Dec. 5 marks a momentous occasion for drinkers of these United States: the repeal of the 18th Amendment, or the end of alcohol prohibition if you didn't pay attention in American history. It happened to fall on a Friday this year, which meant the night was rough (good rough). Saturday morning met us with a cold, dry-mouthed scowl, but we managed to hoist ourselves out of bed for the healing powers of brunch.
South we went to Annoula's SoBo Café (6 W. Cross St., Baltimore, MD 21230,  752-1518, sobocafe.net). As we dashed out of the drizzle and into the full dining room, the staff greeted us with big smiles and promptly showed us to our seats. We could immediately feel the care, thoughtfulness, and speed of the dining room service.
Settling in to nurse our wounds, we sipped coffees and ordered a house-made cinnamon roll ($3) and perused the menu. Our eyes swept over standard brunch fare, such as scratch-made pancakes ($11), scrambles and eggy dishes ($9-$13), alongside hearty midday offerings like soups and sandwiches ($5-$13); but our eyes were drawn to the small, yet bold, selection of Mediterranean and North African provisions such as their spinach pie ($8)—a riff on spanakopita—and shakshuka ($12). Ready for food in our bellies, we ordered a little from traditional column A and a little from the zestier column B.
Before the roll arrived, our server delivered a complimentary plate of pumpkin bread. We received the surprise snack like a brunch-y amuse bouche, whetting our appetites for the meal to come. Each bite was light and fragrant; the bread was obviously made with fresh pumpkin, and was sprinkled with glaze and toasted pumpkin seeds. Eating the slices slowly, my companion and I made eye contact with one another only to point out how the bread seamlessly melded sweet and savory with soft and crunchy. This little morsel set the bar high for the rest of meal, but we soon discovered that each dish would meet or exceed our expectations.
The cinnamon roll joined our baked goods pre-game, a squat, doughy treat with a delightfully crunchy caramelized bottom and a tangy frosting top. We peeled apart its layers, revealing a sticky cinnamon paste that we made sure not to abandon a single smear of on the plate, our forks, or our fingers. Our Friday night wounds had indeed begun to heal—onward we marched!
Cream Chipped Beef ($14) arrived on an oblong platter showcasing the buttery biscuit, gravy, and fried eggs. Having never been a biscuits-and-gravy kind of gal, our face turned serious with each bite. This! More of this! First, that biscuit was hands down the best biscuit we've unearthed in Baltimore. Shoot, this could be the best biscuit we've had anywhere. Fightin' words, we know, but we're easily talking top two. Second, the gravy and eggs pulled this dish together not as a bread-sauce gut bomb, but as a perfectly crafted dish to which all other biscuits and gravy should aspire.
Our attention turned to the shakshuka, a stewed tomato and egg dish with North African and Middle Eastern origins. It isn't seen much in these parts and we'd never tried it before. The plate presented us with a pile of spicy roasted tomatoes, topped with poached eggs, and feta cheese served with thick-cut honey wheat bread. Crunchy home-baked bread in hand, we shoveled the saucy mess into our faces. If this is what shakshuka is, we want more shakshuka!
As the staff cleared plates and chatted with us, we felt increasingly at home in their bright, comfortable dining room. We sipped our coffees and drank more water, discussing how lucky we felt that we discovered this little gem.
If pushed, we have one gripe: The coffee, while it did its job, tasted cheap compared to the quality of the rest of the meal.
Clearly neither the kitchen nor the staff phone it in during the brunch hour, and if homemade ingredients is the name of their game, then they're absolutely winning.