Every culture has its buns. . . The partners behind the Bun Shop in Mount Vernon don't have much in the way of restaurant experience-Minh Vo was a Ph.D. student in pharmacology and molecular sciences at Johns Hopkins, and Andrew Bui worked for a product-design firm in New York. But both had traveled a lot and noticed, says Vo, "that every country we visited has some type of handheld street food"-or buns. Paraguayan empanadas, English pasties, Malaysian rotiboys, and, of course, the steamed buns from their own Vietnamese culture.
At the Bun Shop, says Vo, "we're using the definition pretty loosely." Along with buns, the shop (scheduled to open this coming week, with a grand opening planned for a month or so down the road) has an espresso machine, and plans to sell specialty coffees, like Vietnamese-style, brewed strong and dark with a special filter.
While the partners originally planned to offer a kind of street food experience-"a small space with counter service," says Vo-the availability of the Mount Vernon space (formerly Sweet Bakery) inspired them to do much more. They learned gilding to make a vintage-style hand-painted sign, as well as the gold-edged beams and furniture inside. They found distressed metal tables and small sofas and chairs to create both intimate nooks and communal spaces. "Andrew and I are both interested in design," says Vo. "Our goal is to have a small design studio on the side." They raised some of the startup money by buying and selling furniture and they have plans to create a line of household items with gilded edges. But for now, it's buns. The Bun Shop, 239 W. Read St., (410) 989-2033.
. . .and its pancakes Michael Calhoun went to France with his family when he was 8 years old. His sister is now a French professor at a university. "I guess that trip to France had a pretty big impact," he says. The crepes made a big impression on him, says Calhoun, as did the steady supply of Nutella and Orangina at home when he was a kid. So when he decided to ditch his job as a sales rep for medical gasses (think oxygen tanks), why not open a creperie? Calhoun is the latest franchisee in the Sofi's Crepes empire, a mini-chain that has grown from the Charles Street shop Ann Costlow opened in 2004. Calhoun's new store, which opened last week in a nook off Thames Street in Fells Point, is the fifth location. The menu will conform to the Sofi's lineup, with the current menu featuring such favorites as the Kevin Bacon with turkey and bacon, and the Nutella-drenched "Nutty Banana," as well as the thin pancakes rolled around farmers market-inspired fare, such as the goat cheese crepe. Look for French toast crepes, says Calhoun, as well as "so many more crepe possibilities to come." Orangina is also available. Like Calhoun, Costlow quit her nine-to-five job (she was a stockbroker for 16 years) to launch the business, naming it after her tenacious dog Sofi. Once the tiny space near the Charles Theatre proved a success, she says, "I had a lot of people suggesting places to open." Many were former customers and employees who knew the business, she says, so she decided to franchise. The enterprise has boomed in spite of-or, Costlow believes, because of-the economy. "We're at a price point where people can treat themselves but not spend a lot of money," she says. Store number six is scheduled to open in Severna Park this summer, and Costlow doesn't know where she'll go next. "Colorado is a perfect place for us to be," she says. "We're kind of green. It's a healthy food. And I think the cold weather bodes well for a warm product." Sofi's Crepes, 1627 Thames St., (410) 563-0471, sofiscrepes.com.
Swan songs We've heard recently that two local favorites have closed their doors.
Dionysus, a neighborhood spot for the Mount Vernon apartment-dwellers, (not to mention House of Cards' Zoe Barnes who lived next door) was long known for discounted brews in its darkened downstairs bar and bands on the third floor. The place served decent pub food upstairs, where it also showcased work by the neighborhood's blossoming artists. Mostly Dionysus was a local watering hole where, if everyone didn't already know your name, you could certainly try introducing yourself.
Another passing is the Dogwood, a forerunner in the farm-to-table movement that served up good food as well as good deeds. With the help of a grant from the Open Society Institute, owners Galen and Bridget Sampson created a business model around training and employing ex-offenders and people in recovery. Not everyone who visited the restaurant knew of this program, and that was probably the idea.