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Guide to Route 40's Korean cafes

For Howard Magazine
Get a taste of South Korea at one of Route 40's many cafes.

Itching to satisfy a coffee craving or satiate that sweet tooth? Try something a little different at one of Ellicott City’s Korean cafes peppered along Route 40.

In a town with a Korean population of more than 5,000, these bistros and bakeries are proliferating. Don’t be confused by the French names tucked among strip malls and shopping centers — the Parisian-inspired treats are full of Asian influences.

There are cafe standards like sandwiches and lush lattes with a twist — plus Belgian waffles, bubble teas, snow ice and a robust and inventive offering of pastries. Posh interiors host chic patrons, usually poised in front of laptops, laughing with friends and otherwise enjoying life over good food.

With South Korea’s recent win at Coupe du Monde de Boulangerie, international baking competition in Paris, it’s no wonder this new-to-us cafe concept is taking off like wild fire. Here, we provide a guide to five of those spots. And yes, there’s Wi-Fi.

Tous les Jours

9380 Baltimore National Pike, Ellicott City
410-461-6301
tljus.com
Open Monday through Thursday 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday 8 a.m. to midnight, and Sundays 10 a.m. to midnight.

Ellicott City’s franchise of this international Korean chain offers fresh, ready-to-order cakes, pastries and doughnuts — with a side of pop music.

Tous les Jours’ pastry section is try-before-you-buy, meaning you’ll find ample free samples out of the day’s offerings.

There are two ways to do Tous les Jours: You can walk in and grab a tray, pick from sweet and savory pastries, then order drinks and enjoy. Or you can skip the pastries (which we don’t recommend) and just get in line and order drinks, gelato or doughnuts from the counter.

Korean bakery rookies could start with the apple pie pastry or the cheese bread, a round, doughy bun filled with cream cheese and topped with melted cheddar. Have the bread warmed up, and wash it down with an iced caramel macchiato. For something savory, you can’t go wrong with a warmed-up sausage and onion bread, a buttery, flakey pastry that evokes the French croissant, smothered in ketchup, onions, a hot dog and parsley flakes. Polish it off with a smooth iced coffee.

This spot is great for large parties. There are plenty of tables and even special sections for groups of four or more. Oh, and we dare you to resist singing along to the well-curated top 40 playlist.

Shilla Bakery

9339 Baltimore National Pike, Ellicott City
410-418-8811

shillabakery.com
Open daily 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Shilla Bakery and Cafe is a recognizable name throughout greater Washington, with six locations, including the one next to Jimmy Johns in Ellicott City. Inside, there’s an illustrated street scene decorating the walls, that try-before-you-buy style and a plethora of ready-to-order desserts. You can approach Shilla similarly to Tous les Jours — pick out a few pastries, or head straight to the counter.

Shilla’s selection of decadent delicacies is a sight to behold, with cakes shaped like baby animals and Pokemon characters, and plenty of pretty pies and cakes topped with elegant fruit and floral designs.

Though you may be tempted to take home an entire cake, for a quick bite in house, we recommend one of the mousse cups topped with fruit — which goes great with a boba or bubble tea, a Taiwanese tea-based drink with tapioca balls. At Shilla, boba is served frozen and comes in a variety of fruit flavors including mango, sour green apple and honey dew.

Small groups or pairs looking to come in from the cold for recharging and mingling will feel right at home among the handful of cafe tables.

Caffe Bene

10039 Baltimore National Pike, Ellicott City
410-461-5210

caffebeneusa.com
Open Sun. through Thurs. 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., and Fri. through Sat. 8 a.m. to midnight.

Have a hankering for something a little more substantial than pastries? The international chain Caffe Bene, started in South Korea in 2008, has fruit-covered Belgian waffles and breakfast bagel sandwiches on the menu, among other savory nosh. Try the teriyaki chicken sandwich with a (nonalcoholic) lemon mojito for a nice lunch or after-work meal. And for an after-dinner treat, the shareable (though, you can attempt taking it down yourself) fruit-covered waffle is a must-try with a cafe Saigon, a hot coffee drink made from espresso and sweetened condensed milk, an ingredient in many South Korean coffee drinks).

Let’s not forget Bene’s creative toast offerings. Thick slices of honey bread overflowing with strawberries, bananas and caramel, or a savory cheese-and-garlic combo, pair well with Caffe Bene’s specialty misugaru, or grain-based coffee.

There’s also a small pastry counter offering a mashup of South Korean and French pastries and cookies.

Combine the food, the atmosphere and the funky decor — floor-to-ceiling bookshelves styled with leafy plants and art books, plus Pinterest-worthy hanging Edison bulbs — and you’ve got cafe heaven.

Snow Cafe

9065 Frederick Road, Ellicott City
410-720-2717

facebook.com/snowcafe
Open Monday through Saturday 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., Sunday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

When the snowball stands close for the season, it’s nice to know we have other options to get our frozen treat fix. Snow Cafe opened two years ago on Frederick Road (just down St. Johns Lane from Route 40) and offers frozen drinks, gelato and bingsoo, a popular Korean treat that is essentially shaved ice topped with fruits, nuts, sweet syrups and more. (Bingsoo is available at the other cafes in this guide, too, though the name can vary.) Maybe it’s because “snow” is in the name, but the portions of this cafe’s bingsoo take up an entire plate.

The space is mod, with tufted leather booths for pairs, clear plastic chairs around tables and a chalkboard menu. You’ll also find those South Korean cafe standard Belgian waffles on the menu along with savory sandwiches and your usual coffee and tea offerings. And diners can enjoy it all by an adorable electric fireplace.

Bon Appetit Bakery and Cafe

10155 Baltimore National Pike, Ellicott City
410-203-2071

facebook.com/Bon-Appetit-Bakery-148669468513590
Open daily 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Tucked away in the plaza across from Howard Bank sits an oasis of sweet and savory treats. Bon Appetit has cafe entrees like sandwiches, occasional soups, ready-to-order pastries, cakes and Wi-Fi. The staff is happy to help you pick out the right cake for your needs, and they’ll even add a little message for you. You can order slices or take a whole cake home.

Tables offer space for those looking to catch up with an old friend or hunker down and get some work done. Like Tous les Jours and Shilla, Bon Appetit patrons can choose from a variety of South Korean pastries and breads before heading to the counter to can order drinks, boba, bingsoo, cakes and more.

For a total French-Korean experience, we recommend donuts from the pastry table, fruity macaroons from the counter (our favorites were the green tea and mango varieties) and a refreshing iced green tea. Keep an eye on Bon Appetit’s social media for updates on specially decorated cookies and other treats featuring like Spongebob and Angry Birds. 

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