Lunch brings memories of things past

February 02, 1997|By Rob Kasper | Rob Kasper,SUN STAFF

I TOOK A TRIP down memory alley the other day. I walked along North Lovegrove Street in downtown Baltimore to buy a sandwich at Sascha's Catering.

Anyone who knows the geography of this slice of Baltimore knows the 500 block of Lovegrove St. is a slanting stretch of alley running parallel to North Charles Street, starting at Hamilton Street near the kitchen entrance to Tio Pepe restaurant and going downhill until it hits Centre street just above the Midtown Yacht Club restaurant.

And anyone who walks this alley probably knows Sascha Wolhandler. A self-described "alley goddess," she has been dispensing flavorful food and saucy wit from here and other spots around Baltimore for the past 20 years.

"I have been in business long enough that I am now catering people's second weddings," Sascha told me during my visit. Then, delivering a piece of palaver to go with my chicken salad with grapes and walnuts, Sascha added that she has been reassuring second-time brides who want to serve the same style of food at their second weddings as they did the first time around.

"I tell them the same menu would be fine, that the food is not an omen," Sascha said. "But if there gets to be a third wedding then we'll talk."

Opening her doors to the street trade marks the return of an old habit for Sascha. Years ago, Sascha's was open for the walk-in lunch crowd. But as its catering business grew, it relied more on organized eating -- corporate meals or large telephone orders -- for the bulk of its business. The place in the alley stopped its carryout business.

Now Sascha's is welcoming lunchtime visitors again. It reopened its doors at the end of January and will remain open through March. This period is the annual quiet time in the catering season. The carryout trade "keeps us busy, but employed," said Quinn Appleby, the chef.

Earlier adventures

Grabbing a sandwich and a bit of gossip reminded me of earlier eating adventures at Sascha's. In the process of reviewing years of eating, I loosened a few memories of Baltimore's recent history.

Sascha's first restaurant, at 810 N. Charles St., was a second-floor walk-up. It was an outdoor affair, stretched out on a balcony between a bar called Longfellow's and a discotheque called Bumpers. You sat under umbrellas, eating crepes, those French pancakes filled with asparagus or strawberries. You poured wine from glass vessels called carafes. Guitar music played as you dined under the sky, feeling you were part of that "urban renaissance" everyone was talking about.

When the place opened in 1976, Sascha's friend and co-owner Bill Stern told The Evening Sun that the Paris-style cafe was an attempt to "make Baltimore more interesting." The cafe usually lived up to this billing, if sometimes for unorthodox reasons.

Customers became waiters and waitresses there. One customer, Salle Carter, so the story goes, virtually hired out herself in mid-meal. Stephen Susher, a lawyer and now Sascha's husband, was one of a long list of employees who learned the art of crepe-making.

The guitar player was Sascha's stepson, Michael Brave. The guitar player's sister, Naomi, was a waitress. The cake, Marion's apple cake, was made by Sascha's mother. In the winter, when the operation moved its act indoors to the cafe at Center Stage, the guy working the crepe pan could be Stan Wojewodski Jr., the theater's artistic director. He liked to cook to relieve opening-night tension.

In the mid-1980s, Sascha catered an Academy Awards party given by Stern, by then her former partner (he left to go into public relations). The party was held on Charles Street in the old Andre's Hair Salon, which still had its shampoo sinks. When filled with ice, they made ideal wine-chilling stations.

Behind the beauty shop

In 1986, Sascha moved her operation from a temporary location on Greenmount Avenue to the rear of the old hair salon, in a space once occupied by the Swiss Coffee Shop. Ladies getting their hair done at Andre's would go to the back of the shop for refreshment.

When Charles Street businesses and art galleries began staying open late on the first Thursday of the month to draw folks downtown, Sascha's gave cooking demonstrations. One demonstration on how to make spanakopita, a pastry filled with spinach and feta cheese, drew a lively crowd that included students, artists, a shabbily dressed guy who hit the free jug wine, and an elegantly dressed elderly twosome who demanded comfortable chairs.

On another occasion, Sascha threw a book party in the Lovegrove Street alley, celebrating the publication of "Predominantly Fish," a collection of fish recipes written by Nancy Longo, then a member of Sascha's staff. Longo subsequently moved on to Aliceanna Street to run Pierpoint, a highly regarded Fells Point restaurant.

On a recent morning I paused in the 800 block of N. Charles St. and looked at the cluster of buildings where Sascha's got started.

The bar called Longfellow's was long gone, replaced, I recalled, by the Brick Oven Pizza restaurant. That later was replaced by the Ruby Lounge restaurant. The disco had been supplanted by the Helmand, an Afghan restaurant, and Thairish, a Thai-food establishment.

The second-floor balcony had been enclosed and transformed into office space. Later that day I happened to bump into Donna Crivello, co-owner of the Ruby Lounge as well as the Donna's restaurants and coffee bars. She told me that a medical-records outfit was working in the former balcony space. She invited me to come and look.

I couldn't bear to check it out. The thought that a balcony where crepes had been created was now a place were health-care claims were being processed was too much for me to face. I prefer to travel down alleys filled with memories of meals gone by.

Pub Date: 2/02/97

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