One World becomes two, but not twice as nice

Eats

February 17, 2000|By David Richardson and Cameron Barry | David Richardson and Cameron Barry,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

We've always enjoyed our sporadic visits to the One World Cafe in Federal Hill for tea, coffee, sweet snacks or a quick bite, so we were delighted to learn that a second outpost had opened farther uptown. The second One World is a full-service restaurant, complete with liquor license, just across from Johns Hopkins on University Place. Among other things, it's ideally located for coffee and dessert after a movie at the Rotunda.

Since we've already mentioned it twice, let's start with dessert. One World has an array of baked goods, including fat-free muffins, biscotti and decadent-looking cakes, tarts and other high-calorie treats, none of which are made on the premises. We sampled carrot cake, a fresh fruit tart and something called a chocolate bomb.

All the desserts we tried ranged from mediocre to disappointing. The enormous wedge of carrot cake, which had little carrot flavor to begin with, was overburdened by thick cream cheese icing (also flavor-free). With no fresh fruit in season at this time of year, the rather dry fruit tart was, well, tart. The chocolate bomb, chocolate icing exploded over a landscape of cream-filled pastry, looked unappetizing but tasted fine.

The new One World also offers a big menu of mostly vegetarian/vegan food. While we have no problem with a small-planet philosophy, we do have a problem with eating food that tastes like cardboard. The meatless burger was, in reality, one of the frozen patties you can buy at Fresh Fields. As we know, because we eat them at home, these have to be served straight from the pan or nuker and then eaten on the spot to have any flavor at all. One World's version, cosseted in an oversized bun, didn't distinguish itself. One World does offer a regular (a.k.a. ham) burger. But when in Rome, we eat Roman, at least until we know better.

An otherwise acceptable black bean burrito, featuring a mix of beans, two cheeses, onions and tomato, was spoiled, for us, by a whole wheat tortilla. Are the nutritional gains of whole wheat sufficient to offset the irksome gluten-sweetness and blandness? We do not have trouble answering the goodness/good-tastiness question with a chorus of "no's".

The tastiest entree we tried was an eggplant gyro. Crunchy roasted eggplant and pepper strips stand in for the usual ground lamb in a classic (no whole wheat here) pita. Olives, spinach and feta round out the flavors for a very pleasing sandwich. Lunch and dinner entrees on the menu follow this general culinary flow -- classics, like PB&J, or classics reworked for vegetarian palates, like meatless Philly cheese "steak," breaded tofu cutlets and vegetarian chili.

Breakfast, which we didn't try, looks to be a better bet to go with the always excellent coffee and tea. The reader-friendly printed (not chalked) menus at the uptown One World list a fine-looking selection of more substantial breakfast items as well, including waffles, pancakes, French toast, oatmeal and various burritos.

One World is staffed with pleasant people, but our waitress had the entire full-service section of the restaurant to herself, and she was sorely taxed. Our empty plates sat with us through a lengthy discussion before the waitress had a chance to clear them away. And if we weren't so dedicated to our craft, we wouldn't have bothered to march ourselves up to the dessert counter for a showing. The management definitely needs to add staff.

With its funky artwork, counters looking out on University Place, and eclectic furnishings, One World is undoubtably a nice place for students to gather or work while sipping coffee. Later, they can unwind in the bar with a good selection of microbrewed beers. But for these grown-ups, the place needs better service, cleaner bathrooms and tastier food.

One World Cafe

100 W. University Parkway 410-235-5777

Hours: Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner

Credit cards: American Express, MasterCard, Visa

Prices: Breakfast $2.95 to $5.95; Lunch and dinner entrees $3.95 to $11.95

Food: *1/2

Service: **

Atmosphere:**

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

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