Spike and Charlie's looks like a jinx-breaker.
For the better part of a decade, entrepreneurs have been trying to turn the corner of Cathedral and Preston streets into a night-life bonanza. Unfortunately, the success of Ethel's Place, Blues Alley and a short-lived Caribbean cabaret depended on lots of locals topping off their evenings at the symphony or the Theatre Project with dinner, drinks and high-priced jazz talent. They failed to flock, with the inevitable result: One of those "Closed Temporarily for Repairs" signs that always seem to be harbingers of doom.
Spike and Charlie's will probably make it, though, by subscribing to the formula that seems to have worked well for Society Hill down the block: Give the customers a little music, by all means, but emphasize bistro-style dining.
This new restaurant and wine bar is a stylish success, from the paintings -- sort of urban folk art -- to the plates, which are shiny and black with lively renderings of seafood and vegetables. It feels like a fun place, a hip place, a special-occasion place. And lovers of novelty will go crazy over the menu, which, I promise, features a few items you have never seen before. "What, buckwheat ravioli with pumpkin and truffles, again?," my companion joked.
The downside of all this is that the food is not quite as spectacular as we feel it ought to be. (The pokey service left something to be desired, too, although a big Christmas party downstairs reportedly had something to do with this.) A pizza du jour ($8) had a delicious grilled crust, and its topping of lump crab, prosciutto and Italian cheeses -- no tomato -- exuded class. But crab and prosciutto were a mixed marriage of tastes that didn't really pan out. The mussel soup with saffron ($4) was an unexpectedly hearty chowder -- not a fault exactly, but I was expecting something with a little more finesse. And tagliatelle with lobster and green curry ($10) was more inspired in conception than in reality. The curry sauce was creamy and mild, but still managed to wash out the flavor of the not-overly-generous lobster supply.
But I loved the gutsiness of Gorgonzola and pancetta on the spinach salad ($4), and a gorgeous grilled salmon fillet ($12), surrounded with a seasonal mix of baby squash, tiny carrots and small, sweet onions was beyond reproach.
But Spike and Charlie's real culinary claim to greatness is dessert. The selection included a chocolate sponge with a heart of orange-flavored chocolate goo, and puff pastry wrapped around spiced apples. The homemade mint chocolate chip and cinnamon ice creams served with these were extraordinary, with flavors so fresh and intense you may feel you've never tasted real ice cream before.
Spike and Charlie's
Where: 1225 Cathedral St.
Hours: Open 11:30 a.m. to midnight Sundays to Thursdays, 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays (dining room)
Credit Cards: AE, MC, V
Features: Eclectic cuisine
Non-smoking section? Yes
Call: (410) 752-8144