If you live in northern Baltimore and want to take the family to dinner nearby, your choices are few -- at least fewer than if you live in the suburbs.
One choice is PizzApeel, at Charles and 33rd streets. After years of having pizza delivered from there, my family recently went to the restaurant.
PizzApeel is attractive, even without windows in the dining room. The look is sort of California -- mixed beige and paneled walls with lots of mirrors and plants.
Our experience wasn't as positive as we had expected.
The problem wasn't so much in the way the kids were treated -- diners are given a dish of popcorn when they are seated (most appreciated by our very hungry 2-year-old) along with crayons and place-mat menus to color. Our problems were with the unevenness of the service and, to a larger degree, with the way things tasted.
My husband was pleased to find at the end of a jammed Saturday that PizzApeel has a full bar. But the wait to order was long -- dangerously so for small diners -- and the wait for his drink even longer. To the waitress' credit, she did bring our children's drinks promptly, and in cups with lids and straws.
Our appetizer, a nacho plate, also seemed to take forever. The entrees arrived reasonably fast, but things went into slow gear again before dessert.
Our complaint with the food can be summed up in three words: not much taste.
The nacho platter ($4.25) was huge and full of the promise of rich flavors. Wrong. The cheese glop came straight from a can and the nachos were cold. What flavors there were -- sliced peppers and salsa -- were too hot not only for the children but also for my husband.
For entrees, we ordered Ravioli ($5.99) and Chicken Fettuccini ($6.25). From the children's menu, a grilled cheese sandwich ($1.50).
The ravioli came the closest to being adequate, although there was little meat filling inside the large, round ravioli. The tomato sauce was ordinary.
The fettuccini was described as "marinated chicken breast filet and pasta, covered with our delicious white sauce." While the chicken was acceptable, there was just a negligible amount of sauce on the small filet and the huge bowl of noodles. So sparse was the sauce that the overall taste was little more than chicken with plain noodles.
Even the grilled cheese was lacking. It had barely enough cheese to separate the over-grilled bread.
With the ravioli and the fettuccini came garlic bread. It proved, however, to be nothing more than a heated Wonder Bread-like sub roll lightly coated with a garlic concoction -- too lightly coated to have much taste.
We would probably have been better off ordering pizza, as most people in the nearly full restaurant were doing. I've always enjoyed PizzApeel's distinctive deep-dish pizzas, in part because of the soft, thick crust, in part because of the overall taste, which is unlike any other pizza we've had delivered.
If we had any doubt that PizzApeel's food didn't taste good, they were erased when our older child stopped after several bites of her chocolate sundae, announcing, "I don't like the taste." My husband, intent on finishing it, soon agreed. He couldn't tell whether the problem was the soft-serve ice cream or the sauce, but something was vaguely metallic.
In all, the bill came to $26.50. Not a lot of money, but not a pleasant experience either.
We left disappointed that tastes, at least good tastes, had been so scarce. Disappointed, too, that for all the servers hurrying about, we had had several lengthy waits. And for any place that sees itself as a family restaurant, that is probably more a detriment than deficient food.
* 1/2 PizzApeel
3215 N. Charles St.
Hours: Monday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to midnight; Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Reservations: Recommended on weekends.
Credit cards: Major credit cards accepted.
Handicapped access: Limited.
Smoking: No designated area.