeze on a Wednesday any way I can get it. Before seating me I was impressed that the host took the trouble to re-adjust the umbrella so both Jill and I would be able to sit in the shade. (Lunch hour or not – it’s hard to claim productivity when you leave the office at the end of the day with more freckles than when you arrived.) 

Jill and her adorable 6-week old baby Maya arrived shortly afterwards and we quickly got settled. By which I mean we spent so much time catching up we completely ignored the menu for far too long. Our waiter Daniel was in no rush. He was friendly and relaxed, making sure a full bread basket arrived at our table promptly. (Servers! If there is ever an 8-month pregnant woman in your section, don’t even bother asking if she wants a bread basket. Just make sure one materializes with a quickness.) At this point, I could happily make a meal out of slices of bread and good quality butter but better sense prevailed. Jill and I managed to dig into the menu, which boasts a variety of flavors.

Liberty Tavern’s menu is perhaps best know for wood-fired pizza. The Staten Island Pie, with mozzarella, san marzano tomotoes, provolone and basil, looked especially appealing but a touch too greasy for a warm spring afternoon. One of the fresh soups, a split pea puree with creme fraiche, caught my eye as a tasty vichyssoise variation but we were informed it is served warm so it also missed the cut.

So what did I get? Two words: homemade pastrami.

Instead, I opted for the “Primanti Brothers” sandwich with housemade pastrami. Primanti Brothers is a sandwich chain famous in the Pittsburg area for a pile-it-on style of sandwich. They typically including all the sides you’d expect from a diner style sandwich like coleslaw and fries, including between two slices of bread. Served on Italian bread, it wasn’t so much the flavor piling but the words “housemade pastrami” that pushed me over the edge.

The result was a flavorful, if messy, sandwich. The homemade bread was soft and delicious but could barely contain the meat-fries-coleslaw-tomato combo. The pastrami was tender and flavorful, the coleslaw crisp and vinegary, and the fries… were there. I’m not much for food piling but it was entertaining enough. 

The surprises didn’t stop with the sandwiches. Once our table was cleared, our server brought us a sample of a new dessert option from the dinner menu – a creme fraiche cheesecake topped with strawberry rhubarb gelee and a shortcake cookie. The cookie was a little tough to cut with a fork but the decadent cheesecake and fresh spring berry will make up for just about anything.

Liberty Tavern isn’t exactly new on the Clarendon scene but it is another great addition to a line up of delicious options on and around Wilson Boulevard. I look forward to a return trip soon.

Liberty Tavern
3195 Wilson Blvd
Arlington, VA 22201
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