“Wait, so your favorite restaurant in Baltimore sells... breakfast sandwiches?”
I’m 19 years old. I should be old enough to scramble an egg and place it between two pieces of bread. However, the many Hopkins students who consider themselves patrons of Kitsch would dare to disagree. Since opening in a 400-square-foot shoebox of the Carlyle Apartments last October, Kitsch has become a happy place for college students and community members to gather for breakfast, lunch and endless combinations of build-your-own sandwich options.
Owner Jacqueline Mearman opened the space after leaving her job as an executive pastry chef of Atlas Restaurant Group (of Tagliata fame). When I came into Kitsch one morning to interview Mearman, it was clear that Kitsch was a reflection of her friendly personality. Multiple times throughout the interview, Mearman greeted regulars by name, sometimes without even having to turn around to see who was at the counter. At one point, Mearman, spotting a car out the window, grabbed a to-go bag on the bar and walked it out. I wondered how she even knew which bag to grab.
In September, the New York Times noted that during the pandemic, many fine-dining chefs, like Mearman, have left the industry to open their own smaller establishments. Mearman was motivated to open her own cafe after reflecting on the mistreatment of restaurant workers before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Historically, one in six restaurant workers live below the poverty line, and only 14.4% receive health insurance from their employer. When opening Kitsch, Mearman committed to providing all employees $15 an hour plus tips, and as the business grows she plans to establish a program for employee benefits.
“I wanted to open a place where I just got to treat people well,” Mearman said.
Indeed, the space itself looks like it is trying to dispel any negative energy its patrons enter with. An array of family photos hang on a bright yellow wall, and a mischievous cat clock shakes its eyes from side to side. Sticky notes behind the counter list the orders of various regulars, making the cafe feel like a family that is extremely easy to join.
While the cafe only has two small tables, some customers eat their food on folding chairs outside or take it to the nearby Stony Run Trail.
When asked what a Kitsch newbie should order, both Mearman and her shift partner agreed that a latte and a KitschWich was the perfect first-timers’ combo. Simply put, you cannot make this at home. The cafe sources fresh brioche buns from local Stone Mill Bakery, griddles them with butter (a method Mearman claims is superior to basic toasting) and nestles a peppery scrambled egg with American cheese inside. The sandwich pairs perfectly with La Colombe espresso and rich, foamy milk. In total, it’s a satisfying breakfast for less than $10.
Unlike expensive, hard-to-pronounce entrees in the fine-dining world she is used to, Mearman is happy that her product is more accessible. After all, it means her regulars are able to come in a bit more often.
When looking toward the cafe’s second year, Mearman is excited to celebrate the restaurant’s success thus far and work to make its operations even better. Especially now that students at Hopkins are back in-person and Charles Village awakens from its pandemic slumber, Kitsch’s second year might see a lot more customers than its first.
“Part of the programming of fine dining is always like ‘do more, do more, do more.’ And you never feel satisfied with what you have. Why keep pushing to do more and more when we can just fine-tune this and make this really good?” Mearman said.
One of Mearman’s biggest goals is giving back to the community. Customers can buy a Givewich for $5, which allows the cafe to make a sandwich for someone who comes in and might not be able to pay. At the end of every quarter, any leftover funds are donated to local community organizations. Most recently, Kitsch gave to the No Boundaries Coalition, a Baltimore-based nonprofit.
Of course, as I left, I couldn’t help but place an order to take a little bit of Kitsch’s energy with me. While I have had the brioche and agree that it is addictive, I instead opted for a personal favorite: a slightly runny fried egg with American cheese on multigrain. I then embarked to start my day, incredibly happy that comfort was cooking on West University Parkway.