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American Cafe 2 W. Pennsylvania Ave., Towson....


American Cafe 2 W. Pennsylvania Ave., Towson. Hours: Open daily, 11:30 a.m. 2 a.m. (410) 321-4800

Sometimes it seems as if all carryout food comes from one of five basic groups: Burgers, Pizza, Chinese, Deli or Chicken. And that's fine, as far as it goes. But what do you do when you're looking for something lighter, tastier or different?

It's times like this that the American Cafe seems a godsend. Office workers in Towson already know the Cafe for its market specialties -- easily transportable salads and sandwiches stressing fresh vegetables, light dressings and chicken -- but carryout food is available all day (order at the bar if the Market counter is closed).

Dip-to-go may not be standard carryout fare, but the Cafe's hot artichoke dip ($3.95) -- a tangy paste of artichoke, spinach and Parmesan, served with light, crusty bread -- travels well and is too tasty to pass up. Much the same can be said for the soup courses, particularly the spicy and convincing Arizona vegetarian chili ($1.95 for a cup, $2.95 for a bowl). Entrees are available, but we were happy with sandwiches, particularly the substantial grilled vegetable sandwich ($4.95).

If the Cafe has a failing, it lies with its "Maryland" specialties. Although it's hard to argue with the smooth, rich Maryland cream of crab soup ($2.95 cup; $3.95 bowl) -- it may not be traditional, but is sure tastes good -- the Cafe's crab cakes ($7.95), with their elaborate seasonings and bits of chopped pepper, aren't likely to win over those used to the simple pleasures of the basic backfin cake.

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