Java Joe's Gourmet Corner is one of a new breed of sandwich shops opening around the city. Once Baltimoreans were content with corned beef on rye and a Coke for lunch; then they discovered cappuccino. But just because they've become addicted to a fancy Italian coffee drink doesn't necessarily mean they want to spend big bicks on an elaborate pasta dish for lunch.
What Baltimore needs are more places that are as at home serving chicken salad sandwiches as cafe latte and biscotti. That's where Java Joe's fits in.
How trendy is it? Well, its gum machine contains chocolate espresso beans. And most sandwich shops don't have explosive original paintings on the walls, or an inflatable sculpture of Edvard Munch's "The Scream" in the corner.
Not to give you the wrong impression: The rafters are hung with pretty little baskets and the shelves are full of gourmet goodies. It's actually a very cheerful place. Light floods in the big glass windows, and there are cute little cafe tables (seven of them) on three different levels and four stools at the coffee bar.
The food, for the most part, is standard deli fare, but with a touch of pizazz. For one thing, Java Joe's gets good bread; both the sourdough and the rye we tried tasted fresh-baked and homey.
Ingredients are high quality, if not exciting. A chicken salad sandwich, for instance, was all white meat, large chunks of it piled high on soft, fresh sourdough.
Most of the sandwiches aren't that simple. The menu featurelots of concoctions with clever names like the Pigtail (roast pork in a mesquite barbecue sauce). Except for one sandwich involving roast beef, all are priced under $5. We tried the &L Saratoga, a '90s update of the corned beef on rye (for those of you who don't think corned beef is good for your arteries). The smoked turkey had plenty of flavor to stand up to the melted Swiss cheese, Russian dressing and coleslaw on the crusty-soft rye.
If you don't feel like a sandwich, Java Joe's gets excellent quiches from Ms. Desserts. You can choose from three vegetarian ones and quiche Lorraine with ham. Even reheated in the microwave they remain creamy, with a fine crust. But if you like a little green salad with your quiche, you're out of luck. Java Joe's does have salads, but when we ate there, the choice was pasta or sesame noodles.
That's about it for lunch fare, except for a soup of the day. The day we were there, it was a comfortable chicken noodle soup with plenty of chicken and broad egg noodles.
The soup comes in a cardboard container and the sandwiches are served on paper plates, but with coffee you get a handsome white china cup.
Coffee is important here; this is as much a coffee bar as a sandwich shop. Like the other coffee bars in the city, Java Joe's seems to have its own definition of the varieties -- coffee con leche, for instance, is made with steamed milk, while cappuccino is made with frothed milk and cafe latte is made with both. All the varieties I tried were strong and flavorful. If you prefer regular coffee, there's always a flavor of the day.
Of course, if you have coffee you have to have dipping cookies, scones, croissants and pastries. Java Joe's has a complete selection from a variety of bakers. As at any good coffee shop, patrons are encouraged to linger over coffee and dessert.
Where: Charles Plaza, 222 N. Charles St.
Hours: 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.
Credit cards accepted: No.
Features: Sandwiches, gourmet coffee.
Non-smoking section? No.
Call: (410) 727-4007.
Sandwich prices: $4.25-$5.25.