Restaurant nourishes body, mind

Food: Meeting Point Bookstore Cafe offers healthful fare at Tai Sophia Institute.

Howard Live

October 28, 2004|By Lisa Kawata | Lisa Kawata,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The Meeting Point Bookstore Cafe blends wholesome food with the ancient philosophies of the healing arts practiced at the Tai Sophia Institute. It's a mellow and cozy little spot for a sandwich on the run or a leisurely cup of soup.

"I can't imagine it not being here," said acupuncture student Teaj Bechard, who often stops in the cafe for breakfast and lunch. Traveling several days a week from her Sykesville home to Tai Sophia's North Laurel campus, Bechard said she does not have time to eat at home or go off campus for a meal. She can choose a book from one of the tall cases standing in the center of the tiny cafe to accompany her sandwich or meet fellow students for a chat between classes.

"If this wasn't here, I probably wouldn't have many lunches with people," said Bechard, who is now in the clinical phase of the acupuncture program.

In the institute's two-story brick building in the Montpelier business campus off Johns Hopkins Road, the Meeting Point has little competition from other restaurants. Surrounded by auxiliary buildings of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory and a Verizon Wireless operation, people looking for a bite to eat must spend precious minutes traveling south to Fulton or north to Columbia to find a restaurant. If the cafe has one drawback, it is limited seating - a sparse five tables for two inside and picnic tables out on the patio.

Manager Heidi Bell, who took charge of the bookstore cafe last year, draws her customers with nourishing, fresh soups from Kettle Cuisine that she heats in huge soup urns, and the wide variety of sandwiches her employees make daily according to customer demand.

"It's gone through a lot of manifestations," Bell said of the three-year-old restaurant. Since the former purchasing assistant of Daedalus Books came on board, she has emphasized food that is freshly made or heated on site each day. And it is not all vegetarian, as some might assume for a place run by practitioners of acupuncture and botanical healing.

"If I cut out the meat, I'd lose half my guys, probably," Bell said with a laugh. Same goes for the chocolate chip cookies and other baked goods she orders from Big Sky Bakery in Baltimore. The cafe draws a regular group from APL for afternoon coffee breaks.

Soups are the favorite menu items, according to Bell. The cafe serves a vegetarian and nonvegetarian selection every day. Three-bean chili and Thai shrimp and scallops are the popular choices, at $3 for a small cup or $4 for a large. Paired with a whole wheat sandwich wrap of Thai chicken marinated with cilantro-lime sauce and topped with peanut sauce, bean sprouts and spinach, $5, lunch becomes a nutritious and filling midday energy booster.

Salads and sandwiches range from $4 to $6.50, with choices like traditional egg salad; a midday protein salad of fresh greens, hard-boiled egg, veggies and an 8-ounce scoop of tuna salad; or a Santa Fe wrap with black beans, pico de gallo, guacamole, pepper jack and cream cheese on a bed of greens on a honey whole wheat wrap. Bell keeps nuts, chips, fruit, granola, fruit smoothies and yogurt in the cafe for those needing a quick snack. Half-sandwiches also can be purchased.

Beverages include Blue Sky organic sodas and Long Life bottled teas, along with fruit juices, water and yes, even Diet Coke. "I try to keep the sugar down," Bell said.

She brews only Fair Trade organic coffee, which is self-serve, at $1.25 for a small cup or $1.40 for a large cup. Refills are $1 and customers can bring their mugs and get the refill price. Blends are Ethiopian, Guatemalan, decaf, and other flavors on a rotating basis. The cafe also makes espresso drinks to order.

In addition to the muffins and sweet breads, the cafe offers bagels plain, $1, with a topping, $1.50, or as an egg sandwich, or with hummus, tomato and sprouts for $3.25.

Bell is mindful of the philosophy of Tai Sophia and says she works hard to keep her customers happy.

"We are in a community that is concerned with unity and oneness," Bell said. With a noon call from a Tibetan singing bowl, a wide variety of music playing in the background and shelves of fiction and nonfiction surrounding patrons, that service motto is easy to believe.

The Meeting Point Bookstore Cafe, 7750 Montpelier Road, North Laurel, is open 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays; 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturdays; and 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. most Sundays. Cash, checks, and VISA, MasterCard and Discover for orders over $5. Carryout by fax, 410-888-9309 or 410-888-9048, ext. 6632.

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