When the Baltimore Sun's other reviewer, Richard Gorelick, and I were trying to come up with a definition for "upscale cafe," he came up with four criteria: You have to be comfortable just having a cup of coffee there, you can't think of it as a bar, it has to have table service, and beer and wine have to be available. I would add the food and the decor have to be stylish.
I wasn't entirely happy with my Top 10 Upscale Cafes, but it was the best I could do. Here's my list in alphabetical order:
49 West in Annapolis. Yes, it calls itself a coffeehouse and wine bar, but it's open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, which makes it a good candidate to be an upscale cafe.
Artful Gourmet in Owings Mills offers imaginative food in a small storefront with an open kitchen. The name refers to fine art; it's not the owner bragging. The dishes are all named after artists.
City Cafe in Mount Vernon has been recently renovated and is more of a restaurant than some on this list, but you'll still feel perfectly comfortable just ordering a coffee here.
Donna's (area locations) introduced the concept of upscale cafe to Baltimore, with its stylish interiors, olive oil for dipping rustic breads into, specialty coffee drinks, roasted vegetables and no ranch dressing to go on the salads.
Marie Louise in Mount Vernon is a serious restaurant at night, but as the Web site says, "Stop in for a meal or just a cup of coffee." And while you're at it, pick up one of those French pastries from the bakery counter.
Sascha's 527 in Mount Vernon is a bit of a stretch in this category, but it is a place where no one is going to kick you out because you want to sit around reading with a cup of coffee and one of the big cookies.
People may think of Spoons in Federal Hill as just a coffeehouse if they haven't been there, but it has an elaborate menu of good things, a beer and wine license, and to solidify its qualifications as an upscale cafe, a wonderful collection of latte art photos on its Web site at SpoonsCoffeeCafe.com.
Teavolve in Harbor East epitomizes the genre: It serves breakfast, lunch and dinner in a chic setting where you can have a coffee or a pot of tea and work on your laptop or get a drink after work.
Village Square Cafe in Cross Keys has food ranging from pancakes and roasted vegetable pizza with goat cheese. It also has a great place to eat outdoors when the weather is good again - always important for a cafe.
I simply can't come up with a 10th upscale cafe, so I'm going to have to say that I have high hopes for the soon-to-be-opened Falls where Freda's Kitchen was in Mount Washington. It meets all the criteria, and I liked the Evergreen a lot, which was the owner's last cafe/coffeehouse.
Readers talk back
Another of my favorites is The Main Ingredient Cafe in Annapolis. It is my go-to for great omelets in the morning, creative sandwiches and salads at lunch, and a light but sophisticated dinner menu ... with wine. Plus their cakes are amazing!
Posted by: GrayGirl
Metropolitan Coffee House and Wine Bar in Federal Hill. The name says it all.
Posted by: gibby
I think Sorso in the Harborview community strictly speaking meets all four criteria (they will bring your order to your table - does that qualify as table service?). Nothing I would call terribly upscale about it, but given its proximity to the water and the intimate ambience of the neighborhood, maybe it makes up in atmosphere what it lacks in cuisine.
Posted by: out-of-towner