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Ashley's Sweet Beginnings in The Shops at Kenilworth offers more than desserts

One of the tough aspects of being an adult is doing responsible things, like eating a healthy meal before gorging on dessert.

At Ashley's Sweet Beginnings, which opened in May in The Shops at Kenilworth in Towson, the desserts are so fabulous that being a grown-up is difficult. Fortunately, the restaurant's soups and sandwiches are tasty enough that even the healthy stuff goes down as easily as a spoonful of sugar.

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Scene & Decor Located across from the fountain on the first floor, Ashley's has prime Kenilworth restaurant real estate. The small space has a handful of tables (diners can also make use of the tables in the center of the mall), and during our Thursday-evening visit, only one other table was occupied.

The big visual draw at Ashley's is the long dessert case, which houses dozens of varieties of desserts, from miniature pies to macarons to cupcakes. During our visit, more than one curious kid toddled up to the glass to check out the goodies.

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Kids will also love the trains set up in the front corner. Kenilworth is known for its holiday train display; the trains at Ashley's, which change with the seasons, are smaller but very impressive.

Service We placed our orders with a cheerful woman, paying before settling on a table with a great view of the trains and the desserts. A few minutes later, our food arrived from the kitchen, and we returned to the counter to retrieve it, carryout style.

Even when dining in, meals at Ashley's arrive in plastic and paper containers. As a rule, plastic utensils aren't our favorite sight. But given Ashley's location, diners are more likely to carry their meals out into the center of the mall rather than eating in the restaurant, so paper and plastic make sense.

Appetizer We started with a scoop of hummus served with carrot and celery sticks ($4.50). The flavor of the hummus was garlicky and good, as was its smooth texture, but it would have been better at room temperature, instead of straight from a refrigerator. The cold dulled the garlic's bite.

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A bowl of butternut squash soup ($4.50) was at the opposite end of the spectrum, steaming hot. The heat didn't detract from the soup's appeal, though — and it was definitely appealing. Thick and savory, it was a luxurious version of the fall classic (even if it was in a cardboard bowl).

Entrees Generously built sandwiches, both hot and cold, rule the menu at Ashley's. The turkey powerhouse ($9.50) was a behemoth of turkey, house-roasted and sliced, ripe avocado, sprouts and tomatoes, livened up by a sweet caramelized onion marmalade. Stacked on lightly toasted rye bread, the sandwich was tasty, with a great mix of textures.

The Reuben panini ($9.50) was not nearly as healthy as the turkey sandwich, but it was hearty and satisfying. Corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and house-made thousand island dressing, compressed and heated in a panini press, was a sloppy, savory treat.

Drinks Ashley's serves local favorite Zeke's coffee ($1.75); its fragrant, intense roast was a great match for the highlight of our meal, which came at the end. Ashley's knows its way around the dessert case.

Dessert Ashley Krauk, who co-owns Ashley's with her father, Michael Sandaal, has a degree in baking and pastry from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. Her education did not go waste. The dessert case is like a gallery for her creations, all of which are beautiful. Even better, they are delicious.

We grabbed a variety of small desserts — a petit lemon macaron ($1), a mini sweet potato pie ($3.50) and an "Ashley cake" ($5), which was a small chocolate and mint layer cake.

All three were very pretty — they'd make an impressive display at a party — and very likable. The macaron was delicate, tart and sweet, and the sweet potato pie was full of autumnal seasoning, with a flaky crust. The cake, with its Thin Mint-esque flavor and moist texture, was especially delightful.

Sandwiches alone don't always satisfy; Ashley's did. But the real draw was the contents of that sparkling dessert case. It left us tempted to forget the rules of adulthood and indulge — just once — in dessert before dinner.

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