At the Munsey, two new eateries get in on the ground floor

Coffee Coffee and Roly Poly paired with Suzie's Soba

Eats: dining reviews, Table Talk

December 11, 2003|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The old Munsey building on Calvert Street, once the home of the Equitable Trust Company, recently celebrated the grand opening of its new life as an 18-story high-end apartment building.

On the ground floor are three restaurants: Suzie's Soba to the right, and Roly Poly and Coffee Coffee, which share a space, to the left. Suzie's Soba, which has another restaurant by the same name in Hampden, is the class act of the bunch, serving lively Korean fare in a stylish setting.

Roly Poly and Coffee Coffee are far more prosaic, providing sandwiches, baked goods and hot beverages to the downtown breakfast and lunch crowd.

Of course, it makes sense for the Munsey to offer a variety of eating options, but I'm still a little sad.

This is the heart of Baltimore. Why put a national sandwich chain in a landmark building? Couldn't the developers find a sandwich shop that was a better reflection of Baltimore?

Roly Poly, founded in 1996, has more than 170 locations across the country, including one in Annapolis. Coffee Coffee, on the other hand, is locally owned by Mary Romeo. She opened her first Coffee Coffee in Bel Air 10 years ago, and this is her second location.

Roly Poly and Coffee Coffee are separately owned. Each store has its own counter where customers order and pay, which means that anyone who wants a sandwich and a cup of coffee has to stand in two lines and pay twice.

Though much of the food and drink walks out the door in paper bags, some is consumed on the premises, at stylish seating shared by the two enterprises. Customers can sit at one of the small tables, grab a stool around the bar or plop down in one of the overstuffed seats surrounding a low coffee table. Each vantage point offers people-watching out the large windows. Near the tables, Coffee Coffee has a colorful little gift shop selling gourmet coffees, teas, teapots and other items.

Roly Poly offers dozens of varieties of hot and cold wrapped sandwiches, and customers can also create their own by combining meats, cheese, veggies and sauces. The sandwiches are wrapped in tortillas and arrive in a basket, sometimes with a little plastic cup of additional sauce, but never with chips or pickles.

For the most part, the sandwiches were fine, though on the skimpy side. Both the 6-inch and the 12-inch versions were skinnier than the average supermodel's wrist. But I liked that the warm sandwiches weren't greasy at all, and that there were so many combinations.

A California turkey wrap, which came with turkey, bacon, cheese, scallions, lettuce, tomato, avocado, sprouts, mango chutney and ranch dressing (whew!) was the best of those that I tried. A warm Philly melt, with thin-sliced roast beef, melted cheeses and warm, wilted onions and peppers, was tasty too.

I was less fond of a smoked salmon club with limp bacon and salmon that tasted fishy, and a warm Santa Fe steak sandwich with strips of chewy meat.

As for Coffee Coffee, the selection here is nearly as staggering as at Roly Poly, with choices ranging from espressos to teas to cold coffee drinks. There were even sweet coffees such as a Milky Way with caramel syrup, and dozens of flavored syrups were also on hand for creating a customized drink. There were a lot of different baked goods, too, but they were all basically the same -- oversized, oversweet muffins, brownies, cookies and some bagels.

I wasn't there for breakfast, but Romeo said she serves hot sandwiches such as eggs on bagels and offers an oatmeal bar that serves slow-cooked oatmeal with a variety of toppings, such as fruits and syrups. It starts first thing in the morning and stays until the oatmeal runs out, usually before noon, Romeo said.

That's what I like about locally owned businesses. They can try something new.

Roly Poly / Coffee Coffee

Where: 7 N. Calvert St.

Call: 410-685-ROLY (7659) for Roly Poly and 410-685-6497 for Coffee Coffee

Open: Monday-Friday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. for Roly Poly, and Monday-Friday 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday-Sunday 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. for Coffee Coffee

Credit cards: All major cards at Roly Poly; Discover, MC, V at Coffee Coffee

Prices: Sandwiches $3.25-$6.75; medium coffee $1.60, muffin $1.50

Food: ** 1/2

Service: ** 1/2

Atmosphere: ** 1/2

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

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