Spaghetti Squash Gratin, a dish at Artifact Coffee in Hampden. (Richard Gorelick, Baltimore…)
Remember the gourmet cafe? That was what they called those places that put chutney on your turkey sandwich. They've come back, but we don't call them gourmet anymore.
Artifact Coffee, the new project from the Woodberry Kitchen, lies just across the Light Rail tracks in Hampden. The cafe, which opened in June, is a partnership between Spike Gjerde and Allie Caran, Woodberry's head barista, who is Artifact's general manager.
Caran's efforts to bring a serious coffee program to Woodberry have been widely praised. The emphasis at the cafe is on seasonal, direct trade coffee, manually brewed to order. Walk in any day, and you'll see folks using Artifact as a coffee house. The interior space is a stone-cold beauty. It's been lavished, as its name would suggest, with reclaimed wood and repurposed objects.
The coffee is supplemented with a single-page menu, divided up into morning kitchen (pastries) and day kitchen (soups, salads and sandwiches). The night kitchen menu, featuring single-plate meals like pastas, braised meats and stews, priced under $15, is set to debut soon.
Ordering is done at the counter, and it's a bit of chore. The menu, which changes daily, is hard to fully absorb before it's your turn at bat. For lunch, the offerings include a few soups and sides and a handful of sandwiches and salads. These change daily. I'd like it there were a few standby sandwiches I could depend on being available.
The best thing I've tried here, on Artifact's opening day, was a sandwich of bacon, Tennessee green tomato, lettuce on pullman toast. It was a buttery delight. A recent offering, though, George's Lebanon Bologna on a pretzel roll with shaved red onion, mustard and Swiss ($8), did nothing for me.
Keep your eyes on the soups. A bowl of broth filled with chunky tomatoes ($6), laced with rosemary oil and topped with toasted bread, was delightful. A spaghetti squash gratin ($5), listed as a side, served bubbling hot, was big enough to share with someone. I didn't like how the squash was chopped, though, and I thought it was too salty.
Artifact feels like the hangout at a cool film festival. There's something a little theatrical, or maybe tense, about Artifact that will wear off in time when the staff relaxes into their roles. A friend reminded me that Woodberry Kitchen was a little stiff-jointed when it opened.
Where: 1500 Union Ave., Hampden
Contact: 410-235-1881, artifactcoffee.com
Hours: Open for lunch and breakfast weekdays, 7 a.m.-4 p.m., and weekends, 9 a.m.- 4 p.m.
Lunch entrees: $7-$12
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