Chairlift reminds me of Mary Poppins: It's practically perfect in every way.
From delicious food and a trendy location to a work-friendly setting for both solo tasks and business meetings, Chairlift has become one of my go-to lunch destinations. I'm halfway hopeful nobody will read this review so that no lines will form at this dreamy Scott's Addition spot.
The cafe is owned by the same team behind Brenner Pass: Brittanny Anderson, Olivia Wilson, James Kohler, Nathan Conway and Brad Hemp. Chairlift particularly benefits from Wilson's superior skills as a pastry chef — the bakery case is a rotating wonderland of sweet and savory treats.
- Scott Elmquist
The natural light, pale fixtures and quiet music create a soothing atmosphere. Chairlift isn't buzzy or loud, even when crowded. Eating here is an opportunity to carve out a relaxing part of the day. Several times I've gone in for an afternoon tea or snack, intending to take my order back to the office, yet inevitably settled into a seat to take a breather instead.
The lighting deserves a shoutout for making your food pictures sing, no filters required. Wending our way through the narrow passage into the back room was a little tight, especially when people were seated at the side counter.
- Scott Elmquist
Guests can order pre-made savory pastries and quiches or choose from a handful of made-to-order sandwiches and salads from the menu, with breakfast served until 2:30 p.m. The food is outstanding — simple, balanced, flavorful and pretty.
For one lunch, we enjoyed the umami savoriness of the breakfast mushroom, fried egg, arugula and provolone on brioche. The rare roast beef sandwich with smooth provolone was sharpened by horseradish. The grilled cheese on sourdough was gooey with Gruyere, Emmenthaler and Taleggio, offset by a tangy-sweet carrot jam. The tuna sandwich was a composed salad nicoise on a baguette, with tomato anchovy aioli, olive tapenade and a sliced hard-boiled egg. Most sandwiches came with arugula — a welcome change from bland lettuce.
Our generous side salads included mixed greens from Manakintowne Specialty Growers, baby kale and spring pea shoots. Make sure to end your lunch with a cookie — any flavor, like the oatmeal-raisin or the triple chocolate and fig. They are all spectacular.
- Scott Elmquist
- Chairlift co-owner Olivia Wilson brings her pastry skills to the cafe with a rotating selection of baked goods like breads, quiches, cookies, caneles and turnovers.
The counter service is friendly and attentive. Servers take the time to answer questions about the pastries in the glass case. I usually explain that I have an almond allergy, and the servers have always gone back to the kitchen to double check on ingredients. Their attention paid off twice, when I selected items that the server didn't think included almonds, but the kitchen confirmed they did.
Servers bring food to the tables, but the rest of the service is minimal. Utensils don't come out with the food, which made for an awkward moment for some first-timers when soup and salads arrived and they hunted around for silverware and napkins, which are at stations in each dining area. Guests bus their own tables.
Free Wi-Fi, good lighting and quiet background coffee shop noises make Chairlift a great destination for work. As a meeting space, it has a calm feeling that lends itself to quiet conversation. The back-room tables are far enough apart for privacy, and sounds don't carry in the room. There are eight tables for four, although one of the larger tables seems to be a dedicated staff workspace.
As a solo work space, Chairlift's chairs are a little minimalistic for a long-term commitment, but your laptop battery will likely die before your butt gets tired. There are several bar-height tables for two by the ordering counter windows, which are great spots to get some work done.
Street parking can be a challenge in this crowded part of Scott's Addition, but there are usually spaces available — marked "commercial only" — in the lot behind Brenner Pass. Chairlift has a back entrance from this lot. There is also a handy bike rack at the parking lot entrance.
Ordering at the counter moves quickly, and we got our dishes within minutes. My hot tea seemed to take forever, but the server explained that they let it steep for several minutes — much preferred to bringing me a tea bag and tin pitcher of lukewarm water. When I've been with groups ordering full lunch, the entire meal would have taken only half an hour if we hadn't dawdled over conversation to make the pleasant experience last.
I paid less than I expected for food this good in a picturesque setting. In fact, lunch here was cheaper than a full-sized sandwich and salad at Panera. The large breakfast sandwiches at Chairlift are a real value at $8. Lunch sandwiches, which each come with a large side salad, cost $12. The grilled cheese was $10. A fist-sized cookie is $2.50.
A working lunch is often a trade-off between price, noise level, service and food quality. Chairlift nails all of them, with quiet panache.
Chairlift at Brenner Pass
3200 Rockbridge St., Suite 101
Mondays - Saturdays 8 a.m. - 6 p.m.