A couple of months ago the Baltimore Baking Co., a new lunch spot, opened on Gay Street. Formerly L'Ecole Restaurant, the BBC -- as it's known -- is the training ground for students at the Baltimore International Culinary College. There's an appealinA couple of months ago the Baltimore Baking Co., a new lunch spot, opened on Gay Street. Formerly L'Ecole Restaurant, the BBC -- as it's known -- is the training ground for students at the Baltimore International Culinary College. There's an appealing amateurish quality to it, as if your next-door neighbor who makes good lasagna and bakes a fabulous lemon meringue pie had decided to open a restaurant. No two garlic bread sticks look alike, for instance, but they taste mighty good.
As a customer, you're part of the learning experience. The maitre d', your waiter or waitress and the chef are all students. The money the restaurant makes helps fund scholarships for the school.
The BBC consists of a bakery in front, then a deli with a few tables behind it, and then in back a low-budget but surprisingly stylish little dining room with jazzy ceiling lights and soft colors. Two of the walls are mirrors, so the room reflects endlessly back on itself.
The school has tried different formats for its training restaurant, including elaborate lunch and dinner buffets. The BBC works better than any that came before: The bakery is bound to bring in a steady income; the New York style deli, which offers subs, soups and sandwiches to eat in or carry out, will attract people who work in the area; and if you want something a little more formal, you can order from the American and Italian cuisine served in the sit-down restaurant.
On the whole, the sit-down food is good, and the customer is certainly king. I complained that the seafood gumbo ($2.95), while full of mussels and shrimp, was unappetizingly thick. Our waitress said that it used to be thinner, but a customer had told them it was too thin so they changed it. When we exclaimed over a huge mound of french fries that no one could possibly finish, she explained that someone had once complained there weren't enough so now the chef had gone overboard the other way.
The french fries came with the Merchant's Club Crab Special ($9.95), a flavorful concoction of backfin crab meat tossed with a cream sauce and sherry and served with toast points. For a lighter lunch you might try one of the salads, such as the sesame chicken ($4.95). The large bowl of greens was arranged with strips of sesame-sparked boneless chicken breast, hard-boiled egg, tomatoes and cucumbers. The dressing was a honey-mustard that was too sweet for my taste; ask for the vinaigrette or creamy Parmesan instead.
Probably our most successful dish for looks and flavor was a first course of clams casino ($5.95), the clams tender and the bits of pepper, bread crumbs and bacon complementing rather than overwhelming them.
Speaking of looks, I'd like to see more attention paid to the presentation of the food. The thick gumbo was an unappetizing, unrelieved gray. The all-white crab dish could have used a sprinkle of chopped parsley for color; ditto a side order of sauteed carrots.
My only other complaint was that I wanted to leave our excellent student waitress a generous tip. But when I got my credit card slip, I found that the woman at the cash register had filled in 15 percent without warning me. Not only was that irritating, it cut down on the tip, which, as I understand it, goes straight to the scholarship fund.
Baltimore Baking Co.
Where: 19-21 S. Gay St.
Hours: Open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., table service from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.
Credit Cards: AE, MC, V.
Features: Lunch only.
Non-smoking section? Yes.
Call: (410) 752-1482.