Nice name, nice ads, nice place. Spike. Sounds like the funny papers -- some kid with a crew cut, spiky hair and a tooth out. Charlie, his cohort, with an Adam's apple, his name a scrawl on fences and sidewalks, like the Charlie scrawl on Spike & Charlie's logo. Spike & Charlie's. Two guys messing around, having fun.
The funnies connection isn't impertinent, either. Spike & Charlie's feels like a place where owners David "Spike" and Charlie Gjerde can work to music they like, pour wines that interest them, cook up good food, and laugh all at the same time. Sure, they're working hard, but their efforts appear lighthearted.
Spike & Charlie's is located where the old Ethel's was, and the old Blues Alley was, on the southeast corner of Cathedral and Preston streets. The Meyerhoff Symphony Hall is across Cathedral to the west. That means Spike & Charlie's has an advantage: Guests can park after work, come inside to eat, and be in their seats across the way, fed, by 8:10. If our luck is a fair indicator, they'll eat well.
We tried Spike & Charlie's twice. One night there was a concert across the street, one night there wasn't. We liked it both times -- when we sat in the packed first room off the street, where dinner was being served at small tables and at the bar, and when we sat in the generously windowed dining room. Both PTC rooms have a casual chic-- mischievous paintings; white linen; clever menus; candles tucked into folded, faux-linen, steel-mesh candleholders; and striking Villeroy & Boch plates on which fish, lemons, peas in the pod, eggs, radishes, mushrooms et al. float over a black background.
For first courses, we sampled two soups, two pastas and an appetizer of fresh Atlantic oysters ($5). The soups were our only disappointments. One was a much too sweet butternut squash and apple puree ($3.50); the other, a mussel soup ($4), had respectable ingredients -- six mussels, fresh thyme, tomato, green pepper and onion -- but a broth with shallow tastes.
We expected to find two quite different dishes in eggplant and prosciutto lasagna ($8) and baked pasta with sweet peppers and sausage ($8), but they were made according to the same design. The first was lasagna noodles separated by ricotta, squares of eggplant and leaves of pancetta (Italian ham), with crisped leaves of fresh sweet marjoram crackling in molten mozzarella over the top. The other, baked pasta, was a layering of lasagna noodles and spicy hot sausage, green pepper, hot pepper, ricotta, tomato and a topping of hot grated Parmesan. You want a mild, mostly vegetable dish? Take the first. Spice and meat? Take the second. Both were delicious.
The five baked oysters on the half shell over salt were superbly simple, fresh and plump. No fuss -- just wonderful oysters, a waft of wine and dill.
Both of our entrees were imaginative and exceptional. An oven-seared salmon fillet ($12) set a fresh, beautiful square of salmon (firm at the edges, perfection at the center) in a broth flavored with seafood and wine, together with chef-fashioned oblongs of zucchini, hollow globes of small red-skinned onions, and samplings of carrot, potato and turnip.
Roasted rack of lamb ($17) consisted of five separate, carefully trimmed, succulent, pink lamb chops, on a plate with a gorgeous melange of cooked Belgian endive spears, pungent black olives and a jus-based sauce. To the side was a large mound of mashed potatoes, their thin, red skins mixed in for color and, what seemed to us, impudence.
One of the restaurant's perks is a sizable list of wines sold by the glass as well as by the bottle. We liked the Chateau Montelena chardonnay ($7.50 a glass) and a Beaune Domaine du Chateau de Meursault burgundy ($6.50 a glass), and also found a Kermit Lynch Macon Villages very agreeable and less expensive at $19 a bottle.
Desserts were aces. A baci ($5.50) was a moist chocolate and orange muffin with a powdered-sugar crust, set next to homemade mint-and-chopped-chocolate ice cream, both ankle-deep in creme anglaise scattered with chocolate-shaped lightning bolts. Lovely stuff, and yet surpassed by a hot apple crostada ($5.50). The crostada was a flavorful, light short crust that wrapped a cluster of warm, cooked apple slices next to a scoop of scrumptious homemade vanilla ice cream. Concert-goers in search of an after-dinner drink and a sweet have a place to go.
Service was efficient, courteous, articulate and good-natured both evenings. The night of the concert we were asked if we needed to be out by 8. We said no, but we wanted to be treated well anyway. We were, but not, it seemed, at anyone else's expense.
Silky oysters, decent pastas, two excellent entrees, interesting desserts, intelligent service and reasonable prices. Let the good times roll, Spike & Charlie!
@SPIKE & CHARLIE'S 1225 Cathedral St., (410) 752-8144
Lunch Mondays to Saturdays
11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.; dinner
Mondays to Thursdays 5:30 p.m.
to midnight, until 1 a.m. Fridays
ACCEPTS: AE, MC, V
FEATURES: Eclectic menu
NO-SMOKING SECTION: Yes
& WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes