Meli, half a block from the Broadway pier in Fells Point, is the bee's knees.
by T.F. Sayles
First of all, it should be noted that in Baltimore we pronounce "Thames" correctly. That is, we say it exactly the way it is spelled: Thames. Rhymes with James, starts with a conventional th sound, as in "thick." None of that bizarre British "tems" business. So, now that we have that straightened out, let's have brunch. And since we're right here on Thames Street in Fells Point, just half a block from where the water taxi dropped us at the foot of Broadway, let's have it at Meli Patisserie and Bistro.
I suggest, however, that you do not do this, as I did, on a perfectly warm, sunny Easter Sunday afternoon, when half the city of Baltimore has the same idea. I'd still be waiting for a table if I had not had a woman of considerable clout as my lunch date that day-my friend Patti Neumann, publisher of citypeek.com, a web-based city guide that offers the inside skinny on restaurants, hotels and attractions in Baltimore (and, for that matter, several other East Coast cities).
Celebrity date or not, it was still a bit of a wait, because we wanted a sidewalk table. But how bad can waiting be when you're sitting at a bar sipping mimosas and listening to a jazz duo? Not bad at all, I tell you. It also gave me a chance to snoop around inside. The decor is strikingly modern and spare in the pale-yellow main dining room, which is essentially a balcony wrapped around an open descending staircase to the lower floor. Down there is the Minoan Room-which was not what I was expecting, given it's name. It's a plush, quiet, low-light lounge with sofas and banquettes and silky floor-to-ceiling curtains along one wall. I was expecting stone walls and Bronze Age sculptures, but it has more of nightclubby casbah feel-and quite appealingly so.
Back upstairs in the main dining room I was briefly curious about the dominant hexagon/honeycomb theme (on the ceiling and in the railing around the stairwell), until I remembered what Patti had told me, that meli is the Greek word for honey.
Honey shows up in a lot of a dishes too, though in very subtle and interesting ways, which I discovered when we finally got our sidewalk table and began studying the menu. I was hankering for something breakfasty, so I ended up ordering the fresh herb omelet-one of several omelets on the brunch menu-which came with baby spinach, roasted red peppers, aged parmesan and Mediterranean herbs. If I'd been in the mood for greens, I probably would have gone with the baked goat cheese salad (Patti's choice, featuring mesclun greens, endive and cider vinaigrette) or the baby arugula salad, also with goat cheese, plus red onion, pine nuts and, most fascinating of all, watermelon vinaigrette and balsamic honey. Mmmm. How could that be anything but fabulous?
Also on the brunch menu-a frequently changing melange from the creative mind of executive chef Rashad Edwards, a Baltimore native-are breakfast classics like waffles and French toast (both with a dollop of honey ice cream, if you like, and who wouldn't like?), as well as both hot and "cool" entrees. In the latter category was a grilled tomato and halloumi dish that very nearly deflected me from my omelet quest. What caught my eye among the hot entrees, if only for its Frenchy exoticism, was the crispy duck confit, with candied bacon, quail egg, frisee and honey-onion marmalade.
Maybe I'd order that next time, I told Patti. In fact, when I did go again, only a few weeks later, I got the waffles. Mmmm. And the next time, for dinner, I tried the tuna burger with sweet potato fries, and, for an appetizer, the artisan cheese sampler. And now, I think, I hear that grilled halloumi calling to me.
Meli Patisserie and Bistro, at 1636 Thames Street, is open daily for dinner 5-11 p.m.; (dessert and drinks until 1 a.m.) and Monday-Friday for lunch 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Brunch is served Saturday-Sunday 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Live jazz on Sundays. Brunch entrees $8-$15. Reservations recommended. 410-534-6354; www.kalismeli.com.