Table Talk: Lost City Diner finally materializes

Let's just say that hydroelectric dams haven't taken as long to complete as the Lost City Diner, Joy Martin's long-awaited project in the Charles North neighborhood.

There were rumors of activity on the corner of Charles and Lafayette in early July, and then, on Aug. 16, word got out: The Lost City Diner was open.

People had two questions: What took so long? And was it worth the wait?

The answer to the first question, partly, answers the second. Martin, who owns the Club Charles, was meticulous about the diner's decor. A devotee of Art Deco and Art Nouveau, Martin had to have details perfect in the Lost City, whose antique fixtures and fanciful retro-industrial elements gorgeously evoke the giddy atmosphere of a Buck Rogers serial from the 1930s.

"We researched things down to the last detail," Martin said. What she didn't find through salvaging, she had created.

The informal stable of artists who frequent the Club Charles contributed, too. Alix Tobey Southwick painted the loopy "time-tunnel" effect over the kitchen doors.

The fascination with period detail extends to the staff's uniforms, which were assembled from surplus Eastern European military gear. A lucky break — the emblem on Czech army caps looks like it was designed for a diner with a sci-fi theme.

The opening menu includes burgers, a section of breakfast items, including a chicken-and-waffles dish, and some more substantial fare like bouillabaisse and grilled pork chops. The big hits so far at the Lost City Diner are the fountain treats — specialty sundaes, milkshakes and malteds, including old classics like the Knickerbocker and the Tin Roof, and new-fangled creations like the Utopia and the Vector, made with soy ice cream. The hot chocolate and the butterscotch are homemade.

In the opening days at Lost City, fountain sales were outpacing beer sales at the Club Charles. "Who would have thought ice cream would outsell beer?" Martin said.

Lost City Diner is at 1730 N .Charles St. Call 410-547-9000. The diner is open seven days a week for dinner and has a BYOB policy.

That's hospitality A friend was so upset about the loss of her beloved Cobb salad that she wrote the B&O Brasserie about it. This is the response she got from Thomas Dunklin at the B&O Brasserie.

"Thank you for your recent feedback on our menu changes for lunch. Your opinion is highly respected and not taken for granted.

"We value your patronage and loyalty to B&O. By changing the Cobb Salad you have grown to love, we did not mean to offend. We are in the process of a menu change and wanted to get our guests' feedback so it pleases me to learn that you have reached out. I am not sure if the original Cobb will find its way back on the menu, but I'd like to do something special for you. We invite you to join us regularly as you do for lunch and we will make the Cobb salad you enjoy, exclusively for you each time you visit. This will be no problem to do, but rather than upset you or lose your business we would rather accommodate you each visit. Would this be something you would be interested in? Just mention that you were wanting the traditional Cobb salad when you make your reservation.

"Once again, thank you for reaching out and I hope to hear from and see you soon!

"Thomas Dunklin"

There are several lessons here:

First, Dunklin is not inviting the customer to be a total diva. She has to mention the Cobb salad when she makes a reservation. That's just smart, and puts customer and restaurant on a path of cooperation.

Second, the customer's letter to the chef expressed disappointment but not outrage. It opened a conversation and didn't back the chef into a corner.

Sofi's on the move Look for a Sofi's Crepes to open soon in Belvedere Square, where the Starbucks used to be. The Sofi's operation now at the Woman's Industrial Exchange is packing up lock, stock and batter, owner Ann Costlow says.

The original Sofi's next to the Charles Theatre isn't going anywhere. And the Sofi's in Annapolis and Owings Mills, which are franchise operations, are staying put.


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