Friday, September 06, 2013

Artifact Coffee

The first time I visited Artifact Coffee, my initial thought was that it looked like a smaller, more casual version of Woodberry Kitchen. That, of course, is no coincidence since both restaurants are owned by Spike Gjerde, and their rustic, crafty decor reinforces the notion that everything you eat here came from local farms and is skillfully prepared.

After the Union Mill building in Woodberry was remodeled for apartments, Artifact Coffee was created to give the tenants, primarily retired teachers, a place to have their morning coffee and a light breakfast. Special emphasis was placed on the coffee, and one can visit the restaurant on Fridays at 10 am for a "coffee cupping" to sample their new coffees. The menu expanded to daytime offerings of soups, salads, and sandwiches, and more recently, Artifact Coffee began dinner service Wednesday through Sunday starting at 5 pm. To compliment dinner, there is a selection of local craft brews, wines, and specialty cocktails.

The Minx and I went to Artifact Coffee for dinner recently and started our evening with a Duckpin Ale made by Union Craft Brewery located near the restaurant. In fact, Union Craft Brewery is one of the participants in Union Graze, a farmers' market hosted by Woodberry Kitchen and held in the area on Friday evenings from 4:30 to 8 pm through November 22. Along with the Union Craft beers, there is live music and produce provided by Five Seed Farms and Apiary.

Back to our dinner. For appetizers, the Minx ordered the roasted carrots and Japanese eggplant. Not a big fan of cooked carrots or eggplant, I opted for the griddled green beans. My green beans had a pleasant texture: slightly crunchy but without that squeaky quality that sets my teeth on edge. The toasted bread crumbs added a more definite crunch with the nutty brown butter providing that comforting depth of flavor and unctuousness usually missing in a vegetable dish.

Griddled green beans with toasted bread crumbs and brown butter
While I say that I'm not enthusiastic about cooked carrots or eggplant, I thought the Minx's dish was a fine example of those two vegetables. The carrots were firm without being hard, and their roasty flavor was not overly sweet like other cooked carrots I've had. The eggplant was soft and smooth with no hint of bitterness. The radish provided some crunch and the roasted garlic vinaigrette brought both umami and acid to the party.

Roasted carrots and Japanese eggplant, radish, roasted garlic vinaigrette
The waiter was highly enthusiastic about the Loaded Artifact Burger, so the Minx gave it a go. She asked for her burger to be cooked medium and the burger presented had a nice pinkness inside. It is amazing how much better a burger can taste when it is made with fresh, carefully raised beef. Such quality meat doesn't need much adornment, but the ample portion of melted cheese, fresh tomato, bacon, and toasted and buttered roll amped up the enjoyment factor nicely. I think the Minx would have preferred some fries over the strips of carrot, but it's okay to forego the extra fat and carbs once in awhile.

Loaded Artifact Burger: cheddar, bacon, marinated onion, house benne seed bun, vegetable ‘chips’
Everyone in the restaurant seemed to be ordering the burger or the pot pie (which looked delicious, by the way), so I thought I would be different and ordered the lamb sausage. Having a British grandfather made me a lifelong lover of lamb, and this sausage fulfilled my expectations. Lightly seasoned, the wonderfully gamy quality of the lamb shone through. The poached egg and rice were interesting additions as well. Once I broke the yoke and mixed the whole thing in with the rice, it took on a texture not unlike risotto. The yellow and orange peppers provided much needed acidity and their roasted flesh added some dimension to what could have been a fairly bland entrée.

Lamb sausage with roasted peppers, poached egg, and rice
Artifact Coffee is a place that is best visited when you wish to relax and spend some time away from the hectic world outside. They have one of the smallest kitchens I've ever seen in a restaurant (with the first induction grill ever used in Baltimore), so it's a miracle how Chef Adam and his crew produce such tasty dishes for so many patrons. However, miracles can take time, so it's best to order one of your favorite beverages, have some pleasant conversation with your dining partners, and enjoy the rustic decor.

Artifact Coffee
1500 Union Ave Ste. 114
Baltimore, MD 21211
(410) 235-1881

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