At Borders, the table of contents can include everything but lunch @

RESTAURANTS

September 17, 1993|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Restaurant Critic

Borders Espresso Bar

Where: Towson Commons, 415 York Road

Hours: 9 a.m.-10:45 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 7:45 p.m. Sundays

Credit cards accepted: Major credit cards

Features: Light fare

Non-smoking section? No smoking any time

Call: (410) 296-0791

** 1/2

Very few people just eat at Borders Book Shop Espresso Bar. If they don't have their noses buried in shiny new books from the bookstore, they're reading the newspapers from the coffee bar's rack. A mother reads to her child as he consumes cookies and milk. She's sipping a cappuccino. Mozart plays softly in the background.

It seems downright mean to complain about the food at such a pleasant place, let alone review it. But since Borders opened last December, the chain's trademark coffee bar has started serving mini-meals.

The food is imaginative but limited. (Except for the desserts, which include every indulgence you can imagine, from a chocolate cookie heart half-iced with white chocolate to a lemon cream cheese cake. And much more.) For breakfast there are danish, croissants, bagels and cream cheese, all sorts of gourmet coffees and teas, and juice. For lunch you might have soup, pasta salad, quiche, a "veggie tortilla," or a powerhouse sandwich.

Lunch is not, frankly, the meal to get here. When we stopped in, the gazpacho soup was served at room temperature and tasted like it was seasoned with chili powder, although it was a nice mixture of chopped vegetables. A slice of Cajun chicken quiche would have been fine except that it had been microwaved too long, so the custard was a little rubbery and the crust soft.

Worst of all was an exceptionally sprouty powerhouse sandwich, with two thin slices of provolone, romaine, long ovals of zucchini, tomato and more alfalfa sprouts than all the rest of the ingredients combined stuffed into pita. No mayonnaise, no vinaigrette, so it was quite dry. When I asked for something I got a package of Ken's Lite Italian to squeeze on it. That helped the sandwich some, but not the espresso bar's image.

But having lunch here meant we got coupons for the espresso bar's new afternoon tea, which started Sept. 1 and is served every Wednesday afternoon from 3 to 4:30. With the coupon, it was half price, $3.25. Reservations are necessary.

Two violinists were playing Bach when I arrived for tea. I presented my coupon and paid, then chose my tea: Darjeeling, gunpowder green or Russian caravan. No tea bags here, but little individual pots with diffusers filled with loose tea. Then I found the table that had been reserved for me and sat down.

Pretty soon I was brought the tea -- an excellent Darjeeling -- a plate of savories and a plate of sweets. I could have done without the indifferent pate, but other than that everything worked: a torta of sun-dried tomatoes, cream cheese and pesto with water crackers. Delicious little meringues stuck together with raspberry jam. A tiny pastry swan filled with cream cheese. A tartlet with one mandarin orange slice and one slice of kiwi. A large chocolate dipped strawberry.

If you aren't a tea drinker, go to Borders any time for excellent, strong cappuccino and fancy desserts. Or start the day with a fresh bagel and a cafe latte. Just think twice about lunch.

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