Review: Whitebox Eatery in Clayton

Editor's note: Whitebox Eatery has closed.

At Clayton’s upscale Whitebox Eatery, originality and care go into every sandwich, soup and salad – yet the tastefully curated, subdued fare doesn’t always reach truly delicious heights.

roasted mushroom sandwich // photo by elizabeth maxson

All about the sandwich
Whitebox’s lunch menu is represented by more than a dozen sandwiches. My favorite was the roasted mushroom, starring tender cremini mushrooms and melted mozzarella with a tasty, nutty basil pesto. The panini-like ensemble was reminiscent of a slender grilled cheese sandwich. The menu’s actual grilled cheese plays second banana. It arrived to the table late, after the cheese had begun to congeal and harden. The kettle chips on the sandwich, a fun idea in theory, had been absorbed inside the brick of cheese and were no longer crunchy. The chipotle chicken salad sandwich is pinkish in hue, presumably from the peppers, with the barest whisper of heat. The pan Cubano bread is the scene-stealer here; sourced from Breadsmith, it’s one of the softest and chewiest I’ve had. The sandwich lineup stands on the freshness of the meat. The ham is baked, the beef roasted and the tuna poached in-house, and you can taste the quality.

Soup's on (and off)
The roasted chicken noodle soup flexes its muscles with a rich, delicious house-made stock. A smoked tomato bisque was creamy, but the tomato flavor itself was strangely absent. The chili, while generous with the ground beef, was soupy instead of thick and served with a disappointingly dry cornbread mini-muffin.

Salad salute
Mediterranean potato salad was a filling, satisfying choice for winter. Arugula, slices of boiled potato, chopped egg, roasted red pepper and kalamata olives were united by an herb vinaigrette, which balanced the bitterness of the arugula. The house Whitebox salad was also a winner. Its stellar yogurt-and-herb dressing marries chopped egg, blue cheese, garlic croutons, cherry tomatoes, peas, corn and avocado in chopped lettuce.

pain au chocolat // photo by elizabeth maxson

Dough pros
The pastry counter here is no afterthought. A goat cheese-tomato-herb tart offers a near-acre of decadent herbed goat cheese filling lusciously topped with tomatoes. The pain au chocolate is a double-barreled shotgun of buttery dough filled with two separate bursts of molten chocolate. A double-chocolate cookie, made with almond flour, marked a rare moment when the gluten-free version tasted better than the original; it was as chocolate-y and chewy as a fudge brownie. And then there are those delightful Vincent Van Doughnuts in an ever-changing rotation of flavors. They’re made daily by Brian Marsden, brother to Whitebox owner Brendan Marsden. Talk about a talented family. Whatever treat you order, ask the staff to heat it in the toaster oven. The warmed version was always superior.

whitebox eatery interior // photo by elizabeth maxson

Classy ambience & speedy service
Presentation is a big deal here, encompassing both the food and aesthetics. From the stylish banquettes to the light fixtures to the rhomboidal serving plates, this is a place to be seen. Whitebox is, after all, only a few limousine-lengths west of the Ritz-Carlton. Still, the restaurant keeps some things casual, like counter ordering with tableside delivery. This is where the industry is trending, and it works. The kitchen and servers were fast and friendly.

The Takeaway
Everything at Whitebox is inventive, classy and serviceable. Yet like the restaurant’s name, what emerges from the kitchen sometimes tastes more bland than big-time. It would be gratifying to see its sandwiches and soups taken to the same level as its salads and pastries.