Monday, January 31, 2011

Pure Wine Cafe in Ellicott City

Whenever I worry if I'm too tough on restaurants, I think about the small things that make me love places like Pure Wine Cafe in Ellicott City.

Friendly people.  Delicious food, and prices that encourage you to explore and come back again.

That's a short list, but it's a hard enough recipe that Pure Wine stands out for its success.  This is a tiny space with a tiny menu -- one room off Main Street with maybe seven tables and a short bar.  The list of small-plate dishes barely matches the cocktail list at some of your trendiest joints.

So why did we leave with huge smiles?

First of all, they serve a lot of cheese.  We started with a plate of cheese and sliced meats that captured all the flavor and energy of a place like Woodberry Kitchen.  We ordered some wines and some peach sangrias, and we nibbled our way through prosciutto, manchego, and more.  The toast points, the bread and the marmalade on the side were those simple, tasty items that deliver something that I can't make at home.

Pure Wine is fun.  No wine snobbiness.  This was a waitress happy to make suggestions and let Mrs. HowChow taste a variety or two.  They pour by the glass and even by the half, which always makes me feel like they're encouraging people to take some risks and to enjoy just what they want.

Not that anyone needed to push the food on me.  Meatball sliders were rich without being greasy.  The fig and blue cheese flatbreads paired crisp prosciutto with gooey cheese.  A mac-and-cheese was actually crunchy in parts.  The beauty of small plates and seasonal menus is that these are dishes that the kitchen actually wants to cook.

There may have only been a dozen choices, but they were all inspired combinations -- and each was a reason to go back for a completely different menu in spring.  It's an enormous plus that these small plates are big enough to share.  Items run from $6 to $12 with the five-item cheese plate topping out at $15.  We split every plate four ways, and I felt like I got a healthy share of every one, although we liked the sliders enough that we ordered a second serving.

One of Pure Wine's advantages is actually its tiny location.  They've pulled off the magic spacing where nothing feels crowded, but the place fills with energy.  The large plate glass windows give an on-the-street vibe that just makes it feel special if you eat most-often in shopping centers.

I wanted a second glass of wine.  I wanted bread pudding for dessert.  I was having so much fun that I wanted to stay, and I left really happy.

Two observations:  First, Pure Wine lacks the right lighting for cell phone photos.  They appear to be aiming at romance, not blogging.  Second, Pure Wine doesn't take reservations.  That's tough because seven tables and the bar fill up fast, but I understand why a small place needs the flexibility of first-come, first-serve.

Thanks to RDAdoc and Mr. RDAdoc for planning the night out.  Donna Ellis wrote up Pure Wine last week for Explore Howard.  I found that after I had written this review when I wanted to confirm the menu prices, and I think we echo each other's compendations.

Pure Wine Cafe
8210 Main Street
Ellicott City, MD 21043 

NEAR:  Pure Wine Cafe is on Main Street in downtown Ellicott City.  It is near the intersection with Old Columbia Pike.  So the most-convenient parking is the spots along Main Street.  But any of the public lots are reasonably close.

Pure Wine Cafe on Urbanspoon


Mo said...

I definitely like the half-glass option! The hummus plate is pretty good, too - pretty much enough for a meal, maybe with another small plate if you're really hungry.

RDAdoc said...

I was a little worried because Mr.RDAdoc is often hesitant to go to tapas restaurants and typically leaves them feeling hungry. He thoroughly enjoyed all of the dishes at Pure Wine Cafe and left feeling satisfied. He was even so inspired by their flatbreads that he made his own blue cheese pear one last night. I really enjoyed the food and the company. I highly recommend the white sangria and the mediterranean sampler!!

babs said...

We were very disappointed today. Our family visited and were at the bar, which never had more than 8 people in the bar for the entire time we were there. Slow service, blond and brunette women servers very engaged in their own conversations, slow service, and the last course we ordered never showed up at all. No one apologized, and they knew they snubbed us as they engaged in trivial conversation together "I got an AA but it's really a Bachelors" and other such personal sharing at the bar while the other server stayed on the apple IPad in an additional conversation. As the band came in, other customers who were regulars showed up and got prompt service, hospitality that we would have desired, dishes for 2 that were more abundant than our charcuterie plate for 3, and we'll never go back. An apology never was offered. Our daughter entertains everywhere for business and personal, and for the first time gave a 10% tip...something she's not known for at all, but it is what it is....poor service can't be addressed any other way. Kind of put a negative spin on the early evening for us, and 2nd chances just don't occur in hospitality.