Spoons Coffeehouse stands on its ambience and its menu

EATS

Dining For $25 Or Less

December 01, 2005|By KAREN NITKIN | KAREN NITKIN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Overheard at Spoons, a charming little coffee shop in Federal Hill:

Customer: Could I buy a single slice of whole-grain bread?

Server: Sorry, we don't have bread. Just toast.

Customer: Well, can I get a slice of toast, but untoasted?

Server: OK, but I'll have to charge you for toast.

This conversation, certainly one for the "who's-on-first" hall of fame, made me giggle. But it also confirmed what I already knew: The server lacked a certain, shall we say, focus.

Earlier, she had jotted down our coffee requests and simply failed to return to our table. After 15 minutes, we tracked her down, and she admitted she had simply forgotten about us. Only two other tables were occupied.

But Spoons is a place with its own what's-your-hurry-dude vibe, and a mellow bluesy-jazz soundtrack to match, and space-cadet service is just part of the package. If you were judging only on ambience and the menu, this could be the charming little coffee shop you've been looking for - somewhat upscale, yet also distinctly urban. You and your craziest friends could hang out here for hours.

There's much to like about Spoons: granola, soups and even salad dressings that are made in house; a front counter loaded with decadent pies, cookies and biscotti; fantastic roasted-on-the-premises coffee; and classic salads and sandwiches that have been updated with extra veggies and intriguing sauces.

The interior is funky Federal Hill at its best, with worn hardwood floors, exposed brick walls and bright paintings - for sale, of course. Couches and coffee tables are arranged in cozy groups, and more traditional tables line one side. Toys and games are on hand to distract the many babies who need something to do while mom sips her cappuccino ($2.85). There's even a carousel horse, though it looks quite frightened.

Maybe it's the chicken. While I can forgive the service, the sawdust-textured chicken at Spoons is another story. The strips of white meat, served atop an otherwise perfectly acceptable house salad ($9.95), were like planks of wood. And the same dried-out chicken marred an otherwise delicious chicken, black beans and goat cheese wrap ($8.75).

Spoons, across from the newly renovated Cross Street Market, opened six years ago, said Deborah Cogan, who owns the shop with partner Bernard Kayes. At first, it was more of a pastry shop, but customers wanted entrees, so the focus shifted, she said. Now, the desserts come from local wholesalers like SugarBakers and A Scone Co.

The coffee, though, is still roasted several times a week. About 20 varieties are available, mostly organic, shade-grown and bird-friendly. The effort pays off with coffee that is truly flavorful.

Spoons may be best known for its tuna salad sandwich ($7.95), which snagged a "best of" from Baltimore magazine a few years back. The fish is flaky and moist, mixed with just the right amount of mayo, tiny bits of broccoli, celery and other veggies, and flavored with a hint of dill. It's served, with a leaf of lettuce and a slice of tomato, on thick slices of toasted whole-grain bread. It even comes with a good, garlicky pickle spear and a mound of potato chips.

A wrap of chicken, black beans and goat cheese could have been a "best of" contender, but even its delicious avocado vinaigrette couldn't counteract the dryness of that chicken.

Spoons serves breakfast - including omelets ($8.95-$9.95), French toast ($7.25) and buttermilk pancakes ($7.50) - until noon on weekdays and 2 p.m. on Saturdays. Lunch choices are limited to sandwiches, soups, salads and quiches.

No dinner is served, though the shop is open until 8 p.m. In the evenings, customers come in for coffee and perhaps a slice of delicious pumpkin cheesecake ($3.95) or a generous "tea cake" ($1.95) made with apples and raisins.

Spoons Coffeehouse and Roastery

Where:

24 E. Cross St., Federal Hill

Call:

410-539-6751

Open:

Daily from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Credit cards:

All major

Prices:

Soups and salads, $4.25-$10.75, entrees $4.50-$9.95

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

Service: ** (2 stars)

Atmosphere: *** (3 stars)

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

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