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THE BALTIMORE SUN
DINING FOR $25 OR LESS
Sit down and stay awhile at
Baltimore County residents in the know have been feasting on Gourmet Again’s terrific chicken salad and shrimp salads and sandwiches for years, often eating in their cars because there was no place to sit down in the store.
Now, the family-owned grocery, bakery and deli has added a little sit-down café, so customers no longer have to worry about spilling their food on their steering wheels.
The café, called The Grille at Gourmet Again, isn’t so much a restaurant as a space – a corner of the store that’s been set aside for enough tables and chairs to seat about 40. You pick up your food at the deli counter or salad bar, grab a drink from the cooler, then pay at the same cash register where you buy groceries.
There’s no wait service, but the café has a thoughtful setup. A pitcher of ice water sits next to some plastic cups, and there are plenty of paper plates, napkins and plastic utensils. Best of all is the vat of salty, garlicky dill pickle slices there for the taking, complete with little plastic tubs so the green brine doesn’t run onto your sandwich.
The story of Gourmet Again begins in 1968, when it opened in Baltimore as The Gourmet Shop. The store moved to Pikesville in 1972, then to Festival at Woodholme, in 1989.
About that time, the owners – Stanley and Charlotte Pressman, and Stanley Pressman’s brother, Coleman – retired, and their nephew, Harold Hackerman, took over.
Hackerman brought the store back to Pikesville in 1994, this time as Gourmet Again. When the bank next door closed, he expanded, adding more deli items and opening the café, he said.
These days, the lunch line at the deli counter is steady as customers order egg salad sandwiches ($4.95), Reubens ($6.95) and house specials like the Pikesville ($6.95), a roll stuffed with eggplant, mushrooms, onions, provolone and tomato sauce.
The chicken salad sandwich ($7.95) is nothing fancy – just big chunks of moist white meat, tiny bits of celery, generous salt and pepper, anda restrained hand with the mayo. But it is perfect. I had mine on rye, with lettuce and tomato. It was even cut on the diagonal. Chicken salad is one of those foods that is often done wrong, but when it’s right, it’s right.
A lot of the food at Gourmet Again is like that. The Maryland crab soup ($3.99/lb. at the salad bar) was anchored with a tomato base liberally seasoned with salt and Old Bay, then loaded with lots of small pieces of crab and homey vegetables like peas and carrots. Again, it was simple and just right.
On special during our visit wasa crab cake sandwich, selling for $7.95 instead of $9.95. The crab cake had only a few lumps, but was nearly all crab held together, it seemed, with nothing more than a wish and a whisper. The result was a stellar example of Maryland’s signature dish, though it really didn’t need the unexciting roll.
Some sandwiches are made in advance and wrapped or placed under a warming light. This could be a problem, but the grilled turkey sandwich we tried must have been assembled within the previous few minutes, because it tasted fresh.
The salad bar at Gourmet Again is gorgeous. Its centerpiece is a mixed salad loaded with squares of feta cheese, olives and other savory treats, all coated in a creamy, garlicky dressing. Pasta salads, roast chicken and other hearty choices all make a meal easy to assemble. A platter of glistening grilled vegetables, including peppers, mushrooms, onions, eggplant, asparagus and squash, looked like something you’d find at a wedding.
And that brings up another point. Gourmet Again also caters, particularly for Jewish holidays and events.
THE GRILLE AT GOURMET AGAIN
Hours: 7 a.m.-7 p.m.Monday-Friday, 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday
Credit Cards: All Major
Prices: Salad Bar is $7.99/lb, Sandwiches are $2.40-$9.95
Food: 3 stars
Service: 2 ½ stars
Atmosphere: 2 ½ stars
April 5, 2007