Nestled practically in the shadow of the train overpass at the foot of Ellicott City’s Main Street, Georgia Grace Cafe makes a welcome addition to a district that has been steadily rebounding since the 2016 flash flood.
This cool, casual cafe is housed in an 1890 structure purchased by Paula Dwyer a few years before that storm, which left several feet of water on the floor as renovations were about to start. Dwyer wasn’t deterred.
Named for Dwyer’s mother and daughter, the breakfast-and-lunch establishment with a Greek-influenced menu opened in September and has been generating a positive buzz since. It’s easy to taste why.
Before experiencing the food, the eager newcomer may need a moment to get oriented. It’s not immediately clear that this is one of those places where you order first and receive a number to display on your table, which you choose in an adjoining room.
The compact space you enter from the street consists of coffee and pastry counters beneath a giant chalkboard menu, along with a cashier stand. Behind that stand can be seen the small, full-steam-ahead kitchen and, less appealing, a sink/storage area that calls out for camouflage.
About 50 diners can be accommodated in the adjoining, high-ceilinged room, where some exposed brick and a giant tapestry version of Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss” breaks up the starkness of the white walls. You help yourself to flatware and glasses from a sideboard (we didn’t receive this instruction upon ordering, but soon caught on).
Breakfast items, which are available all day, include “The Cure,” a combination of perfectly scrambled eggs, cheese, applewood-smoked bacon and a spread of chipotle cream, all neatly tucked into a ciabatta sandwich.
Chipotle cream isn’t exactly Grecian, but it also turns up drizzled on the Greek omelet. It seems more a case of trendiness than an ideal match for the satisfying mix inside — roasted tomato, onion, zucchini, eggplant and feta. The accompanying slices of potato disappointed, the texture leathery, the taste undistinguished.
But don’t hesitate to order the sweet potato wedges, a mini-masterpiece of its type. Tossed in olive oil and subtly seasoned with salt, pepper and oregano, these babies deliver a great exterior crunch and an exquisitely soft, full-flavored center. You’ve got to admire a place that can make such a seemingly simple side dish shine.
I wasn’t as crazy about the Greek fries, which had a hollow consistency. They did get a certain boost from a toss of olive oil, garlic, tomatoes, feta and oregano.
Served atop a pita along with a Greek salad, the chicken souvlaki offers melt-in-the-mouth pieces that ooze finely balanced flavor, having been marinated in yogurt, lemon and garlic. I didn’t even need the tzatziki sauce, with its splash of dill, but it’s a refreshing go-with.
The sweet-toothed should find the cafe a worthwhile destination for the irresistible loukoumades alone — Greek beignets topped with powdered sugar or a honey/cinnamon combination. These perfect fried-dough beauties maintain an airy consistency while delivering an elegant taste.
Baked goods in the counter area are worth a look and a taste, too. I was glad a staffer guided me to the chocolate cream twist, a flaky little homemade number served warm to give it just the right touch of gooey-ness.
And then there’s the made-in-house crepe brimming with banana and strawberries, finished with Nutella (an ingredient I ordinarily sniff at) and impeccable whipped cream. It’s the kind of dessert you devour quickly and contentedly, and would probably do so again right away if you weren’t afraid everyone else in the room would notice.
The ordering process could be more effectively organized, the self-service element a little classier. But, all in all, Georgia Grace Cafe seems to have the ingredients to become a fixture in this resilient town.
Georgia Grace Cafe
8006 Main St., Ellicott City
The vibe: Lively when full, but in an agreeable, not-too-noisy way; informal and rather cozy; unhurried (except for the staff).
You’ll fit in wearing: Casual attire
Don’t miss: The sweet potato wedges
Best for kids: There is no children’s menu, but egg items and fries should be safe choices for those not ready for spicier fare.
Reservations: Not accepted
Handicap accessible: Yes
Price range: $5-$15