The Sunset Grill, especially on a Friday night, is the restaurant equivalent of Metallica. We're talking serious noise here, folks.
But don't let that deter you. It's a bar that serves food, but it's more than a bar that serves food. And even if I did end up hoarse from yelling over the crowd noise and the music, I could appreciate the fact that the ingredients were fresh and almost everything was made on the premises.
The reason the Sunset Grill is so crowded isn't just because it's the hottest place to be (at least within a several-mile radius of the Loch Raven Plaza); it's also because of the kitchen. Instead of a hamburger and fries, it serves up the Sunset burger ($5.50), a half-pound of good ground beef, grilled pink and topped with sauteed mushrooms, crisp bacon and thick slices of melting Boursin-style cheese. Like all sandwiches at the Sunset Grill, the Sunset burger is accompanied by freshly made, tri-color pasta salad. Of course, you can get fries if you want them. With gravy even.
But for every down-home touch like that, there's a bearnaise on the chicken Chesapeake or artichokes in the seafood Alfredo. If you order a glass of wine, you don't get generic white, you get slightly less generic chardonnay or Chablis. A staggeringly big glass of it, I might add.
Still, the bar-type food and the "munchies" work best. Two of us couldn't make much of a dent in the nachos grande ($4.95), but it wasn't for lack of trying. The kitchen starts with a massive pile of tortilla chips, covers them with a fiery cheese sauce, sliced olives and jalapeno peppers, guacamole, and sour cream. Then it's finished off with salsa in case the customer isn't weeping from the heat already.
Potato skins ($3.95) with Cheddar and sour cream were hot and crunchy, with plenty of potato left on them. A house salad ($2.50), big enough for two to split, had a variety of fresh greens, tomatoes and raw mushrooms, plus a good house-made, blue cheese dressing.
Where the kitchen fell down a bit was on something more ambitious. The scampi ($12.95), one of several shrimp dishes on the menu, turned out to be an unattractive mass of pasta with an uninspired, garlic-flavored cream sauce and a few shrimp on top. The vegetable that came with it was a mix of fresh asparagus, carrots and almonds. Good idea, but the asparagus had been overcooked.
Desserts are baked by somebody's mother. (I couldn't hear whose, but at least I got the drift of what the waiter was saying.) We had chocolate cake so rich you couldn't tell where the icing ended and the cake began and a decent key lime pie.
Atmosphere? The Sunset Grill has plenty of it. It's Baltimore's idea of California, with lots of aqua and pink, white plastic furniture, fake palm trees and live philodendra. The staff wears splashy print shirts and Bermuda shorts and look like college kids who haven't been waiting tables long. But they remember complicated orders without writing them down, and manage to keep their cool in a totally frenetic setting.
Where: 825 Taylor Ave., Loch Raven Plaza.
Hours: Open every day 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. for food, bar open until 2 a.m.
Credit cards: AE, MC, V.
Features: American food.
Non-smoking section? No.
Call: (410) 828-4650