If you are lucky enough to get Sofia Vasiliadesas as your waitress at the Sip and Bite, you will be enchanted. And if you listen and watch in this neighborhood establishment, you might be reminded of the Empire Grill in Richard Russo’s Empire Falls. This is the kind of place where you can feel at home.
Sofia is definitely one of the Sip and Bite’s best assets. Beautiful, with expressive brown eyes and a warmth in her voice, she actually invited her customers to her wedding, a year and a half ago.
We could hear Sofia greeting customers who had driven to the Sip and Bite from Waldorf. Sofia and her husband, Tony own the establishment at 2200 Boston Street in Canton. The restaurant is well known for its crab cakes, made with a secret family recipe. My companion and I tasted the famous crab cake ($8.95). It was large, served with a dusting of Old Bay and a lemon. Nothing else. It didn’t need it.
The big lumps of crab meat were excellent (and shell free), held together with a delicious substance that enhanced the flavor. No bread filler in this crab cake, though we did notice tiny specs of parsley.
Sofia told us that Baltimore magazine,the Baltimore Sun and Maryland Public Television have showcased their crab cakes. George Clooney, Sam Cassell and Michael Phelps have come to the Sip and Bite for them.
Rita Branagan, (seventy-six years young last St. Patrick’s Day) sat in the booth next to a couple of regulars who come every day from Owings Mills to the Sip and Bite. Rita had eaten one of Chef Hector’s specials, the corned beef Reuben sandwich with French fries for $6.95. There were eighteen additional specials, ranging from a cup of minestrone or cream of broccoli soup and a grilled cheese sandwich for $3.95 to shrimp and crab salad on toast with one side – potatoes: mashed, fried or salad and nine other choices for $7.75.
Rita declared the corned beef, “Fabulous!” She should know. Rita worked at Haussner’s restaurant (a Baltimore legend that would serve over two thousand dinners on a Saturday night) for twenty-two years. Married to a Navy seaman, Rita was widowed on Christmas Eve, 2007 after fifty-six years of marriage. She lives one block away in the Distillery Apartments and eats just about every meal at the Sip and Bite.
“They make you feel at home here,” Rita said.
The sandwich had a hefty serving of corned beef. There was just enough sauerkraut to add to the flavor, but not too much to make it soggy and fall apart. The bread on which it had been grilled was browned perfectly with butter and the sauce was tangy with perhaps a touch of dill. The French fries were crisp, not greasy.
The Sip and Bite is located in what was formerly a pool hall. George Vasiliadesas, Tony’s father and his uncle purchased the building in 1968 and began serving the blue collar workers of the neighborhood. “Our patrons have evolved through the years,” said Sofia. She added that the reason the Sip and Bite is so popular is that the food they prepare is fresh, made from scratch and reasonable priced.
“We get a real mix of people depending on the hour of the day,” she added. “The evenings are entirely different than the day crowd. Halloween! Oh, you should see who is here! We get them in every kind of costume, and by the time they come in, it is late and their costumes are falling apart, their make-up is running.”
The décor of the Sip and Bite is homey. Sofia pointed out the black scroll and floral wall paper she chose because it looks like it would hang on a dining room wall in one’s home.
I ordered the Greek omelet with pita, onions, tomatoes and feta for $5.50. The egg was perfect; the onions, sparse and the tomatoes burst with flavor and melted in my mouth. I had never tried hot feta and it was good. The pita was crisp, fresh; delicious. And there were big chunks of hash brown potatoes with a crunchy buttery crust.
Sofia’s husband, Tony, whose three siblings are a doctor, a lawyer and a dentist, did not want his dad’s life work to pass on to someone outside of the family. Though Tony has a master’s degree in science and education from Delaware State, he felt the tug of the family business. For a while, he tried to juggle a job as a science teacher at Moravia Middle School with the Sip and Bite. But the Sip and Bite won out and in October 2007, he married our hostess, Sofia, in St. Nicholas Church in Greektown. “We had a big, fat Greek wedding,” said Sofia, “We invited all of our regular customers too!”
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CARYN COYLE IS AN ADOPTED BALTIMOREAN. ASIDE FROM ANYTHING CHOCOLATE, HER FAVORITE FOODS ARE CHESAPEAKE BAY CRAB, SILVER QUEEN CORN, AND MARYLAND TOMATOES. SHE CAN BE EMAILED HERE.
PHOTOS BY CARYN COYLE