Thursday, Feb. 7, 2008

Antique shop finds success with vegetarian fare

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Photos by Brenda Ahearn⁄The Gazette
Ruth Davis and Bob Shaefer of Fabian House Café in Bowie display a couple of their favorite dishes (spinach and apple salad and vegan chili with a wrap of hummus, mushroom, spinach, tomatoes and carrots).
Antique shops, museums and other points of interest fill the streets of Old Town Bowie. One store’s owners have given this historic district yet another draw: What they claim is the city’s only all-vegetarian café.

The Fabian House Café — the moniker is derived from the middle name of building owner Frank Fabian Fladung — opened in April 2007 initially as a convenience to shoppers at Fabian House Antiques.

Since then, ‘‘it has kind of taken on a life of its own,” said Ruth Schaefer, who runs the shop and the café with her husband, Bob Schaefer.

Customers who previously sampled a soup or sandwich while hunting for unique antiques find themselves coming back just for the food, the Schaefers said.

And so the couple’s first foray into running a restaurant has been keeping them busy and quite happy.

The two are vegetarians themselves, so when they decided to open the café, it was only natural for them to maintain that ethic. Still, they aim to provide something different from standard vegetarian fare.

Bob and Ruth Schaefer, formerly a home improvement contractor and a real estate agent, respectively, ‘‘just kind of fell into” the antique business, when they took over management of the Fabian House antique shop in summer 2006.

The building’s history also appeals to them and to many customers: the café is located in the former kitchen of the original owners, the Joffe family. The building was constructed as a general store and living quarters in 1896, and eventually expanded to hold the growing family as well as many community services.

If customers are lucky, Ruth Schaefer said, they might visit on a day when Fladung, son of one of the original builders, pops in, with his detailed historical knowledge of the building and of old Bowie.

If not, however, they can certainly enjoy the old books, furniture, china, artwork and other knickknacks that set a charming atmosphere in this small café. Particularly alluring is the open doorway, which entices visitors to glimpse into the shop.

When you walk into the café, through the back of the building, ‘‘what you see is all there is,” Ruth Schaefer said.

With a microwave and two soup kettles as the only cooking equipment, the couple has to be very creative with their offerings.

Bestsellers seem to vary, but proven winners include the Mushroom and Brie Bisque ($3.75⁄cup, $6⁄bowl for all soups) featuring mushrooms, shredded potato and shallots in a vegetarian broth with Brie and Swiss cheese, amontillado sherry, and snipped chives.

The vegetarian chili is surprisingly hearty and richly flavored, with chunks of vegetables and a dollop of sour cream.

The Bistro Riblet sandwich ($6), made with a Gardenburger riblet, seems to surprise customers with its smoky, meaty taste, the Schaefers said.

The ‘‘CAT” Sandwich ($6.50) — cheese, avocado and tomato on 12-grain bread — is also popular.