Cafe Diana: a friendly place that's not for women only

January 14, 1994|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Restaurant Critic

My only hesitation about calling Cafe Diana a feminist restaurant is that readers might think men won't be welcome here, which isn't true at all.

Cafe Diana is owned by Page Miller and Woman Rising Inc., a group of 24 women who, according to chef Ava Prater, "wanted to create a safe place for women to come in and have a cup of coffee in a smoke-free, alcohol-free atmosphere."

But because the food is homey, good and inexpensive, men (many of them Hopkins students) and Charles Village families make up a large part of the clientele.

The cafe is located in a Charles Street apartment house. It's nothing fancy, although the building itself provides some interesting architectural details. The floors are black and white linoleum, the walls are painted gray, the counter and a refrigerator case dominate the main dining room, and some discreet pictures on the walls honor famous women. It's a friendly place, with a relaxed atmosphere.

I took it as a good sign that the cafe gets its baguettes and focaccia from Stone Mill, one of our best local bakeries. And on the whole, the other food lived up to the bread. Homemade soups are thick, hearty and made with vegetable stocks. (In general, this isn't a vegetarian restaurant. Diary products, chicken, turkey and tuna fish are served, but no red meat.)

Sandwiches and salads make up the bulk of the menu. The Caesar salad is a must-have: It's made with fresh, crisp romaine, homemade croutons, Parmesan and an addictively good dressing. Anchovies are optional.

There are also a few hot dishes each day. I had one of the best quiches I've had at a restaurant, with a rich, creamy custard and a fine crust. And I loved Aimee's warm, fruit-studded kugel. ("Aimee begged to have her name on the menu," I was told.) The broccoli lasagna with white sauce was excellent, and the quesadillas, made with Monterey jack and other cheeses, tomatoes and onions, work as either appetizer or dinner. Other possibilities that night were bow-tie pasta with pesto and eggplant lasagna with red sauce.

About all I can complain about was an Italian vegetable soup that was a little too heavy on the lentils and Italian seasoning. Now that I think about it, Cafe Diana could do better with its Key lime pie, which had stabilizer in the whipped topping. (It stood out because everything else seems so non-preserved.) And a gorgeous chocolate cake would have been even better if it had been a day younger.

My guess is that the beautiful desserts in the case aren't the cafe's best sellers: People who come here for meatless lasagna are probably drawn to the homier desserts like that kugel. And if they don't appeal, you can finish up with one of Cafe Diana's cappuccinos or other trendy coffee drinks.

Cafe Diana

Where: 3215 N. Charles St.

Hours: Mondays to Thursdays, 7:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Fridays, 7:30 a.m. to midnight; Saturdays, 9 a.m. to midnight; Sundays, 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Credit cards accepted: No

Features: Light fare

Non-smoking section? No smoking

Call: (410) 889-1319

Prices: Around $5

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