Sascha's: gourmet, not fussy

July 23, 1998|By Kathryn Higham | Kathryn Higham,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

If you work downtown, you may want to stroll over to Sascha's Daily for lunch or an early dinner. You're likely to have an interesting, inexpensive meal there.

The catch is that the cafe closes at 6 p.m. and the menu is limited. Step up to the counter to take a look at what Sascha's does serve: Saschette sandwiches wrapped in cellophane and tied with ribbon; crispy topped focaccia sandwiches held together in sheaths of foil; tubs of freshly made salads, like the Tuscan tuna with artichokes and sun-dried tomatoes.

For lunch, there's always a homemade soup and a hot item, like the zesty gazpacho and seafood-studded paella we tried. For dinner, there are three hot entrees. Though they're usually available by early afternoon, they weren't the day we visited.

Don't expect table service and white linen at Sascha's. This is a casual cafe - in essence, a luncheonette - where you pay in cash at the counter and carry your plastic plate to your own table. You can eat outside, or inside, where a large farmhouse table is the centerpiece. The decor is simple, brightened by Chinese red trim and an exhibition of folk art.

Sascha Wolhandler, her husband, Steve Suser, and chef Quinn Appleby are partners in Sascha's Daily, which opened last August. Their catering operation around the corner prepares all the food for the cafe, including the stellar focaccia.

This is some of the best bread around - crusty on top, fragrant with rosemary, and soft enough inside that eating a sandwich of it isn't a chore. Ours was filled with an inspired combination: thinly shaved fresh turkey breast, slivers of red-skinned apples and a smear of chutney.

Even though it looked terrific, we skipped the veggie-filled calzone, cut into fat slices on a wooden plank. Instead, we decided on one of the Saschette hoagies. The Moroccan chicken sandwich was filled with moist chicken pieces, grilled onions and a faintly sweet, cinnamon-laced tomato sauce that gave the sandwich its verve. The doughy hoagie roll seemed pedestrian, though, after that focaccia.

Besides sandwiches, there are plenty of prepared salads, which you can order by themselves or on top of a bed of lettuce. We chose an entree salad of Cajun chicken with two sides - thick cuts of grilled vegetables and lentils with the sweet surprise of Mandarin oranges. The chicken salad was made with big chunks of chicken breast tossed in a low-fat yogurt-mayonnaise dressing that was pink with Cajun spices, yet so mild it seemed bland.

Paella, the hot dish of the day, was full of shrimp, chicken, mussels and, unfortunately, breakfast sausage subbing for chorizo, all nestled into a bed of sunny saffron rice. It was a deal for $5, especially since it included a side of steamed asparagus or one of Sascha's other salads.

There's a home-baked appeal to Sascha's desserts, so be sure to save room to try one. We liked them all - a saucer-sized chocolate chip cookie, a slice of sugar-crusted lemon blueberry pie, a homely looking cupcake with decadent chocolate frosting and even a simple scone jazzed up with a bit of fresh peach.

Sascha's Daily

5 E. Hamilton St.

410-659-7606

Hours: Open Monday through Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Credit cards: None; cash or check only

Prices: Appetizers, $1.75-$2.75; entrees, $4-$8.50

Food: **1/2

Service: **1/2

Atmosphere: **

Ratings system: Outstanding: ****; Good ***; Fair or uneven **; Poor *

Pub Date: 7/23/98

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