JCC's new kosher cafes are more than bagel shops

EATS

Dining For $25 Or Less

May 25, 2006|By KAREN NITKIN | KAREN NITKIN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The Baltimore Jewish Community Center has had a facelift, and it looks just mah-va-lous.

Both the in-town location, on Park Heights Avenue, and the outpost in Owings Mills are lighter and brighter than ever. The renovations were finished about two years ago, but they didn't seem truly complete until recently, when both sites added cafes, an amenity that has been sorely missed for quite some time.

The cafe at each location has the same management and menu. In both places, it's called the Eden Cafe, and it serves a kosher dairy menu, meaning no meats are used. The restaurants are run by Josh Gamzeh and owned by Shlomo Moinzadeh, who also owns the Shlomo Meat and Fish Market on Fallstaff Road.

The menu is limited, both by the constraints of kosher cooking and by the venue, which lends itself to light, simple fare. But these cafes are more than bagel shops. They serve more than a few hot dishes, including falafel ($4.45), lasagna ($5.25), omelets ($4.95) and pizza ($1.25 a slice), as well as veggie wraps ($5.25), salads and tuna plates ($5.95).

Of course, there are bagels, too ($1.75, with a schmear), plus ice cream, baked-daily muffins ($1.25), cookies and packaged candies from Israel, including halvah.

Both cafes are open to the public. Visitors who are not members of the JCC sign in at the front desk and then place a "visitor" sticker on their shirt.

I imagine the cafes are a welcome alternative to people looking for a kosher meal, especially in Owings Mills, where there aren't many such restaurants. On a recent lunchtime visit, the Owings Mills cafe was positively bustling.

Moms who had picked up their toddlers from the JCC's preschool were buying their youngsters a slice of pizza and getting salads for themselves. A trainer from the fitness center waited in line with another man in gym clothes. A group of women had staked out one table for a serious game of mah-jongg, clicking tiles as they murmured among themselves.

Patrons order at the counter and then take their meals to one of the tables scattered around the sunny atrium.

As for the food, there's good news and less-good news.

First the good news. In a word, the falafel. The deep-fried chick-pea balls that make up the heart of the falafel were crisp on the outside and moist inside, warmly flavored with cumin without being overly spicy. About five of these golf-ball-sized treasures were nestled in a truly superior pita, warm, soft and immaculately fresh. Patrons could choose their toppings, and I selected a cool, crunchy Israeli salad of chopped cucumber, red onion and tomato, very lightly dressed in oil and vinegar; as well as tahini sauce, the traditional creamy, sesame-based topping for falafel, widely known as Israel's version of fast food.

Other items were good, too. Both the veggie wrap and the fruit cup ($4 for a very generous serving) featured fresh, carefully chosen ingredients.

But now the less-good news. The matzo ball soup ($2.50) couldn't hold a candle to Mom's, or even to versions from some of the better delis in Baltimore County. The ball was heavy, the broth salty. The lasagna suffered from an overly sweet sauce, and the pizza had a heavy crust and tasted as though it had been doing heavy rotation in a warming oven. The vanilla milk shake ($3.55) was thin and had a chemical taste.

These complaints may be beside the point for people looking for a convenient kosher meal. True, Eden Cafe is more cafeteria than cafe, more focused on dispensing food than providing atmosphere, but it's serving its customer base with a relatively ambitious menu of fresh and inexpensive food.

Eden Cafe

Where:

Jewish Community Center, 3506 Gwynnbrook Ave., Owings Mills; also at the JCC at 5700 Park Heights Ave., Baltimore

Call:

410-356-0010 for Owings Mills; 410-542-5185 for Park Heights

Open:

Sunday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Credit cards:

All major

Prices:

Breakfast, $.75-$4.95, lunch and dinner, $1.25-$6.95

Food:

** (2 stars)

Service:

*** (3 stars)

Atmosphere:

** 1/2 (2 1/2 stars)

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

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