Station North Arts Cafe1816 North Charles St., (410) 625-6440, stationnortharts.com
Nancy by SNAC131 W. North Ave., (410) 685-0039, stationnortharts.com
Long before anybody ever dreamed of bringing fine dining to Station North, the irrepressible Kevin Brown opened Station North Arts Cafe on the corner of Trenton Street and Charles, creating a beacon of friendly light. Last year, Brown opened a second location, Nancy by SNAC, on the ground floor of the MICA Graduate Studio Center (recently renamed the Fred Lazarus IV Center) around the corner on North Avenue. It's named after Nancy Haragan, the founder of the Greater Baltimore Culture Alliance, whose office once filled the space. Both places are bright and cheerful-a reflection of Brown's personality-but they clearly represent two stages in Station North's evolution. SNAC is cramped with mismatched chairs and a makeshift booth featuring a gigantic air conditioning unit where a jukebox would be in a Double T Diner, and offers an eclectic menu of everything from the "S.N.A.C. Stack Sandwich" ("three petite buttermilk pancakes, 2 scrambled eggs topped with American cheese and a tasty pork sausage patty. ALL STACKED UP," $4.50) to "The Vegematic" ("8 garden fresh vegetables on multigrain bread"). Nancy, on the other hand, is airy, with the logo stenciled on its glass walls, and sleek, with modern decor, long wooden tables, and bright red chairs for outdoor dining. The Sun's weekly b recently wrote a piece about Nancy, raving about the BBQ, so we stopped in to check it out, only to have Brown tell us it's only available at SNAC-though he's thinking about adding it to the menu at Nancy, since people keep asking for it. Instead we opted for a bowl of the turkey chili ($4.25) and a grilled cheese with bacon on multigrain bread ($5.25). The chili was meaty and flavorful and the textured bread of the sandwich was perfect for dipping and soaking up the flavor of the chili. We washed it down with a perfect glass of ice-cold sweet tea ($2). The three items proved to be a perfect, filling combination. But walking out, we couldn't help but wonder about that BBQ sandwich, so we took our gluttony to new heights and headed to SNAC. The "North Carolina Pulled Pork BBQ Sandwich" ($7.25) comes in a massive portion, topped with a mound of cole slaw and served on a toasted kaiser roll. The meat was delicious, the perfect balance of vinegar-y and spicy. Cut with the sweet slaw and augmented by the roll's crunch, this made for a pretty transcendent sandwich. We'd like to say we saved some for later, but we didn't.