A Diner With The Right Spirit


April 07, 1991|By Linda Lowe Morris

There have been lots of diners -- the retro and nouveau sorts of diner -- popping up around the country over the past few years. They've got the soda fountain all right, the jukebox, stools that swivel and booths that enclose, but sometimes something's missing.

But here at Tamber's -- owned, run and doted over by various members of the Tamberino family -- they've put together a place that has something more than justthe right look, the right mixture of chrome and neon.

They've somehow gotten the spirit of an old-time diner, the place where everybody, blue collar and white collar, old and young, sits down elbow to elbow at the counter to eat.

On this spring afternoon, a little past regular lunchtime, the restaurant is still almost full. A baby-faced city policeman sits in one of the red vinyl booths and smiles at the pretty young woman across from him. An elderly couple shares another table. A woman reads a book while she eats. And some students, maybe from nearby JHU, sit at the counter waiting for ice cream sodas.

The waitresses wear long circle skirts and bobby socks with their white sneakers. The waiters wear bow ties. Little Richard sings "Lucille" on the jukebox. And they even have the food right: Big blue plates come up from the downstairs kitchen heaped with food that looks like realdiner food.

The idea came from David Tamberino. "I owned a horse transportation business, but sold it with the intention of getting into the food business," he says.

It took him two years of false starts and frustration while hunting for a place before he settled on this location on St. Paul just above 33rd Street. It's the space that used to be Casey's, and was then reborn as Roscoe's, but it had been vacant for many months when Mr. Tamberino first looked at it.

Other members of his family caught his dream. His father and mother, Frank and Kay Tamberino, his brother Steve and his sister Sharon are all involved in running the restaurant. Kay Tamberino did the design.

The name, as you might guess is a shortened form of the family name, but there's a little more to the story. "My grandfather was a huckster, selling vegetables downtown and that's what they called him -- they called him Tambers," David Tamberino says.

The restaurant's slogan is Nifty Fifties Dining. "A lot of people think that's the name," he adds.

The food at Tamber's, prepared under the direction of Lisa Mitchell (formerly at the Washington Place Grill) includes deep-fried chicken, New York strip steak, codfish cakes, four kinds of omelets served with French fries and toast, chicken picante, lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs, mixed garden salad, chicken salad platter, shrimp salad platter and pizza, plus a whole list of burgers and hot and cold sandwiches.

The blue plate specials include home-style meat loaf with mashed potatoes and gravy, chicken pot pie, roast beef, fresh roasted turkey breast and the macaroni and cheese platter.

If you've been missing the old Hutzler's tea room, some of their classics are here (thanks to Kay Tamberino): cream cheese and olive on whole wheat toast, shrimp salad on cheese toast and cream cheese on date and nut bread.

From the fountain they have ice cream sundaes and sodas, milkshakes, banana splits and chocolate egg cream. Most of the desserts -- pies and cakes plus bread pudding and brownies -- are homemade.

In the future they plan to offer breakfast. Carryout is available through a side door.

Tambers is located at 3327 St. Paul St. The hours are 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays, 11 a.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays. The telephone number is 243-0383.*

The new Sushi Cafe on Thames Street in Fells Point has one of the biggest sushi menus in town. Owner Gin Nakagawa noticed the popularity of California rolls and decided to add a whole series of different kinds of rolled sushi.

There are the seaweed roll, the gobo roll, the ume roll, the natto roll, the cream cheese roll with smoked salmon, the Japanese mayonnaise roll with scallops, plus an increasingly potent tuna-based trio: the spicy roll, the nasty roll and the danger roll. Then there's the Key West roll (with conch), the salmon skin roll, the many fish roll, the avocado roll and the old favorite California roll.

For the nervous there is a list of cooked sushi that is as long as the list for raw.

The menu also contains Japanese curry, soups both brown and white rice, tofu, seaweed salad, sunomono and chirashi.

The cafe offers a new idea in sushi: membership. You can become a member for $45 a year and get unlimited a la carte sushi for 20 percent off for eating there or taking out. Then at the restaurant you can have all-you-can-eat sushi for $35 each (not for sharing, though).

Mr. Nakagawa opened the cafe in late February after having transformed a former jewelry store into the spotless and cozy little restaurant (there are only five tables). He was formerly at Kawasaki and before that he worked for several years in Philadelphia.

Mr. Nakagawa, who calls himself a sushiologist, also offers lessons for groups in people's homes. He supplies the fish and equipment and offers some necessary items for sale. Sushi kits are also available for sale at the cafe.

The hours are noon to midnight Sundays to Thursdays, noon to 3 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

The Sushi Cafe is located at 1640 Thames St. in Fells Point. The telephone number is 732-3570.

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