Surprisingly lively 'Morg' shows its class, not its age

September 28, 1990|By Lynn Williams | Lynn Williams,Sun Restaurant Critic

Morgan Millard

Restaurant Gallery

Where: 4800 Roland Ave.

Hours: Open for lunch and dinner 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 11:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Sundays.

Credit Cards: AE, MC, V.

Features: Eclectic American cuisine.

Call: 889-0030.

*** 1/2 Frederick Law Olmsted has a lot to answer for. Of course, the 19th century planner and landscape designer couldn't have foreseen what Central Park, his green urban oasis, would become in our unkind, ungentle time. And who could have predicted that his little Tudor-style shopping row in Roland Park --the first shopping center in the country-- would spawn the mailling of America?

The nation's first (and surely most beautiful) strip mall is not the tourist mecca one might envision, but people have been flocking here for decades -- not to shop, necessarily, but to visit Morgan Millard. "The Morg," founded in 1906, was once a pharmacy and tearoom, and a tradition with preppy Roland Parkers. It's been a full-scale restaurant for some years now; while it is still a WASP institution, with dark-blue-and-earth-tones country decor that suggests conservative cuisine, the food surprises. There's no tearoom fare here, but eclectic American cuisine with multiethnic influences, a vibrant color palette and divine combinations of ingredients.

While one might be tempted to yawn at the prospect of yet another cup of Maryland crab soup ($2.95), something that everybody else does and hardly anyone does decently, the Morg showed its class with a bright, fresh vegetable broth with lumps -- not shreds, but lumps -- of crab that tasted as if it has just been plucked from the Chesapeake. And the soup wasn't too salty, either.

Truffled mousse pate ($4.95) came on a platter so bountiful, colorful and prettily arranged that it looked like a Flemish painting. The pate (homemade, I'm told), bedded on lettuce and radicchio, was surrounded by variously textured, lively hued vegetables (including baby corn), and accompanied with a whole-grained mustard spread that was tasty, if not absolutely necessary. The pate itself was velvety and savory, and there was a lot of it; sandwiched in one of the sensational hot rolls, rough-hewn and sunflower seed-studded, it made a luxurious next-day lunch.

Despite the menu's vaunted "concern for your health," there are still plenty of dishes whose descriptions include the words "butter" and "cream," and the chicken Millard ($12.95) was a trip to glutton heaven. The grilled boneless breast of chicken was moist and lean enough to please Jane Brody, but was then topped with a lemon butter sauce into which Brie had been melted; unlike the Duchess of Windsor, it was rich but it sure wasn't thin. (I adored it, by the way.)

My companion's special, poached salmon with "lemonaise" and caviar ($16.95) was similarly elegant, but reasonably guilt-free. (She requested that the lemon-flavored mayo be served on the side so that she could control the portion.) The flavors were an inspired combination. The full-bodied sweetness of the fish, the elegant tang of the lemon sauce, and the salty bite of black and red lumpfish caviars played off each other in surprising, and marvelous, ways.

Two of the desserts, cream roll and chocolate mousse, are made in-house, reason enough to try them. The creamy mousse included flecks of pure chocolate, but was more sweet than sensual, and the big sponge-cake roll with sugary almond-flavored cream was simply too much of a muchness.

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