Sweet Sin Cafe was born out of sheer necessity. With a gluten sensitivity that made pastry chef Renee D’Souza sick at the end of every work day, the decision was simple: start cooking with non-gluten ingredients, or hang up the toque. Luckily for North Baltimore, Renee chose the former and together with her husband, Richard, a veteran of the restaurant and hospitality business, gave us Sweet Sin.
That was a half-decade ago. Today, the owns a commercial gluten-free bakery that serves the mid-Atlantic region, and the 27th Street shop offers retail gluten-free cupcakes of just about every imaginable flavor combination. Sure, they don’t taste like regular cupcakes, because they’re not. But for Sweet Sin’s niche market—those of us with family and friends affected by celiac disease— these sweets hit the spot.
Gluten-free not your cup of tea? Lucky for you, Richard’s penchant for cooking soul food inspired in part by his Mangalore upbringing gives you something much more interesting than cupcakes to sample on your visit.
South Indian lends itself nicely to gluten-free cooking: lots of rice, fish, vegetables and spice derived from a sometimes-vegan diet. On a recent visit, the breakfast tacos (with avocado, salsa and scrambled eggs) and the seafood hot pot are creamy, coconut-ey, curried concoctions of wonder. And Richard isn’t scared to lay on the spice, so be sure to ask for a milder version if that kind of food comes back to bite you.
Cupcakes and curry under the same roof? That’s interesting enough, right? Yes. But, as is the case in life, the most interesting aspect tends to lie just beneath the surface. The biggest surprise was not what’s present, but what’s coming next door: a gluten-free American food spot with an Asian kick, to be called Meet 27, owned and operated by the good folks at Sweet Sin.
Meet 27 —on the corner of Howard Street and 27th Street in Charles Village— will be a bit more grown-up than its next-door neighbor. On the night I met Richard, landlord Paul Goldberg and manager Julia Golbey, the three discussed a sophisticated menu that left me anxiously awaiting the spot’s mid- to late-March opening.
Oh, you want the scoop. Of course. The most promising revelation came from Richard: you can expect innovative and classy interpretations of international street foods, like a samosa/empanada hybrid and the vada, a potato dish, spiced and sautéed in tamarind sauce.
You can also expect signature appetizers to be served with unique dipping sauces, four kinds of burgers, and a general theme of Malaysian, South Indian and Spanish twists on American classics. Desserts include a vegan Mexican brownie and maybe—just maybe—sweets inspired by homemade Indian chai.
You can also expect smaller portions and fancier plating in the new location. (Sweet Sin currently serves its whopping portions in to-go containers because there’s no avoiding it: your dinner is coming home with you.)
A dark, mirror- and chandelier-clad long bar with ten new taps is a far stretch from the days this space spent as Two Sisters. The tables are made partially from Port of Philadelphia “found” wood. The murals (pictured), painted by a professor and students from Maryland Institute College of Art, quietly evoke old Baltimore.
With the exception of one (one!) item, a wheat-based burger bun, all the plates at Meet 27 will be gluten-free and made in-house. Still, gluten-free—while a central concept—will be an afterthought in the modern eatery, whose proprietors just want to sell good food and make customers happy. To, according to Paul, “serve serious food in a casual environment.”
Bottom line? Sweet Sin’s dependable South Indian soul food and gluten-free desserts will continue to exist alongside a new, Asian-inspired eatery that is sure to deliver interesting twists on classic American dishes. While I can’t vouch for the food, the concept, at least, has me hooked. I intend to revisit Meet 27 and report back in this space when they quietly open their doors later this month.
Sweet Sin Cafe and Meet 27
127 W. 27th Street
Follow @Meet27Now on Twitter for updates