Slav is in the air at Ze Mean Bean

September 15, 1995|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Sun Restaurant Critic

Ze Mean Bean may be the ultimate in trendy "fusion" restaurants. It offers both Slavic specialties and coffee house fare. For example, your sandwich of roast turkey, Brie and sprouts comes with -- I'm not kidding -- a side of pirogi (potato and cheese dumplings).

Fells Point's newest coffee bar doesn't look all that trendy, although it's a very appealing spot, newly renovated and quite comfortable. In the center of the dining room is a fine red brocade Victorian couch with a potted palm or two around it. It gives the room a kind of funky dignity, as if the lobby of a grand hotel had been filled with cafe tables.

In the background, Cat Stevens is singing; we're drinking raspberry Italian sodas and studying the menu. Owner Yvonne Dornic has hired a Ukrainian and a Polish cook to create the Slavic specialties; her mother bakes the bread and some of the pastries. The salads and sandwiches are made on the premises.

If I were you, I'd forget about ordering a sandwich. It is, after all, just a grilled chicken sandwich even if it does come with mango salsa. Zero in on the Slavic food.

Start with a bowl of borscht, the thin, faintly sweet beet broth filled with fat little dumplings and topped with a dollop of sour cream. There's homemade white bread on the side. (Unfortunately this evening it's a little stale.)

You must have the pirogi. The potato and cheese are wonderful; these traditional dumplings also come with just cheese, sauerkraut or fruit filling. For that matter, you must have the holupki -- fat cabbage rolls stuffed with seasoned ground beef and rice bathed in a delicate, fresh-tasting tomato sauce.

On another night the potato pancakes might be as good as the rest of the Slavic cuisine; this night they have too much pepper and no salt at all.

Now this isn't the lightest food in the world, but it's impossible not to order dessert when the fresh apple pie has just come out of the oven. It's as good as advertised; very spicy, so it tastes more like mince pie than traditional apple.

You can also get the deadly rich chocolate chip pecan pie or various nut breads. Our waitress rhapsodizes about the mile-high carrot cake but then admits Ze Mean Bean doesn't have any tonight.

If all this is more dessert than you want after several fried potato pancakes with sour cream and apple sauce, not to mention a cabbage roll or two, remember that this is an espresso bar as well as a restaurant. You could also finish your meal with something light: A cappuccino, perhaps, and some almond biscotti.

Ze Mean Bean

Where: 1739-41 Fleet St.

Hours: 8 a.m. until 9 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, until 10 p.m. Wednesday, until midnight Thursday, until 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday, until 10 p.m. Sunday

Credit cards accepted: No

Features: Slavic food, sandwiches

Call: (410) 410-675-5999

Prices: $2.25-$6

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