Sweet Enough

The converted cottage on Avenue B that houses Sweetie’s was once the home of Mad Hatter’s Tea. With its billowy, ball-gown-bottom curtains, its

3610 Ave. B
7am-3pm Mon-Fri;
11am-3pm, Sat
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comfortable, light-filled setting, its smiling service, and its (sanely) hatted hostess, this incarnation of the enterprise is one you immediately want to like. Perhaps even to the point of excusing offerings that don’t live up to that initial impression.

On my first foray, stopping just short of trembling with anticipation, I ordered a soup-and-sandwich combo and settled down to wait for my sweet-leaf tea. It arrived in a canning-jar container with a handle — a little cute, but not out of character. The chicken-vegetable soup, recommended by chef Sweetie herself (she tends towards folded scarves as headgear, the better to take her from kitchen to dining room, I suspect), was served in a standard bowl but had at least one mystery ingredient: maybe sauerkraut. Whatever the secret component, it added crunch and a faintly sour lift to a soup that was clearly assembled from scratch, chunky chicken, carrot, corn, and all. So far, so good.

First impressions of the chicken-salad sandwich, ordered with 12-grain bread (if three or four grains are good, 12 must be even better, I reckon) were good, too; it appeared freshly made and seriously stuffed. But the chicken salad just didn’t do it for me, even though I set aside a personal preference for a less-shredded primary product; there just wasn’t much flavor. Taking solace in lemon bars that were both unusually light and lightly lemony, I vowed to return — if for no other reason than to check out the hostess’s chapeau du jour.

Just so you know, there is usually a certain logic to the restaurant-review process. One unshakable criterion is to play on the perceived strengths of a place. Not ordering steak at a seafood restaurant is an obvious example. Salads (and the sandwiches they’re sometimes made from) at a tearoom/deli are integral to our expectations, so the combination salad plate was the next target, one that allowed me to repeat the chicken salad (in case either of us was off the first time) and experience three others. Pimento cheese is what it is, and it cries out for bread in this eater’s opinion; the two ingredients together on a plate are just a little too basic. (I eschewed the egg-salad option, I should admit.) The pasta salad was sprightly with its tri-color rotini, but the dressing appeared to be a very ordinary Italian. I’m not a fan of molto mayo, but the tuna salad seemed dry and uninspired. And the chicken redux? Same story second time around. This time I consoled myself with banana pudding.

Soup is not the only item with which Sweetie likes to surprise, I discovered; the pudding — really more like a trifle with its whipped-cream-dominated matrix — included chunks of chocolate cake along with the expected bananas and vanilla wafers. Made me forget all about the carrot cake, opulently oozing frosting, I had passed over in favor of the pud.

But back to the main event: sandwiches. Returning yet again to get the hang of Sweetie’s Club — a classic combo of roast beef, turkey, provolone, crisp bacon, greens, tomatoes, and onions accented with chipotle mayo and boasting three slices of toasted bread — I found I could just get my mouth around it. But getting my mind around it was much easier; this was a sandwich far superior to any of the salads. Though the meats were deli standard, everything else was sprightly and appealing, with the chipotle and bacon especially fine together. Just the kind of combination that sets you up for a dessert such as the cheesecake brownies — another Sweetie surprise.

The name tells it all, upon reflection, but the layer of cheesecake atop a base of gooey-chewy brownie is hidden at first by an equally gooey layer of chocolate frosting. And to be honest, it doesn’t count for much in the deep, dark, and devastating onslaught of chocolate that dominates the confection.

Equally dark is the breakfast coffee. Though not of any particular pedigree, it was nevertheless full-bodied and very hot. I had fully finished my J.R. Biscuit before I could get serious with the java; and truth be told, this cheese biscuit with a “folded” egg is much like a classed-up Egg McMuffin, though by the time you add Canadian bacon and the chipotle-spiked butter that’s supplied, any memory of the fast-food model fades.

So in summary? It’s the salads, in this eater’s eyes, that need work. Otherwise, Sweetie’s is worth a look-see, from hats to hot coffee to clubs to croissants.
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