Sutton Place is the gourmet cafe to end all gourmet cafes. It's also the gourmet deli to end all gourmet delis, the gourmet carry-out to end all gourmet carry-outs and, as a matter of fact, the gourmet supermarket to . . . well, you get the idea.
My mother, that arbiter of good taste in both senses of the words, always insisted that if you didn't make your own mayonnaise, you bought Hellman's. The other brands had (gasp) sugar in them. So you can imagine how struck I was by the fact that under "Condiments Available" on the menu Sutton Place lists Hellman's mayonnaise by brand name. Along with the sun-dried tomatoes, the gourmet mustards and, of course, the brie cheese.
Actually I like this place very much, as I would any eating spot that has so many freshly baked breads to choose from, such a passion for fresh fruits and vegetables, and such an understanding of just how good casual food can be when it's fixed properly. Sure, Sutton Place is part of a chain of gourmet supermarkets/cafes/carry-outs. But nothing seems mass produced.
What I don't like is that you must eat at an off-hour or you'll first wait in a long line to get seated and then find that your waitress is overworked and therefore inattentive. Plus, when the pretty, light-filled eating space is crowded, it's noisy and somewhat claustrophobic. But that's about all I can think of that was wrong with our lunch at the cafe.
The sandwich menu is extensive, with hot and cold selections, seafood, meat and even seven vegetarian choices. Typical is the Hye Roller ($5.95), an unusual and appealing combination of Armenian flat bread rolled around turkey, Boursin cheese, tomatoes and sun-dried tomatoes, romaine lettuce and paper-thin cucumber slices.
The soup of the day ($2.50) was French onion, with a not-too-salty broth that let the sweet flavor of the onions come through; the generous melted-cheese crust was jazzed up with Parmesan. Even something as simple as a house salad ($3.25) was made with beautiful fresh produce: a variety of lettuces, including radicchio, raw vegetables that didn't dominate the rest of the salad, and an excellent vinaigrette fragrant with fresh basil.
Each day has a few specials such as fresh salmon (Sutton Place has its own fish market) with rice and asparagus, and lighter meals like the spinach and mushroom quiche ($5.95) I ordered. The crust, so tender it would have fallen apart if I looked at it hard, had a soft custard filling in just the right proportion to the vegetables. The quiche was arranged with cut-up fresh fruit, including honeydew and cantaloupe, grapes, strawberries and raspberries.
Details are attended to as carefully as the more important parts of your meal. An orange juice and club soda was made with
freshly squeezed orange juice. Freshly baked French bread was served with sweet butter.
I have to admit neither of us had room even to taste dessert. But I couldn't pass up the good-looking pastries, so I stopped at Sutton Place's bakery after we paid our check and sampled them later. This let me have a napoleon, a brownie and an opera bar (espresso-soaked cake and chocolate ganache) all to myself. The handsome napoleon was strangely chewy, as if it had sat around in the bakery case too long, but the last two were superb.
Alas, I'm not the first to discover the Cafe at Sutton Place. Maybe everyone in Baltimore knows about it -- it sure seemed as if they were all eating there the day we had lunch in the cafe.
Cafe at Sutton Place Gourmet
Where: 1809 Reisterstown Road., Festival at Woodholme.
Hours: Mondays through Saturdays 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Sundays 9 '' a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Credit cards accepted: AE, MC, V.
Features: Casual fare.
Non-smoking section? No smoking allowed.
Call: (410) 484-5501.