Julie's in Federal Hill goes a step beyond traditional coffee bars


So many coffee bars have opened in Baltimore you wonder if the trend isn't going to topple over under its own weight, if trends can do that. Some of the new coffeehouses have already come and gone, like Java Blues in the Mount Vernon area. But they keep opening up-the latest one being Julie's Cafe in Federal Hill.

This engaging little spot may survive while others don't because it does much more than coffees and desserts. Yes, there's an espresso bar and you can get cappuccino and caffe latte and Italian sodas. But it's also open for full breakfasts (from cold cereal to baked eggs with spinach), lunch and light suppers. When people have gotten tired of spending $2.50 for a cup of coffee, Julie's will probably still be selling meals for around $5.

Julie is Julie Cahan, formerly a partner in Sam & Noah's Bagels, and her cafe is clearly a labor of love -- an amateur operation with its heart in the right place. When a waitress doesn't show up, Julie's mom comes in to help out.

It's a cute little spot, a spruced-up Federal Hill storefront. The original brick walls and wood floors look all shiny and new. The counter and table tops are faux green marble with trendy blue glass water bottles holding sprigs of flowers. Brightly colored prints line the walls, and there are lots of green plants.

The downside is that the place is noisy. I'm not sure why: The whirring ceiling fans and the cappuccino machine have something to do with it. But worst of all is the microwave, which whistles loudly every time it goes off. Still, everyone here is so nice it's hard to get upset about anything. You feel like you're in someone's home; and if their radio is on too loud, you can't really complain.

As for the food, some of it works, some of it doesn't. A cup of cream of broccoli soup came to the table lukewarm (if I'm going to put up with that microwave whistle, at least get the food good and hot), but it was creamy and fresh-tasting. And the chewy baguette that accompanied it was great.

Tabbouleh with roasted pecans came without the roasted pecans, but the sprightly combination of bulghur wheat with chopped vegetables seasoned with lemon juice and mint was good with the warm pita.

Actually, at Julie's Cafe you have to take the menu descriptions more as possibilities. There was none of the promised sprouts on the Turkey Hi-Roller sandwich, for instance, and that was fine with me. I liked it better with just the turkey, ripe avocado, romaine (no, not the promised spinach), tomato and mayonnaise -- the filling warm and soft in the heated flour tortilla.

If I had to do it again, I'd give the pasta salad a skip -- it had no dressing that I could taste -- in favor of the Greek or Caesar salad, both of which were being served to the table next to us and looked great. Or the quiche of the day, with its flaky crust and soft custard filling.

Any self-respecting coffee bar has good desserts, and Julie's is no exception. I liked the homemade chocolate chip cookies with macadamia nuts; but the bread pudding was fine, too -- except that it swam in a lake of half and half. Or go for an old-fashioned milkshake: better than a Valium, as a doctor friend of mine used to say.

Julie's Cafe

Where: 915 Light St.

Hours: Monday and Tuesday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., Wednesday and Thursday, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday 7 a.m. to midnight, Saturday 8 a.m. to midnight, Sunday 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Credit cards accepted: None.

Features: Light fare.

Non-smoking section? Yes.

Call: (410) 837-5447.

Prices: Sandwiches, salads and specials around $5.

** 1/2

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