Thursday, April 05, 2007

Artifact Coffee

One of biggest problems about owning your own shop/place to hang out is that you can never experience and enjoy your place in the manner of your customers.

There's no such thing as going in to hang out, sit down, enjoy a coffee and just hang with friends. That doesn't happen. There's always customers who (rightfully) want your attention. Staff issues that need resolving. Operational issues that need your guidance. In all, a myriad of details that you can never escape when you are in your shop trying to "hang out."

As such, all owners (and staff members) need a place of their own to hang out and just enjoy themselves free from the needs of operations. The problem is that when you put so much attention on your coffee quality, you need to find a place that's your equal, otherwise you're just sitting there unable to enjoy your free time.

For years, I've had nowhere to go.

I'm happy to report that time has passed.

Spike Gjerdes (and his clan of food professionals) have turned up again in the form of Artifact Coffee in the sort-of-Hampden area of Baltimore's Clipper Mill project underneath I-83, next to the Light Rail and Pepsi - and I've got a place to hang out again.

For the coffee aficionados out there, Artifact has got a two group Synesso Cyncra, French Presses and Counter Culture Coffee. Yes, it's good. Yes, it's tasty. Yes, you should rush out there right away.

There's even a table or two outside where I can smoke a cigar. I'm just hoping that Spike stays open later so I can partake more.


Every once in a while, you run into a place that just has a cool name and you just have to check it out.

This past Saturday, Coffee Bryan and myself were driving around Baltimore trying to eat French for lunch. As Baltimore would have it, this proved impossible at both Petit Louis and Brasserie Tatin. However, the people at Tatin pointed us in the direction of the Indian buffet at the Ambassador Hotel. Now, I'm sorry, but Indian buffet for under ten bucks does not sound appetizing to me. Food sitting out in the open, barely warm, hovering in the bacterial danger zone is unappetizing at best and I try to avoid any kind of buffet at all costs.

Ixnay on the Indian oodfay.

As we're driving by the Ambassador, we spy a sign reading "Chocolatea" on the ground floor. Gosh, that SOUNDS interesting, let's check it out. In a moments' flash, the car is parked and we're hustling for the door.

Now, what do you see in your minds' eye when you hear the word "Chocolatea"? I envision a specialty boutique of handmade chocolates and the finest teas - the "it" stop and the "end all, be all" of chocolate and tea, right?

In a word, Chocolatea is: schizophrenic.

Everything about the place is just, well, schizo. Nothing seems to make sense. From the Dasani refrigerated case filled with Coke to the IKEA furniture to the remnant couch to the crazy contrasting wall colors to the un-unified assortment of teas to the small case of chocolate truffles that seems like an afterthought to the absolutely crazy and left-field menu ranging from waffles and pancakes to udon noodles and rice bowls.

Now, I'm a hardcore rice guy and when rice presents itself in Baltimore, I'm all over it. Ditto for ahi tuna. So while Coffee Bryan was busy ording pancakes and the chicken udon bowl, I made do with the spicy tuna and the chicken rice bowl - and a bag of Doritos.

How was the food?

Kinda blah, to be honest.

Note to entrepreneurs: if you must do something, narrow it down and do it well. Using pre-cooked, frozen chicken from a bag in your dishes is inexcusable. And, if you're going to pass off the dishes as Japanese in origin, at least know what condiments are typically served with the dishes. Ichimi Togarashi is de rigeur with any sort of donburi bowl.

The tuna was raw and pretty good on its' own but the hot sauce was unremarkable and did nothing for the tuna, though the prepared seaweed salad was tasty, if store bought.

For a drink, I ordered the Lemonade Iced Tea expecting a place called Chocolatea to make killer tea drinks. This one was overpowered with lemon juice and no balance whatsoever with the tea. Coffee Bryan's Chocolatea signature beverage was filled with chocolate floaters that, evidently, were to give texture but were not to his liking.

It's unfortunate. What started out with high hopes led only to disappointment. We love the name, I just hope the owners bring the concept into some sort of focus instead of the schizophrenic menu that's all over the place trying to do many things and succeeding at none of them.