Sure, it was an hour before closing. But it was also Saturday night, and if you can't get fed on a Saturday night, you'll never get fed at all.
We had our doubts, though, when we entered Pappas. Action was pretty busy in the bar, where a talented young Asian man was singing Sinatra, Elvis and Julio Iglesias. But the dining room was deserted, and the waitresses didn't exactly seem overjoyed to see us. One, a tired-looking woman with lacquered red curls and a cigarette hanging Bogart-style from her lips, seemed particularly worried about getting on the wrong side of the mysterious "She" who rules the kitchen and apparently does not take kindly to 10 p.m. dinner visitors. Even on Saturday night.
Had we not been "working," we would have apologized abjectly and slunk back out the door. But we decided to stick it out -- even though a number of items were unavailable at that late hour, and we were informed that the so-called "catch of the day" would take an hour to fix. "It's rockfish. It's frozen," our waitress said.
Lucky for us, things perked up from then on. We got fed, our waitress' Baltimore good humor came back, and the food, for the most part, was as good as it was inexpensive. And if you're a connoisseur of lounge singers, you can't do better than Pappas.
The table rolls and the pies (lemon meringue and apple) were standard commercial stuff, and not worth the calories. And the appetizers got mixed reviews. The crab in the stuffed mushroom caps ($5.95) was a bit too richly dressed for my taste, but there was no quibbling with the generosity of the lump crab. We turned thumbs down, though, on the oyster bisque ($1.35), which was thick enough to stick paper to a wall, and (despite the presence of a few morsels of oyster) had a flavor that could be characterized as Generic Seafood.
Although the restaurant's name is Greek, and we spotted a poster of Crete, the menu has nary a hint of spanakopita; it's purest American, with a few Continental touches. The kitchen wasn't offering the chicken cordon bleu that evening, so I went down-market a bit and tried the spaghetti with meat sauce ($5.95). It was a good choice -- the sauce was dark and heavy with ground beef, and the spicing took it several steps beyond the ordinary.
But the not-to-be-missed item here is the crab cake ($9), which a sign outside the restaurant touts as the best, not in the neighborhood or the city, but the world. This is a serious claim in a crab-eating town, but we had to admit that Pappas really does turn out a super-fine crab cake, which does not taste of mayonnaise or Old Bay or green pepper or paprika, or anything but wonderful crab. She-in-the-kitchen deserves a round of applause.
Where: 1725 Taylor Ave.
Hours: Open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays and Mondays.
Credit Cards: AE, MC, V.
Features: seafood, American and Continental dishes.
Non-smoking section? No, but dining room is large.
Call: (410) 661-4357.