I was running a bit late, and my husband was waiting for me in the bar at Berger's Colonial Inn when the man on the next stool struck up a conversation.
As they talked, my husband later related, the man commente that Berger's, on Mountain Road in Pasadena, serves as "the neighborhood gathering place."
Every neighborhood should be so lucky.
This is a genuinely nice place. It's comfortable and relaxed, wit good service and food to match, and a clientele that seems to have known one another long before developers and highway engineers began remaking Anne Arundel County between Annapolis and Glen Burnie.
We drove to Berger's down superhighways, past unfinishe apartment projects and glitzy shopping centers. But the fast roads end not far from Berger's and its immediate surroundings seem more from the past than the present.
Even as traffic whizzed by on a Friday night, the sign outsid wished someone a happy birthday. That's a touch of the past.
Berger's is a warm, attractive place. The main dining room stil has the log walls that Ray Berger put up when he built the place in 1946. On one wall is a massive fireplace, and there are crisp ruffled curtains at the windows.
Given the inviting nature of Berger's, how was the food? Anothe plus? Its downfall? A cipher?
It was, overall, a plus, but not without a few glitches.
We began with Caesar Salad for Two ($7.95). Prepared at tabl side, it was very, very good. The romaine was exceptionally fresh and attractive; the dressing was a delightful mixture highlighted by grated cheese, mustard and Worcestershire sauce.
As an entree, I had Steak 'N Such ($16.95), a stir-fry of file mignon tips, shrimp and scallops with fresh vegetables.
Individually, each of the ingredients would probably have bee better than the whole. The beef, indeed, was exceptionally tender. Together, however, something misfired; I suspect that combining beef and shellfish in a light garlic sauce is just not a winning combination.
With the dish came wild rice, which was far more flavorful tha that served in many restaurants.
My husband fared better with the Flounder Chesapeak ($13.95), a light, tasty combination of filets of flounder over, under and around a very good crab imperial. The dish was topped with a mild lemon-butter sauce. Asparagus with Hollandaise sauce and sauteed new potatoes, both included with the entree, added more pleasant tastes.
For dessert, I had a slice of cheesecake, which our waitress sai was homemade. The cook should change the recipe. It was altogether too light, seeming to have been built from a gelatin base, and with an edge that tasted like something -- I don't know what -- from a can.
My husband's Chocolate Indulgence was better, though i resembled a rich chocolate cake rather than the denser-than-dense versions of this dish he has indulged in elsewhere.
Our bill, which included two cocktails, a half-bottle of wine and two coffees, was $68.25. The service was friendly and professional without being stuffy -- just what you'd hope to find in a place such as Berger's.
Interestingly, the service deteriorated ever so slightly whe dessert time rolled around. The waitress rushed through her announcements of the dessert cart's offerings, and we had to ask her to repeat them.
Perhaps she was a bit embarrassed by the nearly deserted dessert cart, which was not the least bit inviting by late evening. Perhaps she knew the desserts were the restaurant's weak link. At least they were to us in an evening that had otherwise been a pleasant end to the work week.
Worth noting . . .
. . . Wednesday is RSVVP Day, the annual dining-out day to help feed the hungry in Maryland. More than 200 restaurants will donate 10 percent of that day's gross sales to the Maryland Food Committee, which sponsors the annual fund-raiser along with several local corporations.
Berger's Colonial Inn
Hours: 4 to 10 p.m. Monday; 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.
Reservations: Recommended on weekends.
Credit cards: Major credit cards accepted.
Handicapped access: Accessible.