Greenhouse Cafe offers an impressive lunch for less than $10

RESTAURANTS

September 25, 1992|By Elizabeth Large BTC | Elizabeth Large BTC,Restaurant Critic

It was obvious why the restaurant that used to be on the second level of the Gallery didn't make it. Most people want a quick meal at lunchtime, and those that don't don't really want to eat their prime rib next to the escalators in a shopping mall.

So Diane and Anthony Chiaro moved into the space with their Greenhouse Cafe. They did their market research first, and found what people wanted. "Most of us can't afford to spend $10 for lunch," Ms. Chiaro says, "It's too much. People want inexpensive, better-than-greasy fast food, a lunch that's healthy. Food as opposed to junk food."

They came up with a modular concept: a salad area, a pasta area, a small sandwich area stuck in between, and a bakery where you can get pastries, cappuccino and the like. You can have a "lite bite" for $3.98 -- half a sandwich, a small salad or soup and a small drink. Or if you order the most expensive full-meal salad and a drink, you could spend as much as $6.45.

The cafeteria-style arrangement is confusing at first, particularly because it's so crowded at lunchtime. If you get in the salad line you choose your type of salad, and one of the women behind the counter mixes it while you watch. The Mediterranean salad ($4.75), for instance, has more lettuce than most people can finish, olives, pasta, tuna, red onion and your choice of dressings. (Other choices might be Caesar, chicken Waldorf or garden.) You'll be impressed by the sheer size of these salads and their freshness, if not their unusual ingredients.

Salads come with foccaccia, which the Greenhouse calls bread sticks so as not to scare off the uninitiated. The foccaccia, though, could be better. (If you want to try foccaccia at its best, visit the Stone Mill Bakery in Mount Washington.) Still, the Greenhouse isn't striving for gourmet fare; and this kind of lunch is surely a more virtuous choice than a greasy cheese steak. (Of course, a greasy cheese steak has its own virtues . . .)

Order pasta and the chef heats up one of five sauces like Bolognese or alfredo in a skillet and tosses precooked pasta (one of four different kinds) with the sauce until it's hot. Amazingly enough, the pasta manages not to be overcooked, and the half order of ziti with a homemade tomato sauce ($3.25) was as big a portion as you'd want for lunch.

Sandwiches are good, too, although definitely a minor part of the operation. I've tried chicken salad on foccaccia and rare roast beef, and can recommend both.

Some of the pastries and cookies are baked on the premises; the Chiaros plan to expand that part of the operation soon. Meanwhile you'll find cookies the size of dinner plates and cappuccino for a reasonable $2. It's a good place to stop by and have afternoon tea when you're tired of shopping.

The Greenhouse Cafe

Where: The Gallery, Pratt and Calvert streets.

Hours: 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays; 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays.

Credit cards accepted: None.

Features: Salads and pasta.

Non-smoking section? Yes.

Call: (410) 727-6355.

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