Ziad Maalouf has been a longtime restaurateur in Washington. But after observing Baltimore’s growing culinary scene, he decided to get in on the action here. The result, Cafe Fili, opened in Mount Vernon in July.
“I love the vibe in Baltimore,” said Maalouf, who has owned Cafe Ole in D.C. for 20 years. “I want to be where the customers are.”
The Mediterranean-inspired cafe — a partnership with the Washington-based Somerset Development Co. — is located in the former Milk & Honey Market spot. (That eatery is planning to open a new place in Station North next year.)
Maalouf has turned the space into a cheery, modern bistro with window stools, a counter, minimalist furniture and outdoor seating. It’s open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and has a liquor license.
We went in the evening and were impressed with the pleasant service and carefully prepared dishes, including panini sandwiches and hot and cold appetizers. We were surprised that there weren’t more customers.
Café Fili deserves an audience. Spread the word.
SCENE & DECOR As we walked into the bright, open dining room and kitchen, we were struck by how roomy the place is. Decent spacing between the tables gives you distance from your neighbor’s conversation. Big windows create more airiness. We liked the throwback music, including tunes from the Turtles, the Platters and the Yardbirds. My husband said he felt like he had been dropped into the ’60s.
APPETIZERS The hummus trio ($12) got us off to a good start. You get a choice of three variations, served with seasoned pita chips. We picked traditional, black bean and red pepper harissa, each pleasing us with its flavors. The Tel Aviv nachos ($10) were terrific, and different than what you find at Tex-Mex restaurants. This dish featured lightly crisped wontons, shaped liked small cups and stuffed with smoked salmon, labneh (a creamy cheese made from yogurt), capers, red onions, chopped egg and Mediterranean guacamole.
ENTREES Mediterranean pies, or pizzas, are available starting at 5 p.m., and we were glad we were there at the right time. We ordered a Mediterranean chicken pie ($15), which was laden with chunks of seasoned chicken breast, pesto tomato sauce, red and green peppers, onions and mozzarella cheese. It was big enough to share. The French Riviera mushroom panini ($9.75) was fabulous. The barbari bread (a thick flatbread), was sprinkled with sesame seeds and made a great capsule for the wild mushrooms, roasted tomatoes, caramelized onions, goat cheese and herb aioli. A side salad with lettuce and carrots, glistening with a lemony olive-oil dressing, was a bonus.
DRINKS A Mojito and gin gimlet are among the four classic cocktails ($12 each) offered. The wine list is small (five reds, six whites) and available by the glass ($8 each), carafe or bottle. The four types of bottled beer ($6 each) include Dogfish Head Namaste White and local offering Duckpin Pale Ale. Organic coffee and tea are also on the beverage list.
SERVICE Our server was polite and attentive, though we wish he had given us a heads up that the food comes to the table as it is ready. Or maybe that was a kitchen glitch. We ended up with our mushroom panini long before the chicken pizza arrived.
DESSERT The individual pastries were delectable and worth a visit to Cafe Fili just for them. They’re not made in house, and Maalouf wouldn’t disclose who does create them. We just hope he continues to use this source. The Key lime tart ($6.75) was a golden gem, made with Key lime curd and whipped cream in a buttery tart shell. The bourbon chocolate bomb ($6.75) was a wicked wonder with chocolate genoise, chocolate mousse and chocolate icing. We didn’t realize until later that baklava — walnut, pistachio and cashew — was also an option, for $1.75, $2.25 and $1.25, respectively.
Backstory: Washington restaurateur Ziad Maalouf partnered with the D.C.-based Somerset Development Co. to open Cafe Fili, a Mediterranean-style eatery, in July at the former Milk & Honey space.
Signature dish: The hummus trio
TVs: No TVs. “We want people to talk to each other,” Maalouf explained.
Where: 816 Cathedral St., Mount Vernon
Contact 410-244-1600, cafefili.com
Open: 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.
Credit cards: All major
Handicap Accessible: Yes
Bottom line: Don’t miss Cafe Fili’s Mediterranean-influenced fare in Mount Vernon.