An editor here told me about buying a pair of shoes at Nordstrom. When she finished trying them on, the saleswoman put her old shoes back on her feet and tied them for her, then told her to sit still while she took her money up to the cash register. Now that's the kind of service I'm always looking for in a restaurant, so where better to eat lunch than Cafe Nordstrom?
As it turns out, the setup is such that service isn't really an issue. You read the menu while you wait in line and order when you get to the cashier. (I'm not sure what you do when there isn't a line. It's a long menu.) The cashier gives you a number, you pick a table and the waitress finds you with your food.
If you're expecting imaginative, elegant little cafe lunches, you'll be disappointed. It's a pretty straightforward menu: The list of sandwiches and salads is extensive, and there are pizzas, hamburgers, hot dogs and a pasta of the day as well. One nice feature is that breakfast can be served any time, and another is that there's plenty to choose from for kids 10 and under. And a third is that Nordstrom tries hard to keep prices under $5. (Some items are a little more expensive, but not much.)
Oddly enough, our best dish was something I wouldn't have thought to try if my friend hadn't ordered it: a meatloaf burger ($4.95). It was great, better than a conventional hamburger. The kitchen started with a quarter-pound of excellent meatloaf, put it on a good roll and topped it with lettuce, ripe tomato and red
onion. I also liked my grilled mixed vegetables ($5.95). Slices of potato, fat asparagus, squash and broccoli had been charred and piled in heaps on a thick bed of fresh spinach. (OK, so it wasn't the most attractive dish I've ever been served.) With it came a fiery-sweet dipping sauce and a good, chewy roll.
What I didn't like was clam chowder (99 cents with a sandwich) thick enough to stand a spoon in. A lukewarm bowl of french onion soup ($3.50). An Eastern Market sandwich ($4.95) on foccaccia that was too fat to eat comfortably, with big asparagus stalks, melted provolone, tomatoes, mushrooms that had seen better days, sprouts and a honey raspberry dressing that tasted like raspberry jam. A truly uninspired side salad. And "freshly squeezed orange juice" ($1.35) that was actually Just Pik't frozen.
On the plus side again, the cashier was extraordinarily patient with us. You wouldn't believe how often we changed our order or ordered something as an afterthought. And when we stopped a waitress going by and asked her to refill our drinks, she did it without batting an eye. (We weren't even charged.)
We had excellent dessert and coffee at the cafe's jazzy little espresso bar downstairs: good cappuccino ($1), espresso ($1.25), tea (for 25 cents!) and fine scones ($1.50), madeleines ($1) and biscotti (85 cents). All those baked goodies are available in the cafe proper; we just thought the change of scene would be fun.
Nordstrom, Towson Town Center.
Hours: Mondays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sundays, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Credit cards accepted: A, MC, V, Nordstrom.
Features: Light fare.
Non-smoking section? Yes.
Call: (410) 296-2111.