Crafter's Cafe falls a few stitches short

Crafts seem to be the focus, rather than the cafe

Eats

April 28, 2005|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

I am not a crafty person.

I don't stamp, sew, crochet, embroider, decoupage or stencil. And I don't buy things at craft shows. I'm sharing this information because it may take a crafty person to truly appreciate Crafter's Cafe.

People who love crafts may look around Crafter's Cafe and see a slice of heaven. To me it looks, well, kitschy.

Crafter's Cafe, which opened in September, is the brainchild of Susan Farace, who is definitely a crafty person. She created a cafe that hosts crafting classes, sells locally made crafts, and serves sandwiches, salads, soups and desserts.

A cafe like this would seem right at home inside one of those multi-vendor antiques malls, or on the Main Street of an old-fashioned downtown. But Crafter's Cafe is in the sprawling and unquaint Beltway Plaza Shopping Center.

Even that would be OK if a little more effort went into the execution of this clever idea.

I'm going to sound catty, but a shop that focuses on crafts ought to have a cuter menu. The laminated, stapled sheets just aren't attractive, and they aren't a good advertisement for the crafting life. How about a little decoupage or stenciling here?

The restaurant's decor shows some effort. The walls are rag-painted in warm sunset oranges and yellows, and a little water fountain affixed to one wall lends a pleasant gurgle. The walls are crowded with paintings, photographs and other artwork, all for sale.

In fact, stuff is for sale everywhere, from glass cases filled with inexpensive beaded jewelry to the modeling clay on display near the cookies at the food counter. The crafts, sold on consignment, come from sources ranging from local senior centers to established artists, and the quality varies accordingly.

Two rooms in the back are reserved for craft classes, which cost around $20 a person. Farace said they're popular for birthday parties, but classes can be arranged on nearly any crafting technique, as long as at least three people attend.

The crafts and classes may be the lure, but food is important, too. The cafe's "crafty deal," a half-sandwich, cup of soup and small side salad for $5.95, is reason enough to brave the giant parking lot.

You'll find the expected tuna salad and BLT here, but also a few stabs at creativity, including wraps and grilled panini sandwiches. My panini, made with strips of grilled chicken, a layer of provolone, roasted red peppers and a horseradish spread, was pretty good, but my friend's wrap, a tortilla stuffed with the same strips of chicken plus a lettuce leaf, needed a few more ingredients to make it interesting.

It was boring to the eye, too - a white tortilla on a white plate, with nothing but a pale pickle spear to break up the monotony.

And how about practicality? The salad contains dark, fresh greens, red onion rings, carrots and cabbage, but it's served in such a tiny bowl that it was almost impossible to eat. The Maryland crab soup, one of three soups on offer the day I visited, packs a pleasantly spicy kick but contains a few too many diced tomatoes for easy eating with a spoon.

Coffee drinks are a big deal at Crafter's Cafe, which offers a long list of flavors. Results, though, are as mixed as the artwork. My vanilla latte was a creamy, yummy milkshake topped with whipped cream, but a cherry-flavored iced coffee, also topped with whipped cream, was watery and bland, with no coffee taste at all.

Farace said she has hired a pastry chef to start making desserts on the premises. Meanwhile, we made do with tasty but dry chocolate chip cookies.

Crafter's Cafe is still working out the details, and housemade desserts will certainly help. As any crafter knows, every detail counts.

Crafter's Cafe

Where: 7612 Belair Road, Overlea

Call: 410-882-5335

Open: Monday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Friday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., weekends 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Prices: Appetizers $2.45-$6.95, entrees $2.95-$7.95

Credit cards: all major

Food: ** 1/2 (2 1/2 STARS)

Service: ** 1/2 (2 1/2 STARS)

Atmosphere: ** 1/2 (2 1/2 STARS)

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