Super-friendly Boheme Cafe still pleases

Special to The Baltimore Sun

There's a wide and shady plaza in front of the RTKL's still-handsome 400 E. Pratt St. building that was once one of my favorite downtown eating spots. I don't get over there much anymore, but I was glad to see the Boheme Cafe still fronting the plaza, still super-friendly and still doing good business.

I really like what owner Martha Lucius and company do with this clean, bright space, which distinguishes itself from Baltimore's other downtown luncheon spots with an emphasis on good ingredients, fresh preparations and creative cuisine.

Before this spot was Boheme Cafe, it was a Chesapeake Bagel Bakery, which was also operated by Lucius. Open from early in the morning until late afternoon for breakfast and lunch, Boheme is counter-service only. There are four tables with umbrellas out on the plaza, but I think most people carry their soups, sandwiches and salads back to work, or, when the weather's nice, across the street and down by the water.

My memory tells me that Boheme's prices haven't changed all that much over the past five years, so maybe if it seemed like it was a dollar too much for things back then, it doesn't now. Other places have caught up. The basic menu consists of pastries and egg sandwiches for breakfast and about two dozen sandwich and salad options for lunch. When I visited, Lucius was introducing two new sandwiches to the menu, a good sign that Boheme hasn't become complacent. Over the years, Boheme has increased the number of items it stocks in its grab-and-go case, much of which caters to healthful eating: cut fruit and vegetables, hard-boiled eggs, scoops of its delicious tuna and curried chicken salads, and berry parfaits with granola.

Boheme, in general, seems to take its food seriously, but not overly so. Things are fresh and local when it makes good sense but not when it would send prices soaring. I like that the cafe is using Counter Culture Coffee at the espresso bar, and I really admire the place for paying so much attention to vegetarians, actually considering their protein needs. The Cairo Wrap is Boheme's fine Mediterranean sandwich, with homemade garlic hummus, crunchy cucumbers, good-looking lettuce and tomatoes, sprouts and red onions, all wrapped very tightly in a tortilla shell.

Another wrap, the Maharajah, features the house's curried chicken salad, which I think strikes a very nice balance between savory and sweet flavors, the sweet coming mostly from plump little raisins. I was less enthusiastic about a few other sandwiches, things that the people who ordered them enjoyed but not enthusiastically. These included a smoked turkey sandwich with cranberry spread, a little dull in spite of being exactly what it said it was; a chicken Caesar wrap, whose fillings looked too shredded-up for the person who tried it; and an egg salad sandwich that wanted just a pinch of something. It might take a few visits to Boheme to find your favorite.

Boheme's daily changing soups have a following, and they're very good, made fresh on the premises. A carrot-ginger soup is seasoned with just enough salt, and a split pea soup is powered with just enough chicken stock to make them taste like something. The turkey chili is served every day, and customers have been known to stock up on quarts of it for the weekend. There are other things to admire, too: the accommodating staffers, who make coming to the cafe a pleasure; the selection of fresh breads, including a terrific herbed flatbread, and the homemade pastries and desserts, especially the nut- and fruit-filled hippie cookies.

Last, I'm giving out another commendation for attractive and legible chalkboard printing. My theory is holding up: If the staffers care about the way the chalkboard looks, they'll care about your food, too.

On the menu •Meat, egg and cheese sandwich - $4

•Maharajah sandwich - $5.99

•Cold turkey - $6.49

•Cairo wrap - $5.29

•Chicken Caesar wrap - $6.19

•Egg salad sandwich - $5.29

•Turkey chili - $4.50/$5

•Chef salad - $6.49

Boheme Cafe Where: 400 E. Pratt St.

Call: 410-347-9898

Open: 6:45 a.m.-4 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays and 6:45 a.m.-3 p.m. Fridays

Appetizers/sides: $3.25-$6.49

Entrees: $4.49-$6.99

Credit cards: Master Card, Visa, AMEX

Food: ***

Service: *** 1/2

Ambience: ***

[Outstanding: **** Good: *** Fair or uneven: ** Poor: *]

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