Freda's Kitchen, which markets itself as a New York-style deli, is an exceptionally clean, well-lit and well-organized space - this space used to be the Mount Washington Market - with a sunlit cafe in front and the ordering and deli counters in the back. It's utilitarian but cheerful, with a black-and-white tiled floor. Customers come in, order at a counter and wait for the food to be brought to them.
The surpassingly friendly owners are the Emmers of Mount Washington: Linda and Marty, and their son, Josh. There are smiles all around here - the owners appear to truly value and appreciate their patrons. I know I loved being welcomed as though I mattered.
There's a complimentary letter from a customer posted behind the counter here, which concludes by acknowledging Freda's beautiful neshemah - which is a way of saying, in Kabalistic terms, that Freda's has some seriously good vibes.
The Emmers could give seminars in counter service. A little gesture, such as acknowledging a customer who is waiting in line or directing his attention to the self-serve coffee station, means a lot.
You could argue about how authentic a New York deli experience Freda's Kitchen is. (You could also argue about whether Baltimore has ever had an authentic New York deli, or whether New York City even has one anymore.) Freda's claims to store-cook its own meats and is especially proud - as it should be - of its gorgeous, melt-in-the-mouth corned beef.
But it doesn't feel, or really smell, like an old-fashioned, elbows-in-the-brine deli in here, and you're not going to find blintzes or stuffed cabbage on the menu, although there are liverwurst and chopped liver. Purists might be disappointed, but many more customers are going to respond to the reasonable prices, relaxed ambience and friendly attitudes.
The corned beef, ordered lean, on a sandwich called the Witness Protection, served with cole slaw and Russian dressing, is melt-on-the-tongue good, with a noticeable peppery flavor and no stringiness.
And it was stacked generously. The sandwiches don't come with anything, such as chips or side salads, which I appreciated. (I always end up eating things I never really wanted or needed in the first place.) I liked a well-made, classic turkey club, too.
There are also hot items at Freda's Kitchen. The soup of the day when we visited was chicken matzo ball. It tasted a little weak, in need both of some more fatty flavor and more seasoning, including pepper and parsley. We were told the turkey burgers were made in house, but the flat and wimpy one we tried tasted more like something that had come in a package.
Freda's does breakfast, too - eggs and bagels, with smoked fishes and seasoned spreads. Other people were getting breakfast when I visited, and I liked the breakfast platters that I saw. And there's a salad bar in the back, which struck me as something that might be more trouble than it's worth for the staff to maintain. Maybe it was something that customers had been asking for.
I'm always looking for places where I can spread out with the Sunday newspaper, and Freda's would be perfect for that. Its easily accessible by the light rail, and close enough to Whole Foods to make it a Sunday breakfast-and-shopping ritual.
Where: 1604 Kelly Ave.
Hours: 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday-Sunday
Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa, AMEX
Food: ** 1/2 ( 2 1/2 STARS)
Service: *** 1/2 (3 1/2 STARS)
Ambience: *** ( 3 STARS)
Appetizers : $2.99-$3.99
on the menu
* Turkey burger: $7.99
* Reuben: $8.25
* The Witness Protection (corned beef): $8.25
* Build-your-own three-egg omelet: $7.99
* Classic Club: $8.99
* Chicken Matzo Ball Soup (pint): $3.99
* Salad bar: $6.99/a pound