Zen of 'za

Grab a pie and chill at this calm, cool neighborhood sanctuary


Fusing the relaxed air of a trippy café with the obliging warmth of a neighborhood mom-and-pop joint, the Social Chameleon is the sort of eatery you like the moment you enter. Its pervading bohemian cutesiness, the genial, laid-back staff and the invitingly eclectic garden all foster an immediate sense of comfort and make losing track of time a foregone, albeit desirable, conclusion. Even if food quality languished amid levels of mediocrity, the restaurant would be worth a visit thanks to an extensive offering of microbrews and organic wines. But chef-owner Bret Ashman appears to be as deft with the rolling pin as he is with the paintbrush, and if the diverse selection of libations are enough to fill the seats, his signature pizzas keep patrons glued to them.

Finding the place isn't too difficult, unless you've never been to the Bull & Bush. The Chameleon sits adjacent to the venerable British pub, across from the enormous T.G. Lee Dairy building. The address has changed hands about as often as a chameleon's epidermis, though you may recall the diminutive space serving tasty Venezuelan arepas five or so years ago when it was Rica Arepa.

We chose to dine outside in the charming, curio-filled garden, where various herbs and vegetables sprout amid cozy umbrella'd nooks. A refreshing glass of sangria ($3.50) seemed an appropriate quencher for the 'Mediterranean experienceâ?� ($4.85), a peppery plating of naan layered with red onions, roasted red peppers, cukes, tomatoes and a feta vinaigrette. Olives were noticeably absent, but the ingredients meshed well with the slightly spicy flatbread (the sort you buy from Whole Foods, not the type you'd get at an Indian restaurant). A dollop of delightful mashed potato accompanied the dish, as did a grape leaf, cut in half. After tasting the grape leaves, stuffed with organic rice, mint and lemon, you'll be hard-pressed not to order a whole portion; dipping them into the turmeric-hued curry-cucumber yogurt sauce only enhances the crave-worthy flavors.

Pizza comprises the greater part of the small-bites menu, with ingredient combinations changing daily and prices holding steady under $10. The menu states that ingredients are 'hand-selected, farm-fresh and/or organic when possible,â?� and that assurance parlays to the palate. The 7-inch personal-size Athenian pizza ($6.85) is liberally garnished with spinach, feta, artichoke hearts, tomatoes and roasted chicken and baked with a five-cheese blend. The 12-inch costs a fraction more at $8.85, but either way you size it, this is seriously good thin-crust pizza. The moon hit my eye as I bit into a slice of the meatloaf pie ($8.90 for 12-inch; $6.90 for 7-inch), but I was blinded by the bite of the barbecue-tinged meat. That's a roundabout way of saying that this pizza, topped with red onions and roasted red peppers, thoroughly satisfied as well.

On the sweeter side, the tongue-piercing acerbity of the key lime pie ($3.10) was a bit too much for me; the fresh-baked ice cream sandwich ($4.15), fashioned from thin slices of chocolate pound cake, was much more to my liking. You can choose from house-made strawberry, toffee-nut or caramel ice cream, though no matter which you choose, you might want a bigger serving. Skimping on ice cream seems churlish in the heart of the Milk District.


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