Friday, May 30, 2008

Behind the Gulumki

Some might say they are behind the eight ball but I’m behind the gulumki. I should have written the review of Ze Mean Bean Café weeks ago. The fans of Ze Mean Bean Café, and there are many, enjoy their menu offerings which honor old world Slavic home-styled dishes (stuffed cabbage, borscht, periogies, goulash etc) to their contemporary crab cake served with spicy Polish honey vodka sauce over greens and asparagus or sea scallops with chorizo rum vinaigrette.

Ze Mean Bean's Borscht


The best place to start is at the beginning. My fellow food blogger, Jake Slagle of Unique Culinary Adventures wanted to interview me about my new gig writing for Examiner.com and what better way to do so then over food. Ze Mean Bean Café was Jake’s choice for lunch. I had never dined there because I ‘assumed’ (you all know what that word means) that it was a coffee house and I don’t do coffee (that is another story). In fact, Ze Mean Bean started off as a bakery/coffee house back in 1995. I direct you to Jake’s story and his take on our luncheon. I had to smile that anyone thought me worthy of an interview.

Getting Down on Gulumki

So let’s get to what matters, the food. I couldn’t pass up the borscht and it didn’t disappoint. The ruby red broth of the Russian borscht ($5) was perfect. It was rich with the natural sweetness of the root vegetables but not cloyingly sweet and the chicken that was used in making the broth was a nice light touch over the heavier flavors of a beef stock. It reminded me of my Lithuanian grandmother’s borscht. In our family, the borscht was served cold or at room temperature. While I enjoyed my borscht, Jake indulged in the spinach salad with the fruity Parmesan tuile ($8).

I moved on to the Holupki (Gulumki) Dinner ($10) that offered two plumb cabbage rolls stuffed with ground beef and rice in a light tomato sauce with potato cake and vegetable of the day. It was a fair value for the dollar, plenty of food. I prefer my stuffed cabbage with a little less rice than what was served but that goes back to what you grew up eating and your expectations. Jake just loved his crab cake, he felt the crabmeat tasted extremely fresh, from the Atlantic but in reality he knew it was too early in the season. You can order the crab cake as an appetizer or entrée and it is market price.

Sweet Finishes

Aaaah, desserts – we can’t forget something sweet to finish off the meal. Our lovely and attentive waitress informed us that the owner’s mother makes the desserts. There was a large selection that day (remember Ze Mean Bean started out as a dessert and coffee café). Let’s see if I can make heads or tails of my notes on our selection for that afternoon:

Chocolate Mousse Pie
Apple Dutch Cake
Apple Pie with Caramel Crunch & Nuts
Pineapple Banana Upside Down Cake
Chocolate Babka and woe was us…they were out of the bread pudding.

Jake said he would take a bite of whatever I ordered but he was watching his waistline. I lost my waistline about 15 years ago so it didn’t matter to me. I chose the Pineapple Banana Upside Down Cake and it was worth every single calorie. The cake was dense, moist, flavorful and not too sweet. How good was it? Well I gave up eating it half way through because I was just too full when Jake decided that one bite was not sufficient for him and preceded to help finish the dessert.

Ze Mean Bean isn’t all about Slavic food or homemade desserts there is entertainment, a wonderful wine list and they cater as well. I enjoyed the homey feel, the pleasant service and a menu with a diverse selection of old world and contemporary menu choices. It’s on my list for a return visit….do give it a try.

Polish Dining Footnotes:

1. The Polish Festival is this weekend at Patterson’s Park Pulaski Monument, Eastern Avenue at Linwood – enjoy entertainment, dancing and food. (May 30th, 31st & June 1st)

2. Wednesday, June 4th Sotto Sopra Restaurant is offering a 4-course Home Cooked Polish Dinner. Yes, Sotto Sopra is an Italian restaurant but the owner’s in-laws are in visiting from Poland and his mother-in-law and wife are preparing the special dinner. It is limited seating, it is communal and family style dining.

Ze Mean Bean Cafe on Urbanspoon
For more info:

Ze Mean Bean Café
Eastern European Café & Wine Bar
1739 Fleet Street (Fells Point)
Baltimore, MD 21231
(410) 675-5999
http://www.zemeanbean.com/

Beat the Inflation Heat: Every Tuesday their chef creates a three-course menu that is sure to tantalize your taste buds. This delectable menu is a steal at only $19.95 per person, and $29.95 with specially paired wines. Every Tuesday receive any bottle of wine from their list at half price with the purchase of two Chef Specialty entrees!

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