Two Summer Cafes For Sizzling Days


July 11, 1993|By ELIZABETH LARGE

Summer is the season for cafes. Even when they don't have outdoor tables, cafes are summer places -- they serve the kind of light, casual fare you want most when the weather is hot.

Just in time for the dog days, two appealing little places have opened up in Baltimore. The Cafe Drubay in Cross Keys and the Metropol Cafe on Charles Street are very different; but the owners have in common an appreciation for simple but good food, and a desire to share it with others.

Cafe Drubay, 38 Village Square, Village of Cross Keys, (410) 323-2233. Open Mondays to Saturdays for breakfast, lunch and supper. Cash only. No smoking inside. Wheelchair accessible: yes. Prices: $4.25-$7.50.

I love the concept of sidewalk cafes, but Baltimore doesn't have wide sidewalks. Sometimes you feel as if you're sipping your iced cappuccino in the middle of a traffic jam. Not so at the Cafe Drubay, which has eight tables in Cross Key's tree-lined "village square." The traffic is foot traffic only; the tables are always shaded.

Inside is equally appealing. In the space where the Crazy Carrot used to be, Cafe Drubay owners Phillipe and Alexa Fong Drubay have created a crisp, clean black, white and chrome dining area. A large, curved bar and serving area runs along two sides. (Cafe Drubay started off as an espresso-wine bar, but nowadays the emphasis seems to be on the food.) Mirrors and black and white French posters decorate the walls; shelves hold a few gourmet items for sale.

The food is limited to salads, sandwiches and cold plates, what ** the Drubays call "Euro-American cuisine." That means, for instance, a "French country plate" with a good, hearty pate, paper-thin slices of sausage and rolls of ham. It's arranged on a stylish black polygon plate with cornichons and a sturdy multigrain roll. That's the Euro part; with it you could have a very American slice of warm chocolate-pecan pie with freshly whipped cream.

Or take the Chesapeake salad, which begins with what's sold as "Euromix" salad greens in gourmet food stores. The cafe adds ripe cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, tiny bay scallops and a sharp, pleasant vinaigrette.

dTC The choice of sandwiches is limited, but they have pizazz. Turkey breast came on a fresh baguette and was jazzed up with a good curried mayonnaise. Least successful of anything we tried was the soup of the day, yellow squash. It was pleasant enough, but you'd get the same effect pureeing cooked squash with chicken broth. It got a little monotonous after a while.

Cafe Drubay has croissants, bagels and muffins for a Continental breakfast, and all sorts of coffees and coffee drinks for any time. Check out the killer desserts, too. Cafe Drubay makes its own moist, rich tiramisu, but perhaps you'd prefer simply a madeleine or two with your cafe au lait.

Metropol Cafe and Gallery, 1713 N. Charles St., (410) 385-3018. Open Wednesdays to Sundays for supper, coffee and dessert. No smoking. Wheelchair accessible: yes. Prices: $4-$8.

Cafe Drubay has a sleek professionalism about it; the Metropol is completely different animal. The food is imaginative and good, but the service is so laid-back it's almost non-existent. That's fine if you have the evening to kill and don't mind lingering. I wouldn't come here, though, if I wanted to be sure of getting anywhere on time.

Owners Odessa Dunson and Barbara Lahnstein smoke their own chicken over hickory, and shrimp over apple wood. Salmon is cured with cognac and dill, then smoked over apple wood. The smoked items are the backbone of a very simple menu that also includes curried rice and a variety of pies made from locally supplied goat cheese.

It's all served in a setting that has a certain shoestring charm. A bold, Caribbean-looking mural covers one wall. The floors are black and white linoleum, the tables faux marble. That large room in back, larger than the dining room, is the art gallery. The kitchen, what there is of it, is right there behind the cases filled with smoked meats and scrumptious desserts.

Those huge, incredibly rich individual tarts -- chocolate ganache, three-nut, apple almond -- are baked daily by a young woman in Charles Village. (She made a delivery while we were there.) And someone named Pedro came in with a large wicker basket full of what he called Spanish bread, which turned out to have lots of delicious multigrain crunch. It must be the cornmeal.

We sampled a spinach-goat cheese pie in phyllo, which had a fine flavor but was greasy. A kebab of smoked chicken, grapes, yellow pepper and onion tasted good but was a bit skimpy. But there was more than enough of the spicy-hot rice, curried with peas and raisins, to fill us up.

Freshly smoked salmon with a honey mustard sauce would have been just about perfect if its bed of lettuce hadn't been gritty -- the kind of problem that usually gets ironed out as time passes (and enough customers scream about it).

The Metropol Cafe doesn't have a liquor license; but it does have lots of specialty coffee drinks, loose-leaf tea by the pot, and natural sodas. (No Cokes here.) You can also get an excellent lemonade, made fresh while you watch. Now what could be more summery than that?

Next: M. Gettier

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