You need talent to create subtle and delicious food, and my sandwich pulled that together. Each flavor was great, and they just improved when they were toasted together. (The onion was just perfect contrast with the tangy cheese.)
Exceptional quality is par for the course at Bonaparte Bread, which has offered breads, pastries and a limited menu in its cafe at the Savage Mill. In the fall, Bonaparte took over the cafe upstairs, and its bistro offers an expanded lunch menu of sandwiches, tartes, quiches and soups. It's is a single page, but quite ambitious for a spot that seemed to be run by just two people with options that range from smoked salmon to chicken salad, fresh mozzarella sandwiches to crepes. (My one critique: Pick salad over fries. My fries came cold, and there just aren't frozen fries that can compete with Bonaparte's breads. I bet the salad was delicious.)
Other people have noticed the unique offerings (for example, this Chowhound post), and the cafe built up a clientele while I ate my lunch. But it's an unusual hybrid. They're clearly investing in quality -- from the ingredients to the stylish, modern plates and flatware. But they're still sitting in Savage Mill. Will shoppers stay for lunch when a bowl of soup costs $7.50 and sandwiches are $9? Will people drive from Columbia for a special meal when they're served staring into the Bead Store? The Savage Mill Web site calls this "fast gourmet French food for slow eating enjoyment." That cleverly captures the tension and the reason to visit.
To me, this is worth checking out. If you like shopping at Savage Mill, it's a no-brainer. But it is also a great place to drive to relax on the weekend -- and the perfect place to bring out-of-town guests in the cold -- a little classy, a little unique, and you can walk around Savage Mill for a while. Check out the game store right next to the bistro.
(UPDATE: See the February 2009 comment below that the bistro may be closed until April because winter crowds are smaller.)
Remember this is a lunch-only operation. I'm not 100% sure that Bonaparte French Bistro is the official name. That is what the Savage Mill Web site says, although its map calls it "Bonaparte Express."
Bonaparte French Bistro
8600 Foundry Street
Savage, MD 20763
NEAR: The bistro is in the New Weave building at Savage Mill. The mill is a renovated industrial site that is easy to reach from U.S. 1 just south of Rte 32. Turn onto Gorman Road from U.S. 1, then turn right on Foundry Street when you see signs for the mill and the large bridge that sits next to it. The New Weave building is on the far right as you walk from the parking lot towards the mill.