Cool coffee shop serves soups, salads


November 05, 2003|By Tom Waldron | Tom Waldron,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

I have long considered Baltimore to be the world's biggest small town, but there are those places around town that manage to remind me that Baltimore is also a real city. Include Java Joe's on that list.

Located on a busy block of Baltimore Street, just east of Charles Street, Java Joe's successfully turns out solid sandwiches, soups and salads -- as well as the requisite coffee drinks -- for folks working downtown.

But unlike so many inexpensive eateries downtown, Java Joe's has efficient service and its space is neither grungy nor bland. Indeed, with its interesting artwork on the walls and some deft interior decoration, Java Joe's exudes urban coolness.

On a recent visit, our order was ready in just a couple of minutes, even in the midst of a busy rush. One of the featured soups that day, Bombay yellow split pea ($2.75), started things off right. Besides peas, it included carrots and celery bits and a very strong taste of curry. It may have been too strong for some, but we liked it.

The menu features dozens of sandwiches for about $5. The Pratt ($5.25) was a mediocre assemblage of roast beef on a roll, with melted cheese and Russian dressing. Better was the Mediterranean ($5.50): mild, dill-flavored tuna salad inside a whole-wheat pita. Also a winner was the Charles ($5.95), a turkey sandwich dressed with an avocado spread, sprouts and muenster cheese. (Bacon, which was promised on the menu, did not appear but wasn't missed given everything else that was on the sandwich.)

A vegetable quiche ($4.95) had a fine flaky crust and delicious filling, but precious few vegetables. The pollo greens ($5.95) included chicken slices over romaine lettuce, with a few other goodies and a sweet, balsamic vinaigrette dressing.

Joe's has plenty of desserts, which are generally made elsewhere. A brownie ($1.25) was just right -- fudgy but not too dense. A mango berry smoothie ($2.85) combined low-fat yogurt and fruit, and provided a perfect sweet finish to the meal. Milkshakes are also available.

Joe's opens at 7 a.m. Monday through Friday to provide bagels, muffins and shots of caffeine for downtown workers.

As for parking, I'd suggest walking.

Java Joe's

Food: ***

Service: ***

Waiting area: *** 1/2

Parking: **

Where: 8 E. Baltimore St., downtown

Phone: 410-727-6647

Hours: 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday

Prices: Soups, salads and sandwiches from $2.75 to $5.95; credit cards accepted

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

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