Lunch review: Fast, fun comfort food at Sugarbee's

Lunch review: Fast, fun comfort food at Sugarbee's
Sugarbee's Cafe and Grill on East Lexington Street has a near perfect chicken pot pie. (Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore Sun)

is baked into a downtown nexus — including a courthouse and surrounding office buildings — that assures it a healthy supply of hungry patrons. At a recent lunch there, we saw customers lined up 12 deep shortly after noon. Convenience isn't the only thing Sugarbee's has going for it. There are at least three other factors, all of which can be summed up in one menu item: chicken pot pie.



We walk down the steps and into the spacious sub-street-level dining room. The setting is clean and no-nonsense. The tables aren't packed tight and look like they could be arranged to accommodate large groups. Art prints on the walls seem like they were selected with some care, if not with a theme in mind.

From the steps, you walk across the dining room to the cashier and counter where pizzas and other pre-baked goods are on display. We'd just begun milling about looking over the overhead menus when the cashier called out to us, asking what we wanted. We weren't sure yet. But what I initially took to be a staffer's impatience was, I'm now convinced, a deeply inculcated dedication to speedy service.

Around the counter/grill area, a reality TV decorum reigns. Staffers, mostly young women — whether behind the grill, the cash register or on the floor marshaling meals onto a cart for customers to pick up and take back to their tables — all seemed a bit too busy and harried, but there was never a hitch in delivery; they work fast. They are at ease shouting to each other if the situation calls for it.


We place our orders. My dining companion poured a soft drink from the self-serve dispenser. I awaited a coffee handed to me from a counter fronting the grill. You pay when ordering; no waiting for a check at the end of the meal. I saw no obvious way to tip anyone.


We find a table and, when moving a chair, find it is possibly the heaviest of its size in the universe. We barely sat down and our number was called.


Because of the vastness of Sugarbee's menu, we ordered enough to get a sample of classic lunch orders: a bacon cheeseburger ($5.25), a Reuben ($5.50), pepperoni pizza, ($3.50 each, including a soda), and something grabbed our attention as soon as we entered the counter area: A chicken pot pie at $6.50. (No, we didn't eat all that stuff in one sitting.)

The pot pie was far and away the best find. Its golden crust practically glowed in the display case. The pastry was light and crispy-crumbly. Inside, big chunks of chicken share a hot poultry broth with carrots and sweet peas. It was home-cooking comfort food, perfect for a blustery winter day. The couple sitting at the next table each had one. No surprise.

The pizza looked and smelled considerably better than it tasted. It was the one piece of the meal we thought fell below the Sugarbee goodness threshold. Well below. The pepperoni was fine and the cheese was OK, but the sauce seemed overly sweet and the crust was mushy and doughy.

The burger was right at the threshold. I'm guessing the patty was pre-cooked well in advance of my ordering. The bacon, however, was thick and savory. The bread and fixings were average. The fries may have been born-in-a-bag frozen, but they were also hot, crispy and kept us noshing.

If you like Thousand Island dressing, note that our Sugarbee's Reuben was sloppy with it. The toast is thick but light and the kraut didn't overcome the corned beef. Diner Reubens are a guilty pleasure of mine. This one bore much guilt and brought sufficient pleasure.


Sugarbee's long menu includes soups, subs, salads, and platters with the likes of turkey and roast beef. The most expensive lunch item, spaghetti and chicken breast Parmesan, is $7.25. Most offerings are in the $5.50 to $6.50 range. Portions are, to say the least, generous.


We lingered and still finished in 38 minutes. We weren't sure what Zagat would think, but we enjoyed this experience. Fast, filling, affordable: Sugarbee's offers earnest service, fun comfort food and good, working-class value. No doubt you'll find a clunker or two in its ample menu. But treasures like the pot pie may prompt you to continue exploring. Sugarbee's also serves breakfast featuring omelets and hotcakes and eggs — and nothing over $4.50.


112 E. Lexington St., Baltimore



Lunch hours:

11:00 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Monday-Friday

Lunch entrees:








[Key: Outstanding: ✭✭✭✭ Good: ✭✭✭ Fair or Uneven: ✭✭ Poor: ✭]

Dining time: 38 minutes