Ethel and Ramone's: simply refreshing, if just a little quirky


In yesterday's Maryland LIVE section, the Friday and Saturday hours for Ethel & Ramones Coffee and Tea Room were incorrectly listed in the restaurant review. The correct hours are 7 a.m. to midnight.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Ramone ("My name is Jeff but they call me Ramone") is not a happy man. Here he is in his newly opened coffee shop and tea room, surrounded by beautiful muffins and slices of coffee cake and scones made by Happy Endings. It's a real moral dilemma for him.

"I don't eat sugar," he explains. "And if it was up to me, I wouldn't sell anything but fresh fruit and yogurt for dessert. But everyone tells me I have to have them in a coffee shop."

Then his eye lights on a stack of enormous cinnamon-dusted pastries that look a little different from the others. He sighs. "Those aren't from Happy Endings," he says. "They're cinnamon twists from a Jewish bakery. I don't eat them anymore, but I have to have them near me."

And very good they are, those cinnamon twists, in a nostalgic, low-key sort of way. Excellent tea room food. (The coffee cake from Happy Endings is denser, richer with a more pronounced cinnamon flavor.)

Either one would be good for breakfast with a cappuccino out on Ethel and Ramone's front porch, before it gets too hot. (Ethel, by the way, is Ramone's wife -- only her real name is Jane. Never mind.)

If it's already too hot, the little Mount Washington row house is dim and cool inside. There are three tables in the front room with its flowery wallpaper and lace curtains, and stools at the coffee bar in back.

Ramone explains that his cousin, who is a chef at Piccolo's at Fells Point, has overseen the menu. This day it consists of green melon soup, gazpacho, three sandwiches and a fruit plate with Gorgonzola. There are several freshly squeezed juices and gourmet coffee drinks. (Ethel and Ramone's can't decide whether to be a health food cafe or a coffee bar, so it's a bit of both.)

You can get a fruit bowl of honeydew, cantaloupe, fresh pineapple, strawberries, blueberries and green grapes. I recommend having a cranberry scone with it. Honeydew makes an appearance again in the cold soup, which as far as I can tell is simply pureed melon, smooth, faintly sweet and ice cold, with a swirl of creme fraiche and a fresh mint leaf.

I like the simplicity of it, and I feel the same way about the gazpacho, made with tomatoes and a dice of cucumber, yellow squash, zucchini and red onion. The flavor of the fresh vegetables comes through beautifully.

If you want something more substantial, try the satin chicken sandwich, so named because of a Chinese cooking method where the chicken breast is poached in barely simmering water. This is an open-faced sandwich served with lettuce and an intriguing balsamic-basil vinaigrette. Excellent, except for the ordinary bread. (If the place had decent bread, it would deserve three stars.)

There's no denying Ethel and Ramone's is one flaky little place -- and there's no denying it has potential. Here's the perfect symbol for what Mount Washington's newest eatery is like: At one point, Ramone brings a plastic squeeze bottle to the table. It's the kind that usually contains mustard or ketchup, but it's filled with what tastes like freshly made creme fraiche.

Ethel and Ramone's Coffee and Tea Room

Where: 1615 Sulgrave Ave.

Hours: 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, 7 am.-noon Friday and Saturday, 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday

Credit cards accepted: No

Features: Light fare

Non-smoking section? Yes

Call: (410) 664-2971

Prices: Around $5

** 1/2

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