Freddie's of Water Street is a fine coffeehouse for early birds

April 30, 1993|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Restaurant Critic

You expect coffeehouses to stay open late. That's the idea, isn't it? People are drinking less liquor, but they still want someplace to go after a party or after a movie. Freddie's customers, though, have to enjoy their Kenya AA or hazelnut cream decaf before 6, which is when the Water Street cafe closes.

Otherwise, Freddie's is the quintessential coffeehouse. Plenty of places have jumped on the bandwagon and offer a couple of gourmet coffees, cappuccino and espresso. But Freddie's sells the beans of everything from Jamaican Blue Mountain to Freddie's House Blend, and it offers a good selection of choices by the cup (actually wonderful old-fashioned coffee mugs).

It has French press coffee and cappuccino orgeat (almond flavored with whipped cream) and Cafesorbetto. This last is actually quite dreadful, but I have to mention it because it's Freddie's house special. It comes from Texas, it's made from soybeans -- God help us -- and it tastes like a gritty coffee milkshake.

Don't ask me why it's the house special when everything else we tried was good. The food is simple, but owner Fred Lahourcade is committed to using excellent ingredients and recipes are imaginative. Take the curried chicken salad. The julienne white meat is mixed not with the standard fruit, but with bright green peas and confetti-size bits of celery and red pepper. It works beautifully with its curry mayonnaise.

This is a sophisticated salad, but Freddie's can be down-home as well. My personal favorite is the hickory-smoked brisket sandwich with a dark, smoky, for-adults-only barbecue sauce on a fine roll. If you're not a purist, have it with tomato and lettuce. (Freddie's uses good, ripe tomatoes and romaine on its sandwiches.) You could accompany your sandwich with a side order of red-skinned potato salad or coleslaw made with crisp cabbage.

If you're lucky, the soup of the day will be the seafood bisque -- better than versions I've had at very fancy restaurants. It's the texture of light cream (and has that flavor, too). While it isn't overwhelmed with seafood, there's a respectable amount of crab and shrimp.

Freddie's also serves Mr. Lahourcade's award-winning "Flameout Gonzales" chili, which I'll try when it's not 80 degrees out. You can get bagels, muffins and scones for a continental breakfast. (Pastries and breads are baked in Freddie's kitchen.) We sampled an eclair -- pretty, but the pastry was tough -- and a superior creamy mocha cheesecake.

All these good things are served deli style. You place the order; when it's ready, the counter staff will carry your tray for you, especially if you're sitting downstairs. Both dining areas are decorated with various American memorabilia, yet the look is quite different. I prefer the cozier upstairs dining room.

The one mistake Freddie's makes is not having sidewalk seating. (At least it didn't a week ago.) The other eating places along Water Street do, but Freddie's just puts out a couple of stand-up tables. On a nice spring day, this quiet street is the perfect place for an al fresco lunch.

Freddie's of Water Street

Where: 106 Water St.

Hours: 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Credit cards accepted: MC, V.

Features: Coffees and light fare.

Non-smoking section? Yes.

Call: (410) 752-5757.

Prices: $2.40-$5.95.

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