A new restaurant opened up Aug. 7 in the old Ixia space. Old-timers still call it the old Louie's Bookstore & Cafe space. The owner is Tegist Alayew, who has run two restaurants in Washington in the same U Street corridor location. The first, Gogo Cottage, which had a menu of Ethiopian food, ran for about six years until Alayew replaced it with Creme Cafe, a still-hopping Southern-style restaurant best known for its Sunday brunch. Think chicken and waffles.
The good times at Creme Cafe, Alayew knows, might not last forever. Developers have announced plans to raze the strip of stores where it's located to make room for a boutique hotel. As Alayew, who lives in Virginia, began looking for a place that would be a complement to the Washington restaurant, and possibly its eventual replacement, Baltimore was not in her sightline. But a Baltimore-based friend tipped her off to the availability of the Ixia location. Alayew came to see it, and it was love at first sight.
Alayew is calling the Baltimore restaurant CR Lounge. The signage outside and the menus, though, clearly say C Restaurant and Lounge, which is a little confusing. Both names make a Web search tricky, and the restaurant's planned website is still under construction. You should write down this phone number and put it in a safe place: 443-869-3382.
If little details like these feel unfinished, the space feels 100 percent ready for business. Alayew will be running CR Lounge with her son, Ezra Tilaye, whom Alayew credits with rethinking the interior space. Much of Ixia's glamour is gone. The new decor represents Alayew's desire to make CR Lounge feel like a neighborhood place.
"You can come here right after work without having to go home first and change your clothes," Tilaye says.
The new space, with its warm mustard-and-burgundy colors, does register more effectively as a bistro space, and the owners seem keenly aware about people's concerns about the blurry border between restaurants and lounges.
"This is a restaurant," Tilaye says.
Alayew has brought in Sammy Davis, whose credits include Nobu NY and his own Atlanta restaurant, called Milk and Honey. A short bio of Davis from the Milk and Honey website says that Davis has worked with Sean Combs, Terrell Owens and Janet Jackson, none of whom is famous for being easy to please. That's encouraging. The opening menu is a combination of the Creme Cafe menu, with a scattering of Davis' own recipes — the standout is a braised lamb rack with honey-and-ginger-infused parsnips.
For now, CR Lounge is open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner and Sunday for dinner and brunch, which includes a great-sounding salmon hash, shrimp and grits, and, yes, chicken and waffles.
More on county restaurant week Brian Boston, the owner and executive chef at the Milton Inn, lamented here last week about his frustrations in trying to attract support from the county for the first-ever Baltimore County Restaurant Week. Boston ended up putting together the debut summer edition, which ran officially through Aug. 22, largely on his own. He was pleased with its success and then doubly disappointed when his efforts to revisit the idea of a winter restaurant week seemed to stall.
There has now come a reconciliation of sorts, and Boston and representatives from the Baltimore County Department of Economic Development will be sitting down together this month to try to hammer out an agreement that satisfies both sides. In phone conversations, both Boston and a representative from the county expressed what sounded like a real willingness to move forward.