This is the second coming of Teavolve, Sunni Gilliam and Del Powell's soothing alternative to the neighborhood caffeine house.
The original edition was a snazzy-looking but cozy teahouse on Eastern Avenue, just east of Broadway in Fells Point. The new Teavolve is only about six blocks away, but it feels like you're in a different world. Teavolve occupies a large and looming ground-floor space in a recently constructed waterfront apartment building.
The space is a big winner. The new Teavolve is meant to work from early morning, when breakfast is served, until past midnight, when there are live performances, readings and specialty cocktails. I think it does work. There's a chic industrial aesthetic here - exposed pipes, functional flooring, that sort of thing - but the owners have done a great job of filling it with colorful large-scale artwork and warm furnishings. It's just very comfortable, and over repeated visits, there was always great music playing at a sympathetic level, just loud enough to be stimulating. On a typical weekday afternoon, you'll see a lot of laptops working at Teavolve, but it's not unusual to see a pack of moms and toddlers come in and commandeer a corner.
There are about three dozen teas and infusions on Teavolve's loose-leaf menu, everything from Earl Grey to organic cinnamon chai. Order by the pot, and you'll be brought a lovely green pot with a built-in tea-warmer and removable infuser. There are also fruit and tea smoothies, Taiwanese bubble teas and tea lattes.
Teavolve is actively promoting its weekend brunch as an alternative to waiting in "long lines for brunch in small cramped eateries." That seems more like a matter of taste, but brunch is a good time to check out Teavolve, when the weekday breakfast menu is expanded beyond the assortment of Belgian waffles, English muffin sandwiches and baked goods to include a smoked salmon plate, specialty omelets and breakfast panini. Mimosas, Bloody Marys and tea-infused sangria are served, too.
I've held off this long on talking about the food at Teavolve because so far I'm underwhelmed by it, even as I think its intentions are good. Panini are a specialty there, with fillings such as grilled eggplant, smoked turkey and maple-smoked ham, but the sandwiches aren't coming out with that beautiful fusing together of ingredients, the very thing that makes a panino distinct. I can see the fancy panini grills in the exposed kitchen. The chipotle aioli that comes on the smoked ham, adult grilled cheese and BLT versions, though, is terrific. Croissant sandwiches on the menu are a sophisticated touch, but the Magnum shrimp salad was disappointing. The shrimp were small and tasted frozen. Perhaps the salad had just been over-chilled. Either way, it was not very nice. Omelets here are simple and pretty, with a selection of healthful and savory ingredients such as smoked turkey, fresh spinach, portobello mushrooms, bell peppers and tomatoes.
From a short list of starters, a plate of roasted garlic hummus with roasted red peppers, Greek olives and flatbread crackers is a good choice. I could have taken more garlic oomph, and I could have done without the balsamic drizzle entirely. Waffles, a specialty from the breakfast menu (which is served all day) are popular here, but I don't think there's anything extraordinary about them. The only thing that qualified truly as a misstep was a small hand-cut fruit cup, which was full of flavorless honeydew cut from close to the rind.
I said before that the intentions are good, and I meant it. Another 30 seconds on the grill and a panino is perfect; a different scoop of honeydew, and a fruit cup is just fine. And I think I would have been singing the waffles' praises if I'd just have been given more syrup. Gilliam and Powell appear to be genuinely nice people. They've attracted a caring staff, and that's a big plus.
Where: 1401 Aliceanna St.
Open: 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays; 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays
Credit cards: Master Card, Visa, Amex
Food: ** 1/2 ( 2 1/2 STARS)
Ambience: *** 1/2 ( 3 1/2 STARS)
Service: ** 1/2 ( 2 1/2 STARS) on the menu
* Belgian waffles with butter and syrup - $5.50
* BLT panino - $7.50
* Sliced maple smoked ham panino - $7.50
* Three-ingredient omelet - $9
* Magnum shrimp salad - $8.95
* Hand-cut fruit cup - $4.50