Diversity's on menu, whether it's deli, dietary or the devilish desserts

December 04, 1992|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Restaurant Critic

Consider the corned beef sandwich. Almost nothing beats the taste of a great corned beef sandwich on rye with maybe some good mustard and freshly made coleslaw. The Natural Gourmet Classics' version might be considered a heresy -- why mess with a good thing? But glazed corned beef sandwich is the special, and if you'll approach it with an open mind, you're in for a treat. The corned beef is hot, juicy and incredibly tender, with a fruit glaze that's sweet but not overwhelmingly so. Have it on the soft,fresh seven-grain bread with a little spicy mustard.

Consider the corned beef sandwich. Almost nothing beats the taste of a great corned beef sandwich on rye with maybe some good mustard and freshly made coleslaw. The Natural Gourmet Classics' version might be considered a heresy -- why mess with a good thing? But if you're lucky enough to be there when the glazed corned beef sandwich is the special, and if you'll approach it with an open mind, you're in for a treat. The corned beef is hot, juicy and incredibly tender, with a fruit glaze that's sweet but not overwhelmingly so. Have it on the soft, fresh seven-grain bread with a little spicy mustard.

Think about it: How many places can you get a good, healthy seven-grain bread and delicious, artery-choking corned beef? I can name only one: the Natural Gourmet Classics.

Now about that name. Surely it's the most impossible-to-remember name of any restaurant in Baltimore. I've had lunch there periodically for the last couple of years, and I still couldn't think of the name when I was telling a friend about it. Even its own awning has it wrong. (It says "Natural Classics Gourmet.")

Anyway, this is the place to go for lunch when neither of you wants to spend much money, but you have a craving for a fat deli sandwich and a sexy dessert while your very healthy friend insists on a salad and something like a vegetarian taco.

We're not talking fancy here. You order and pay at the counter and then take your meal to the tables in back. The choices are sandwiches, homemade soups, a taco bar, a salad bar and a variety of gourmet-to-go items that can be had for a more substantial lunch. The concept is good -- something for everyone. The problem is that the food can be quite uneven.

I skip the gourmet-to-go items, which are mostly pasta and potato salads with a few other dishes that aren't always well thought out (like turkey meatloaf the week after Thanksgiving). I've had good luck with the homemade soups, even though they aren't always what you expect. Tomato-basil turned out to be a tasty but too thick barley soup with a hint of tomato and basil. Butternut-white bean-ginger was delicious, with the beans giving body and the squash and ginger an edge of sweetness and spice.

Sandwiches are almost always satisfactory, although I've never yet had rare roast beef that was actually rare. But the breads are excellent, sliced while you watch; the condiments are high quality, like Dijon mustard; and the lettuce is romaine, not iceberg. If you feel roast beef isn't very healthy, have some sprouts on it. And you can always get those all-natural potato chips with sea salt or whatever.

The salad bar is inexpensive ($2.99 a pound) and quite odd. You never know what will be included. Certainly there will be lettuce and cherry tomatoes and grated carrots (somewhat sickly looking), but you may also find, say, feta cheese and fresh snow peas but no cucumber or green pepper. The dressings are pretty average.

For dessert, people line up for the Columbo frozen yogurt. But the baked goods are tempting, like a moist carrot cake with thick cream-cheese frosting and big cookies baked fresh on the premises. After all, if you've had a very healthy meal up to that point, you can afford to splurge on something like a nut-studded, caramel-dripping sticky bun.

Natural Gourmet Classics

Where: 334 N. Charles St.

Hours: Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Credit cards accepted: MC, V.

Features: Lunch.

Non-smoking section? No.

Call: (410) 547-0550.

Price range for lunch: $3.75-$4.50

** 1/2

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.