Gypsy's refreshing simplicity is a dream come true

November 22, 1991|By Lynn Williams | Lynn Williams,Sun Restaurant Critic

If we all got together to describe the neighborhood restaurant of our dreams, the consensus would sound an awful lot like Gypsy's Cafe. Gypsy's is ravishing but relaxing, its employees are attractive and artistic-looking but actually nice, and there'If we all got together to describe the neighborhood restaurant of our dreams, the consensus would sound an awful lot like Gypsy's Cafe. Gypsy's is ravishing but relaxing, its employees are attractive and artistic-looking but actually nice, and there's parking right outside. The menu is as simple as they come, and as fresh as Hollins Market, which is right across the street, can provide. And nothing costs more than $10.

How do I admire this restaurant? Let me count the ways.

First of all, it's exceptionally handsome. The walls are an indescribably dusky purple (lavender licorice?), the trim green-black, the ceiling one of those pressed-tin Victorian confections. The tables are set with fresh flowers and seasonally appropriate miniature pumpkins, and a mixed bag of vintage chairs have been given a stylish faux-tortoise shell finish. Balancing all this drama and chic, however, is a likable jumble of mix-and-match china that could have come from Great-Aunt Sally's cupboard. Some of it is even chipped, but somehow in this setting one doesn't mind.

A bowl of split pea soup ($3.25), served in an enormous chipped china bowl, would warm even the chilliest evening. Reportedly, many of the recipes used at the cafe were contributed by neighbors, and we could well believe that the recipe for this soup -- thick, old-fashioned and refreshingly unsophisticated -- had been in somebody's family for generations.

We also enjoyed the shrimp dip ("an original Eastern Shore recipe," $3.95), which was delectably creamy, and had generous chunks of shrimp. It tasted so rich that I thought it might not be easy to finish, but I was soon scraping the bowl for just a tiny bit more to spread on the toasted French bread.

Admittedly, the strip steak, the top-of-the-line entree at $9.95, was not a fabulous piece of meat; it was tender, but fatty. And the Burgundy sauce with peppercorns was overwhelmingly pungent. A little fine-tuning might help. The hot German potato salad was great, though; another family recipe?

The closest Gypsy's gets to nouvelle cuisine is in its ever-changing Hollins skewers, with their appealing mixtures of sweets and savories, flavors and textures. Even the rice on which they are served varies with the market's bounty. Our brochette (market price $8.95) featured pork tenderloin, mushrooms, sweet potato, apples and squash, served in a lemon pudding of a sauce over raisin- and nut-studded rice. It was weird, but it worked.

Desserts are made from scratch in Frederick by the owner's grandmother, whose chocolate rum cake is worth going over the river and through the woods for. We're lucky we only have to go as far as Hollins Street.

Gypsy's Cafe

Where: 1103 Hollins St.

Hours: Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesdays to Sundays; Sunday brunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Credit Cards: MC, V.

Features: Light fare, seafood, American dishes.

Non-smoking section? No.

Call: (410) 625-9310.

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