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For starters, One World Cafe and has world-class soup


One World Cafe

Where: 904 S. Charles St.

Hours: Monday to Thursday 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday 6:30 a.m.

to 3 a.m.; Saturday 8 a.m. to 3 a.m.; Sunday 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Credit cards accepted: No.

Features: Vegetarian fare, desserts.

Non-smoking section? Yes.

Call: (410) 234-0235.

Prices: Around $5.


5/8 The One World Cafe looks like a hundred other places that have opened up recently -- the low-key and sometimes amateurish coffee bars and cafes. The ones where you can sit and read the paper and make a cup of cappuccino last indefinitely. Places that have mostly vegetarian menus, extravagant desserts and 10 different kinds of coffee.

The facade of the former Federal Hill florist shop has been painted a funky purple and green. Inside is more conservative, and quite inviting. The front room has an Old World feel to it, with cream stucco walls and beamed ceilings. A few marble-topped tables with wooden chairs and a bench are arranged near the counter where you order. In a back room is a fireplace and easy chairs; the upstairs dining area has a couple of tables and a pool table.

How this place makes any money is beyond me, because people tend to come in, order a cup of coffee and sit there reading. But the One World Cafe does serve food, and here's the surprise: The food is sophisticated and quite professionally done. Almost everything we tried was good.

The owners are Luis Fabara, who's had experience running a cafe in San Diego, and his brother Frank. There's a little California Organic in offerings like carrot juice, but mostly the dishes offered each day are influenced by cuisines around the world.

Soup, for instance, may have its origins in India or Italy. I mention soup first because the two I tried are as good as you're going to get. I can't decide whether the pasta and bean or the curried lentil was better: They were both great; not served as hot as they should have been, but otherwise both belonged in the soup hall of fame.

A vegetarian paella was overpriced; without seafood and sausage it was basically just Spanish rice. But it was a fine Spanish rice. It came with a small, good salad, as did the calzone, a tender bread shell stuffed with a flavorful goat cheese and red pepper filling.

Polenta as a main dish isn't a favorite of mine -- it gets a little monotonous. But the kitchen jazzes up the cornmeal mush by slicing a wedge and filling it with gorgonzola and tomato sauce. It comes with blue tortilla chips (more corn, but it works) and a fiery salsa.

Even something as simple as a bagel melt is surprisingly good, served on a warm, soft poppy and sesame seed bagel with melted mozzarella, red leaf lettuce and tomato.

The Fabaras may sell organic carrot juice, but when it comes to dessert you're supposed to throw caution to the wind and indulge in whipped cream, fudgy chocolate and lots of sugar. Try the mile-high apple pie, tira misu, a fine blueberry cheesecake or my favorite, a light and luscious passion fruit cake.

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