Serious dessert aficionados know that around here, some of the most beautiful and best-tasting desserts come from a Baltimore Street shop called Patisserie Poupon. For almost three decades, the bakery has pleased the city's most discriminating sweets-lovers with its cakes and tarts.
In March, the bakery expanded with the opening of Cafe Poupon, a cafe and bakery on Charles Street. The new spot has plenty of seating and a menu that works for quick lunches and leisurely coffee-and-pastry interludes. (Patisserie Poupon's Washington, D.C. location is also a cafe-bakery combination.)
Scene & Decor Cafe Poupon is open for breakfast, lunch and early-evening dinners. When we arrived around noon on a steamy Saturday, the downtown streets were quiet but the cafe was bustling with people lunching in pairs or spending quality time with coffee and their laptops.
The space had the charm of a French cafe, including the black-and-white chairs and tiny tables found all over Paris, and the pleasant sense that no one was in a rush. We staked our claim on a shady table in the courtyard next to the cafe.
Service Despite its idyllic first impression, our earliest minutes at Cafe Poupon were confusing. We realized, right away, that we should place our order and pay at the restaurant's long counter but the exact process was somewhat unclear.
Some menu options were listed on a chalkboard; we chose our meal from that list and placed our order with someone standing at the middle of the counter. It was only when we moved to the cash register to pay that we realized more comprehensive printed menus were also available.
We ordered with one person, we paid another and a third brought our food to the table. Everyone was kind and the process worked — our food arrived quickly and correctly — but it felt disjointed. We still aren't sure we did everything properly.
(Credit card users should also note that tips cannot be placed on credit cards. We covered our tipping bases with cash left in a tip jar on the counter and on the table when we left.)
Entrees Before lunching at Cafe Poupon, we were acquainted with the bakery's capabilities. We weren't sure, though, how those skills would translate from desserts to entrees, so we were happy to discover that Cafe Poupon prepares a great, quick lunch.
Spinach quiche ($8.75) was creamy and well-seasoned, with a flaky, pretty crust. The quiche was served whole — a small round the size of a personal pan pizza — which meant more of that crust than if we'd been handed a single slice.
The croque monsieur ($9.95), France's extra-luxurious, creamy take on the warm cheese sandwich, was decadent and glorious. An extra pot of mustard came in handy; we smeared the smooth, tangy mustard on each bite, cutting some of the sandwich's richness. The combination was traditional, tasty and immensely satisfying.
Both the quiche and sandwich came with bright side salads: a simple green salad with the quiche, and greens tossed with carrots, radishes and a couple of cornichons with the croque monsieur. Both were dressed with a tart, mustardy Dijon vinaigrette that livened up the meals.
Drinks Cafe Poupon does not have a liquor license. Manager and pastry chef Robert Beadman said that BYOB may be a future option, but for now, beverages are strictly nonalcoholic.
Our pick, San Pellegrino's blood orange sodas ($2), were a sparkly match for our lunches. Yes, they are Italian, but they worked with the French fare.
Dessert Fans of Patisserie Poupon will be thrilled to spy a wide selection of the bakery's pastries in the restaurant's long glass case. We sampled a small selection, including a vibrant fruit tart ($1.40), sweet caramel eclairs ($1.40) and a couple of pistachio macarons (85 cents). Each was as adorable as it was delicious.
After finishing our meals, we lingered, sated, for a few more minutes; no one was rushing at Cafe Poupon. Weekday diners, in a hurry to get back to the office, may have a different experience, but on a sunny Saturday afternoon, Cafe Poupon is a lovely, and very appetizing, place to pass the time.
Back story: Opened in March of this year, Cafe Poupon is a downtown extension of the popular Baltimore Street bakery. In addition to bakery items, the new Charles Street location is a cafe, specializing in simple, delicious French fare.
Parking: Street parking
Signature dish: Cafe Poupon's spinach quiche is creamy and well-seasoned, with the spinach and egg mixture settled into a lovely, crispy pastry crust. On the side, a simple green salad dressed with a tart Dijon vinaigrette tastes gorgeously, authentically French.
Where: 225 North Charles Street, Baltimore
Contact: 443-573-4620; patisseriepoupon.net
Open: 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday-Friday; 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday
Credit Cards: All major
Reservations: Not accepted
Bottom line: This downtown offshoot of the popular bakery serves tasty French treats and lunches in a charming cafe setting.