City Cafe Has More Than Just Coffee

By Cathy Adams

     The City Cafe, in Mount Vernon, opened almost five years ago as a coffee bar serving a few sandwiches and salads. It has evolved and expanded to include a bar and full service restaurant, with a menu that ranges from sandwiches and pastas to surf and turf and crab cakes.

     If you enter from Eager Street you walk into the sleek, modern bar and two level dining room; if you use the Cathedral Street entrance the atmosphere is very casual with counter service and plenty of seating.

     Gino Cardinale, one of three partners, became interested in opening his own coffee bar when he was working for Metro food markets. Metro was looking into opening coffee bars in their markets, and Cardinale was assigned to learn as much about the coffee bar business as possible. He did and it whet his appetite to open his own business.

     Cardinale, his brother John Darda and Bruce Bodie, an architect, looked in the Mount Vernon area for a spot and immediately saw the possibilities of the space at the corner of Cathedral and Eager Streets with its floor to ceiling windows and black and white tile floors.

     City Cafe changes its entrees every week and the lunch and dinner specials have become so popular that there is a special option on the telephone system to hear a list. "We have customers that come in every day or if not every day, close to it," said Cardinale and frequently changing the menu keeps customers interested.

     Adding more expensive and elaborate entrees went against conventional wisdom that said people would be reluctant to spend more than $15.00 for an entree at a restaurant better known for casual and carry-out dining. But it has been a good move for the City Cafe, which Cardinale attributes to the new trend in casual eating, people "don't want to go to the fanciest place in town to have a good dinner."

     Recently the entrees included Filet Mignon stuffed with crab meat and served with a Dijon cream sauce, pork tenderloin with a brandy cream sauce and tuna served with a red onion marmalade and crispy grit cakes. Since the City Cafe's customers are generally socially conscious, veal and swordfish (there is a voluntary boycott on Atlantic swordfish to reduce overfishing) generally are not as popular. Cardinale said that lately the menu has featured more traditional Maryland seafood entrees. Sandwiches, which don't change as frequently as the entrees include standards like corned beef, chicken salad, black bean burgers, turkey burgers, smoked turkey and a Black Angus beef hamburger. Appetizers include the ever popular buffalo wings, crab dip, hummus and steamed mussels.

     Expanding the kitchen space allowed them to hire a pastry chef, instead of relying on mass produced desserts, and the efforts show. At the counter of the Cafe, the front case is full of handsome tarts, cakes, as well as scones and brownies.

     The wine list changes frequently and generally features a selection of ten white and ten reds. The pricing is different from other restaurants in that instead of the standard three times markup on wines, they mark each up bottle by $12 which allows them to offer customers a decent glass or bottle of wine at a reasonable price. Cosmopolitans (vodka, triple sec, and cranberry juice) and Martinis are still very trendy and served in "fishbowl" sized Martini glasses.

     From the beginning the City Cafe was meant to be a place for the neighborhood and a lot of wall space has been devoted to displaying works of local artists. The showings, coordinated by Bodie, have been successful for the artists.

     The site has gone through many transformations since it was built. It started out as a car dealership, with an on-site garage, and had large roll out windows. In the disco era, it was the well known Girards's until a spectacular fire almost destroyed the building. It was successfully renovated and also houses the Chase Brexton Health Services on the upper floors. On Mother's Day a customer told Cardinale that he remembers buying a car there and his table was just about where the garage was.

The City Cafe Salad Caprese

    Fresh tomatoes and mozzarella drizzled with Balsamic vinegar reduction. Cardinale said that he was surprised that "we would get so many compliments on such a simple thing."



  1. Reduce the Balsamic vinegar in a small sauce pan over medium heat. Reduce by 2/3's and let cool.
  2. Cut tomatoes and mozzarella into circles of equal size
  3. Arrange tomatoes around the rim of the serving plate, overlapping edges.
  4. Arrange mozzarella inside of the tomatoes.
  5. Using a teaspoon, drizzle reduced Balsamic vinegar over the tomatoes and mozzarella.
  6. Garnish with basil leaves, salt, pepper and chopped parsley.

City Cafe
1001 Cathedral Street
Baltimore, Md
Appetizers, Sandwiches and Salads: $5.50-7.95
Pastas and Entrees: $8.95-20.95
Hours: Sunday 9 am to 11 pm
Monday through Thursday 8 am to 11 pm
Friday 8 am to 12 pm
Saturday 9 am to 12 pm

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