As I approached the entrance to Dovecote Cafe in Reservoir Hill, I noticed the name of a previous occupant etched in tile on the walkway — Parkview Pharmacy. A sense of history washed over me.
The space had probably been a hub for neighbors looking for cures before a period of decline in the area. Now a charming coffee shop was inviting residents and office workers to heal themselves from everyday woes with delicious coffee, baked goods, sandwiches and incredibly gracious proprietors.
"We wanted to build a community and central hub," said Aisha Pew, who manages Dovecote with smiles and efficiency.
She runs the cafe with her partner, Cole, who goes by a single name, and her mother, Gilda Pew, who is the cook and baker. One bite of her upside-down peach cake, and you'll want to return to this comfortable, eclectic coffee shop.
The threesome arrived in Baltimore via Oakland, Calif., after visiting an uncle here. Aisha Pew originally hails from Brooklyn, N.Y., and Cole from Washington.
"We wanted a home base," Aisha Pew said. "It felt right to us."
But they celebrate their former homes with the small-batch coffee roasters they use: Brewklyn Grind Coffee Roasters for Brooklyn, Red Bay Coffee Roasters for Oakland and Cafe Los Suenos Roasting Co. for D.C.
On a recent afternoon, Dovecote was filled with students using laptops, businessmen in suits and assorted neighbors stopping by for conversation and a cup of Joe. People settled into tufted couches, Plexiglas chairs and around wood tables, surrounded by bric-a-brac like a basket of giant sweet potatoes, local artwork and Baltimore-made soy candles for sale.
Two framed panels of wallpaper are dramatic focal points. One is a gorgeous black-and-white Harlem toile; the other, a striking modern-day baroque floral design. Nooks with paned windows bring in a stream of light.
A sheet of brown paper on the wall details the menu of the day, which usually includes five to six items ranging from soups and salads to quesadillas.
On a recent visit, the cafe had sold out of its popular grownup grilled cheese sandwich piled with Swiss, provolone, Gouda and cream cheese. I'm sorry I missed it. There were other choices: a spinach salad with chicken, a chicken quesadilla, a chicken chipotle ciabatta sandwich and spinach pie.
Currently, Dovecote is open until 3:30 p.m., but the owners are seeking zoning approval for outside tables and to operate until 11 p.m. "We're not sure about serving dinner," Pew said, if the appeal is granted. "Maybe an early supper."
The place already becomes a pop-up dinner spot once a month when visiting chefs prepare multicourse meals.
The name Dovecote plays on the word's definition as a shelter for domestic pigeons. It's meant to evoke a sense of communal nesting, the owners say. From all appearances, the community is already flocking there.
Scene & Decor The one-room space, with benches outside, offers an eclectic mix of furniture, bold wallpaper, pottery and artwork with a counter for placing orders. Several baked goods are showcased under glass domes.
Appetizers Not applicable.
Entrees The chicken quesadilla ($6.84) offered the appropriate amount of squishy and crispy with four grilled triangles bursting with melted Monterey Jack cheese to be dipped into sour cream and salsa. The spinach salad with chicken ($8.02) was a great pile of greens, dotted with egg slices, cherry tomatoes, walnuts and blue cheese. The apple balsamic vinaigrette added a bright tartness.
Drinks Wonderfully brewed coffee (12 ounces, $1.60; 16 ounces, $1.85) from small-batch roasters feature Brazilian, Kenyan and Peruvian beans. Kombucha, juices, tea and San Pellegrino water are also available. They make the iced tea fresh, so it can take a while to get a glass.
Service Diners order at a counter, and a member of the staff brings the food and drinks to the table. The staff also clears the dishes.
Dessert A changing variety of baked goods is available. We savored the homey upside down peach cake ($4) with buttery yellow cake and generous slices of fruit layered on top. We also marveled at the blueberry muffin ($3.30), studded with fruit and topped with sugar crystals. It had a fine texture and didn't fall apart like some muffins do.