Coffee is just one of the perks at Pour House Cafe

January 30, 2003|By KAREN NITKIN

The Pour House Cafe bills itself as a "Seattle-style coffeehouse" on its menus and in its ads. While the words might bring to mind the overcrowded, overcaffeinated Seattle hangout on the TV show Frasier, the cafe is actually more like Central Perk, the ultra-hip, stay-all-day meeting place of Rachel, Phoebe and the rest of the gang on the TV show Friends.

The Pour House, which rambles through several rooms of a brick building on Westminster's Main Street, offers an extensive menu of coffee drinks and teas, as well as some sandwiches, a soup of the day and baked goods.

The cafe is near McDaniel College, so it naturally attracts students looking for a caffeine fix. Once they arrive, they will find plenty of excuses to stay instead of going back to their books. Newspapers and magazines are scattered about, as are playing cards, checkers and solitaire games. Several computers offer Internet access for $8 per hour, or $3 for 15 minutes.

On a recent night, a couple of scruffy-haired young men played chess on a board crafted right into their wooden table. In a different room, another guy was sprawled in a plump orange chair, immersed in an enormous book.

The interior is warm and a little funky, with walls painted a modern palette of lilac, sage and mustard, and tables painted to match. (Our table had a purple and green chess board painted on it.) Even the paper napkins are a similar purple. Pottery and jewelry made by local artists are offered for sale.

Customers order at the counter after making selections from the wall-sized menus. A smaller sign explains that the coffee is fair trade certified, meaning it comes from small farmers who use organic methods and don't clear-cut forests.

The coffee menu is longer than the sandwich menu, with choices ranging from espresso-and-steamed-milk cappuccinos and mochaccinos made with espresso, steamed milk and chocolate to something called a shot in the dark, described as regular coffee with a shot of gourmet espresso.

Each coffee drink is available in regular or decaf. And then there's the question of skim, 2 percent or whole milk. And would you like white Ghirardelli chocolate or dark? A little cinnamon on top? How about whipped cream? The coffee is poured, the big machine does its loud foam-and-steam thing, then the garnishes are added. Because each drink is prepared while you wait, the line can back up quickly.

We had a mochaccino with 2 percent, a latte with skim and a spiced chai tea. All were lovely. The mochaccino, in particular, got extra points for tasting like flavored coffee, not coffee-flavored dessert. All the coffee was less bitter than that at a certain large Seattle coffee chain.

There are also teas, chai teas and hot cocoa. Cold-drink options include iced teas, iced coffee, sodas, bottled waters, lemonade and milkshakes.

In contrast to the extensive drink menu, there are only seven sandwich choices, including grilled cheese and peanut butter and jelly.

The tuna salad is the one to get. The savory mix is studded with chopped veggies, topped with Swiss and served warm on a toasted English muffin with a tomato slice cleverly placed under the tuna to shield the muffin from sog. Yum.

The smoked turkey, cheddar and apple melt on whole wheat was utilitarian, and the cream cheese and veggies on a croissant was cold and uninteresting. The soup of the day, chicken noodle, was flavorful, but light on the chicken.

Desserts are purchased from a local bakery. The ones we tried were satisfying. The crustless cheesecake was light and sour-creamy, the chocolate chip yogurt loaf cake was moist, and the chocolate cookies were chewy and brownie-like.

The sandwiches were brought to our table, but we had to bus our dirty dishes when we were done.

The cafe, which opened last July, is owned by Scott Hollinder. His wife, Janet, is in charge of many things, including the musical open-mike nights on Wednesdays and the live entertainment on the weekends, which leans toward the acoustic and folksy. She also sees that 2 percent of the profits from each day's sales go to local children's charities.

The Pour House Cafe

Where: 233 E. Main St., Westminster

Call: 410-751-9171

Open: 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, later on Friday and Saturday

Prices: Sandwiches $2.95-$5.75

Credit cards: All major cards

Food: * *

Atmosphere: *** 1/2

Service: **

Excellent ****; Good ***; Fair ***; Poor *

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