Demographic Dining


I thought it was religion and politics that you should avoid discussing at dinner parties, but here in Bel Air a couple of restaurants are taking these delicate topics head on. The Ropewalk (117 S. Main Street) features a bust of President Reagan and a Reagan-themed kid’s menu with its burgers, seafood and bison stew. And the just opened Open Door Cafe (528 Baltimore Pike) owned by two families from Trinity Lutheran Church includes a one-page spiritual message on the back of its menu. The food at both places is quite good, the prices are reasonable and the atmosphere is a refreshing change from the typical Bel Air chain restaurant with faux vintage yard sale finds mysteriously stuck high on the walls. The political and religious messages are not overt at either establishment. Both can be enjoyed without feeling as though you ought to convert. I just think it’s an interesting spin to put on a restaurant. Downtown Baltimore features its culinary enclaves based on the area’s ethnicity. You go to Little Italy for the best pasta fagoli. You go to Greektown (Highlandtown) for calamari and pastichio. Here in Bel Air, which voted overwhelmingly for President Bush in 2004, you can enjoy essentially similar menu items (save for the bison stew) amdist either Reagan paraphernalia or Christian spiritual messages. I suppose these twists set the restaurants apart from the chain restaurants, which regularly attract a faithful line of diners winding out their doors. They’re both worth a try. (Full disclosure here, my husband and I college friends with some of the partners in the Ropewalk. They have another Ropewalk tavern in Federal Hill, which does well despite the city’s largely Democratic demographic.) We’ve found the Bel Air Ropewalk to be a good place for a casual lunch or dinner with or without the kids. We’ve enjoyed the rooftop deck in the summertime. The restaurant pays homage to the 150-year-old building’s former uses, which includes its role as former home to the Aegis newspaper, in a second floor mural. For more information, read The Baltimore Sun’s September review. After dining at The Open Door Cafe this week we made reservations for their Mother’s Day brunch. The cafe has a girlish atmosphere that’s perfect for Mother’s Day. The walls are covered in hand-painted murals that evoke a Parisian Street. They sell coffee and pastries at a counter up front for those who want to pop in for a quick bite.
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The dining room is well-sized and includes a party room set off from the main dining area with french doors. They serve a variety of fresh ciabiatta, sourdough and wheat rolls with dinner and even the kids dishes were a step above chain restaurant fare. My son’s thick burger came with a crusty role. My daughter’s grilled cheese arrived on nice big slices of toasted bread.
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My husband’s spinach and sun-dried tomato ravoli in a rose sauce featured intriguing striped pasta pillows. My portabello mushroom sandwich possessed that tasty grilled flavor that makes me think for a moment I might be eating steak. Right now one of the best things about The Open Door Cafe is that diners haven’t discovered it yet. It’s easy to get seated while the parking lot is packed with diners trying to score a seat in the overcrowded Chili’s in the same shopping center.