The Dogwood Cafe
333 N. Charles St., 410-962-8560. Hours: 11 a.m.- 4 p.m. Monday-Friday
Eating a locally grown lunch from a brown bag has become easier for downtown dwellers now that the Dogwood Cafe has taken over the food operations of the Woman's Industrial Exchange on North Charles Street. It is open only on weekdays and only for lunch.
While the restaurant, which officially opened this month, is still adding features, customers can order soup, sandwiches and salads as takeout fare or order food at the counter, then sit at the few tables in the rear of the building.
I entered through the Exchange gift shop, a space filled with unique, local, handmade if somewhat-girly gifts. I consider myself a macho kind of guy, but I couldn't resist returning to the gift shop and buying a couple of Christmas tree ornaments while I waited for my lunch order.
What the new restaurant operators, who also run the Dogwood restaurant in Hampden, bring to this lunch spot is a belief in using top-quality, locally grown ingredients.
So the chicken in the $7.85 grilled chicken, apple and brie sandwich was advertised as hailing from Springfield Farm in Sparks. Even the apple slices in the sandwich were "sourced": They come from Black Rock Orchard in Baltimore County. The brie was an "out-of-towner" from France. But it was a welcome visitor. The same sandwich without the brie is $1 cheaper.
The chicken was moist, the brie creamy, and the apple slices added just the needed amounts of tartness and texture. Even the spread applied to slices of the sourdough bread, pumpkin apple butter, had the right amount of tang.
I was less taken with the bowl of Baltimore-style crab soup. It was vegetable-based, and indeed seemed to contain almost everything you could grow in a garden - lima beans, green beans, corn, carrots and cabbage. While plenty of crab meat was visible, the dominant flavor of the soup was tomato. The menu said that the soup had Vann's Chesapeake seasoning in it, but I couldn't taste it. At first the price, $7 for a bowl of soup, seemed high, but after sampling it I reconsidered. The soup was quite filling and it was served with a large portion of brown bread, baked on the premises. The combination of soup and bread could constitute lunch.
In the past, when I ate lunch at the Woman's Industrial Exchange, I would treat myself to a slice of the sweet lemon meringue pie. This time I got a $2.50 slice of Shaker lemon pie, a double-crusted delight with a filling so tart it made my mouth pucker. It reminded me that not all desserts have to be sweet to be pleasing.
This is good food, well-presented at prices a little higher than the old days. Upscale brown bag has come to an old-line Baltimore establishment.
THE DOGWOOD CAFE
Best bite: Grilled chicken sandwich with apple and brie, $7.85
Also tasted: Baltimore-style crab soup, $7 a bowl; Shaker lemon pie, $2.50 a slice