Edelweiss Cafe is an old-fashioned, low-tech charmer




Lots of coffee shops nowadays are more about being groovy than grabbing a cup of caffeine.

They've got cool music bopping through the air, overstuffed couches artfully angled in every corner and, it seems, a posse of graphic designers on staff, making sure the zillions of flavors of coffee listed on the inevitable chalkboards behind the inevitable wood counters are written in just the right font.

Not that this is bad. But sometimes it's tiring. Sometimes you don't want to remember that a small is a tall and a large is a venti, and you don't want everyone around you tapping away on WiFi-connected laptops.

Enter Edelweiss. If Starbucks and its ilk are the trendy younger siblings of the cafe world, then Edelweiss resembles a beloved grandmother who still holds on to her Old Country ways.

The small bakery and cafe on Harford Road is resolutely unfashionable and wonderfully comforting -- plus the prices are ridiculously low. For those times when you crave a still-warm apple fritter and a cup of coffee -- hold the foam, the soy milk and the attitude, please -- it's just about perfect.

The restaurant's unfussy box of an interior is dotted by small wooden tables and brightened only by colorful curtains over the windows. The menus are nothing more than typed-out sheets of paper, inserted into plastic holders on the tables. Customers order at the counter and pour their own coffee from the four or five selections offered, including a few flavored brews and a decaf.

Owners Dietrich and Genevieve Paul live above their shop, and their daughter, Nancy Tsagos, serves as manager. Dietrich, a German who has been in the United States since 1963, bakes the treats that fill the case by the front door, including such European classics as stollen, strudel and pfeffernuss, a spicy drop cookie made with anise.

If you can make it past the drool-inducing bakery case, there's a fine, old-fashioned lunch waiting for you at Edelweiss. The chicken salad sandwich ($5.25) is a worthy successor to the artfully simple ones offered at the sadly departed tearoom at the Woman's Industrial Exchange, a similarly unfussy concoction of white meat and mayo, livened with small chunks of walnut and apple, and served on toasted, thin-sliced, baked-on-the-premises bread.

Comfort-food sandwiches such as grilled cheese ($2.95), peanut butter and jelly ($2.35) and ham ($4.75) dominate the menu. The egg salad ($2.95) tastes just-made, its chunky mix of eggs, mayo, salt and pepper not sullied by so much as a celery stalk. But the open-faced tuna melt ($4.75), topped with a retro square of American cheese, tasted too much of pickle.

Don't bother looking for lettuce or tomato on these sandwiches. Your only veggies will be the pickle and handful of chips that come with each sandwich. Sides of potato salad and coleslaw ($1.25 each) are heavy and hardly worth the calories.

Specials are sometimes offered, including roast pork, goulash with noodles, or the restaurant's well-regarded sour beef ($7.25), available every Thursday. Homemade soup ($2.75 for a huge bowl) choices change daily, but if chicken noodle is on the menu, go for it. Dots of oil float on the steaming, salty brew, which is rich with shreds of chicken, fat noodles, carrots and celery.

Still, the main event here is dessert. How to choose from the fresh-baked doughnuts (60 cents each), Danishes ($1), black forest minicakes ($3.25), cream puffs, cupcakes, cannoli, cookies and more?

My advice is to go for the apple fritter ($1.25). Still warm if you're lucky, it's a misshapen bear claw of bliss, sweet apple-and-cinnamon-infused dough fried and then topped with a crackle of glaze. Other desserts are good, too. A slice of cherry-cheesecake strudel, for example, ($7.50 a pound) wraps a feather-light pastry around a hearty filling. But the chocolate delight ($1.65), a little chocolate cake with chocolate butter-cream icing and topped with chocolate ganache, was on the dry side.

Dietrich Paul said he owned a similar restaurant in Pennsylvania for 17 years and then helmed a now-defunct Towson chain, the Tres Bon Bakery and Cafe. After seven years as owner of a cafe in Pasadena, he decided he could no longer afford the rent there and chose to buy a building on more affordable Harford Road.

His experience is paying off with a nice little restaurant. During my visit, two women with impeccable helmets of gray hair finished lunch and then ambled over to the bakery case to check out the desserts. They'd been here before, they said, and they would be back again.

Edelweiss Bakery and Cafe

Where: 6000 Harford Road

Call: 410-426-3100

Open: 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday

Credit cards: All major

Prices: Soups and sides, $1.25-$2.75, sandwiches, $2.75-$5.25

Food: *** (3 star)

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

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

[Outstanding:**** (4 stars) Good:*** (3 stars) Fair or uneven: ** (2 stars) Poor: * (1 star)]

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