The Cafe offers a respite from the hustle and bustle of The Mall in Columbia

Sit-down restaurant at new Nordstrom's offers alternative to fast food

Restaurant Profile

November 11, 1999|By Jill Hudson Neal | Jill Hudson Neal,SUN STAFF

For many Howard County residents, Sept. 17 should be declared a local holiday.

That's the day Seattle-based retail giant Nordstrom opened a store at the aging Mall in Columbia, which had been struggling for years to re-establish itself as a viable commercial center in the Baltimore-Washington region.

Without a doubt, the mall's $70 million renovation featuring the Nordstrom wing (with 40 new stores) has brought prestige and class to Columbia's largest shopping center.

It also brought the first sit-down restaurant to the mall, which is still dominated by two crowded food courts.

Nestled between Nordstrom's crystal and women's clothing departments on the second level, The Cafe gives shoppers a chance to step away from the hustle and bustle of the mall's newly popular corridors.

Each of Nordstrom's 69 full-line stores around the country includes a cafe.

And aside from busing your own food, cafeteria-style, each Nordstrom Cafe aspires to a classier way of life.

Columbia's Cafe features plush, colorful decor, comfortable booth and banquette seating and better-than-average food choices that are a welcome change from the fast-food sameness found in the food courts.

Breakfast is available at The Cafe, but the store's 10 a.m. opening time will surely not be convenient for Howard County's booming commuter population.

The staples of the morning menu -- baked goods, fruit salads, omelets and vegetable frittatas -- seem less like traditional breakfast food than alternatives to a menu dominated by sandwiches, pasta and salads.

The lunch crowd is more likely to be satisfied with the soup selections and salads, including the Southwestern chopped chicken salad, Chinese chicken salad and blackened salmon Caesar.

The rest of the menu has a distinctly Mediterranean and southern Italian flare.

The traditional pizzas are baked on site in a wood-burning oven, and the sandwiches are served hot or cold.

But the full-sized entrees are what really set The Cafe apart. Tuscan roasted chicken, Cajun blackened salmon and chicken jambalaya are the mainstays of the lunch and dinner menus.

The entrees are well-prepared and presented during lunch. However, food left over from the lunch rush can be overheated, dry and limp.

Still, eating a hot meal cooked by a trained kitchen staff (and on real plates) while sitting at a cozy table in The Cafe will surely appeal to those who would rather bypass the boisterous crowd outside.

Some Nordstrom Cafe locations offer beer and wine with lunch or dinner, though Maryland's strict alcohol laws prohibit their being served in the Columbia store.

Coffee, tea and cappuccino are always available at The Cafe, as they are downstairs at the Espresso Bar.

The Cafe

Where: At Nordstrom's in The Mall in Columbia, 1030 Little Patuxent Parkway; 410-715-2222.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 9: 30 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.

Prices: Appetizers, $2.50 to $8.95; entrees, $7.95 to $9.95.

Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Discover.

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