When it comes to java options, Baltimore is blessed with an array of homegrown alternatives. Wherever we go, it seems, there's someplace to get a decent or better-than-decent cup of joe. This happy condition should not be taken for granted. There are plenty of American cities, once proud coffee-drinking metropolises, that have fallen on hard times. A certain West Coast-based company has swarmed into them, choking off mom-and-pop coffee bars and replacing them with the same thing on every corner: green-and-white logo, scorched beans, and absurd prices. But Baltimoreans have emerged from the '90s still able to get a cup of properly brewed Colombian, instead of a "vente latte" with overtones of Kingsford.
So we salute the institution that has helped make it possible: Donna's. Yeah, we know, the service isn't always so attentive, and sometimes they brew the Donna's Blend through a machine that just brewed hazelnut (feh!), and it's only natural to resent an outfit that's everywhere. But as long as Donna's is everywhere, Starbucks ain't. We've frequented places that served better coffee than Donna's, but we haven't seen them defend their turf as well.
Nowhere is the value of that turf-holding better illustrated than at Donna's Charles Village, a key link in a healthy stretch of St. Paul Street, just down from Eddie's and the Charles Village Pub. This is a neighborhood coffee joint. Students and householders sit at the shady outdoor tables on 31st Street, or indoors amid bared-brick adaptive-reuse décor; a more vital patch of Baltimore is hard to imagine. And as at any Donna's, you can get a satisfying meal here--and unlike its other locations, this Donna's serves fries! Put one of these every 10 blocks or so and the city would be in tremendous shape.