The website listed the address as 300 E. Lombard St. and, sure enough, when we arrived, a prominent sign assured us we had landed at those very coordinates. But there was no sign, literally or figuratively, of Rosina Gourmet.
Pluckily, we entered the office building that didn't look anything like a gourmet sandwich shop. If ever a place resembled an office lobby and not a restaurant, this is it. In fact it looks exactly like the Alex Brown Realty Inc. office building it purports to be and not a sandwich shop at all.
After a moment of complete disorientation we asked a kind receptionist what happened to the restaurant. She smiled knowingly and directed us to walk west across the lobby, turn right down the hall and then said something about stairs. We took the right turn and at the end of the hall after two wrong moves, found the stairs (they're obvious, right there in front of you), walked up and there it was: Rosina Gourmet.
As we walked down its narrow dining area, we noted the other entrance, opening onto 300 Water St. Maybe the webmaster thought 300 Lombard would be easier to find? And it is. But I had to wonder how many potential Rosina-goers would continue walking if they saw no sign of a sandwich shop on the Lombard side.
12:30 p.m. There were at least a half-dozen people waiting for their orders and another couple queuing up to place one. Still, within a few minutes, we'd cased the menu and submitted our orders. We sat in the funky stools and checked out the menu for Vino Rosina, the wine bar at 507 S. Exeter in Harbor East that serves the Rosina Gourmet lunch menu and evenings features chef Jesse Sandlin's fare. Rosina Gourmet the sandwich shop also resides in Canton at 2819 O'Donnell St.
One of the disconcerting things about fast-food-chain sandwich shops is that you can watch the production line. The experience removes any pretension of art. If cattle could talk, they would love production line sandwich shops. "Mooooore lettuce." And don't get me wrong, I like Heidi's and Quiznos, when I'm in the mood. But they're industrial experiences that allow my hunger to convince my brain I need more volume than I really do. For what it's worth, Rosina's doesn't make a spectacle of its production line.
12:42 p.m. We waited less than five minutes and our orders were called.
Rosina's dine-in area is utilitarian, with several tiny tables suited for two, and a handful of trendy swivel stools set along a narrow counter. It's sheer lack of creature comfort drags the atmosphere down to 2 1/2 stars, I guess. But it's a sandwich shop, with emphasis on the meal.
We walked 12 blocks back and opened our sandwiches at our desks.
1:06 p.m. My Traditional Italian was delight, if not love, at first bite. The ciabatta's crust is crunchy, the interior soft, the whole perfect for the zesty peppers and vinaigrette that cap the Italian meats and cheeses. It's a sandwich to savor. My co-worker and fellow sandwich-seeker, whose tastes run to the prosaic, was impressed. He tried the parmesan chicken and, like me, raved about the bread.
None of the lunch offerings struck me as wildly or weirdly inventive. Mediterranean vegetable, chicken pesto, ham and Swiss, tuna melt and turkey, among others, can be found elsewhere. From our choices, the clear indication is Rosina's emphasis is the quality of ingredient: simple and good.
Our picks were $8 each. The majority of Rosina's sandwiches run $7.50 to $8.50 with one, the Prosciutto di Parma, topping out at $10. Salads run from $4.49 for a small garden to $8.50 for a large chef's salad, with most in the $5 to $7 range. Rosina's also serves breakfast sandwiches, all $4, with bagels for a buck and toppings for a dollar or less with, again, one exception — $2 for fresh mozzarella. For the quality and refreshing break from industrial sub shops, Rosina's is a bargain. I envy those who work close to this little gem.
Even with a healthy walk, this is not a lunch spot that's going to make you late for your afternoon meetings.
Where: 300 E. Lombard (or Water) St. and 2819 O'Donnell St.
Contact: 410-244-1885 downtown, 410-675-9300 Canton
Lunch hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Lunch entrees: $7-$8
Food: ✭✭✭1/2 (for a sandwich shop)
Service: ✭✭✭ (fast, crisp)
[Key: ✭✭✭✭: Outstanding; ✭✭✭: Good; ✭✭: Fair or Uneven; ✭: Poor]
Total time 15 minutes