It's a sunny afternoon in Fells Point and as usual, Moose has stopped traffic. "She's beautiful," a young woman says as she reaches out to ruffle Moose's fur.
Moose, taking no chances with strangers, responds by gobbling up the dog biscuit she was somewhat disinterested in just moments before.
"Moose draws customers for us," Melanie Marne says as she watches the group of dog petters -- now grown to three -- from inside her new restaurant.
But it doesn't take an English sheep dog, even one as cute as Moose (who belongs to one of the cafe's regulars), to draw
customers to the new Cafe Madeira on Thames Street. They've found their way there by the scent of the chocolate raspberry tart, the aroma of just-baked vanilla almond biscotti, the smell of lemon meringue tarts.
Cafe Madeira is just what we've always needed in Baltimore, a cafe devoted to the great pleasures: sumptuous desserts, espresso and cappuccino, leisurely conversations with friends, late breakfasts with croissants and the newspaper.
There are thousands of places like this in Europe; in fact, Ms. Marne's grandparents owned one in Hamburg in the 1920s. "It was called a konditorei," Ms. Marne says. An enlargement of a photograph of her grandparents in front of their shop is proudly displayed on the wall at the cafe, as are snapshots of some of Ms. Marne's past creations.
On any given day the dessert case holds a different array of temptations -- "whatever I feel like making," she says. It might hold such things as raspberry-filled granache cups, eclairs, fresh fruit tarts, dark truffle tart, cannoli, San Francisco fudge fog, heath bar cheesecake, banana cream pie, grasshopper pie, Eastern Shore bread pudding with bourbon cream sauce, raspberry coconut swirls, chocolate chip cookies, blackbottoms, pound cake, sweet cheese puffs, yogurt, gourmet rice pudding and fresh fruit.
Some things, like the chocolate raspberry tart, are so popular they're almost always on hand.
For drinking, Ms. Marne offers espresso, cappuccino, four flavors of hot chocolate, flavored coffees, cafe latte, iced coffee, juices and natural sodas.
There are also a soup and salad of the day -- on this day, yellow split pea soup and pasta salad. For Moose and friends, she offers gourmet dog biscuits.
Every morning there are fresh bagels, croissants and muffins.
Ms. Marne, who grew up in Fallston, attended the Baltimore Culinary College, then worked for a local chocolatier after graduation. After more study, this time at L'Academie de Cuisine in Bethesda, she began baking desserts for local restaurants. She also started her own catering company, Just Dessert Catering.
But because, as she says, "people need a place to sit down and have dessert and coffee," and because the restaurants were getting all the credit for her work, she decided to open a cafe.
Ms. Marne also takes orders for wedding and birthday cakes and desserts for special occasions.
The hours at the cafe are just about to change as the weather gets warmer and people are drawn to late-night strolling. This week the cafe is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursdays and 8 a.m. to midnight on Fridays. Saturday hours are 10 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. and Sunday hours noon to 6 p.m. In about a week or so (call ahead to check), the cafe will stay open until 9 or 10 p.m. Tuesdays to Thursdays. It is closed on Mondays.
Cafe Madeira is located at 1623 Thames St. The telephone number is 675-7105.
It might seem like a comedown to go from feeding the famous, the likes of Gerald Ford, Fidel Castro and Charles de Gaulle, at the International Grand Hotel in Warsaw to feeding the likes of you and me in Sparks, but to look at the smile on Chef Wolfgang Jan Wolff's face, you'd never know it.
He spends a lot of time these days wearing a wide grin because his new restaurant, the Loveton Cafe, is the first one he has owned himself.
After a successful career as a top chef in Poland -- he won the first gold medal at the International Culinary Show in 1973 in Krakow -- and 15 years in the Baltimore area -- including periods at the Peabody Court Hotel and the Center Club -- he finally has his own place on the lower floor of a sleek new office building in the Loveton Business Center.
He came to Baltimore to join his family. His sister married a captain in the U.S. Army and slowly the whole family has come to live here.
His wife Rosine manages the dining room, designed in soft tones of gray and white.
The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Mr. Wolff makes everything from scratch, including the pastries.
The breakfast menu includes fresh pastries and breads; eggs with bacon, sausage or ham; French toast; blueberry pancakes; eggs Benedict; corned beef hash; and steak and eggs.
Lunch offerings include soups, shrimp salad platter, chef salad, chicken salad platter, avocado stuffed with cold seafood in lobster sauce, Reuben sandwich, crab cake sandwich, crab cake platter, grilled salmon, beef tenderloin tips Marsala and sauteed chicken in Beaujolais and mushrooms. Currently there is a serve-yourself $5.50 lunch buffet as well as service from the menu.
The dinner menu includes Caesar salad, vegetable Maryland crab soup, fettucini Alfredo, roast prime rib of beef, veal Cordon Bleu, bouillabaise, crab Norfolk, Loveton seafood special, crab cake with filet mignon, and shrimp scampi. Dessert is a selection of fresh pastries.
There is a brunch on Sundays.
Within the next couple of weeks the cafe will have tables with umbrellas outside on the patio.
The hours are 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays to Fridays, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturdays, noon to 3 p.m. for brunch and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. for dinner on Sundays.
The Loveton Cafe is located in the JMT Building at 72 Loveton Circle just off York Road -- 1 1/2 miles north of Shawan Road -- in Sparks. The telephone number is 472-2080.