Right now you'd be hard pressed to find a better place than the newly opened L&N Seafood for a moderately priced fish dinner. (That's assuming you get over the shock any Baltimorean would feel when he realizes there's no crab on the menu.) Once L&N gets discovered, though, watch out. This place is going to be a zoo.
The first L&N Seafood opened in an old L&N train station in Knoxville, Tenn. That was 10 years ago during the World's Fair; since then the chain has been so successful nearly 40 L&Ns have been established from New York to Texas. The newest one, located in Towson Commons, doesn't seem like part of a chain -- except that any local seafood restaurant wouldn't ignore crab. (To be fair, our waiter said that crab cakes are sometimes a special; but the price of crab meat has been prohibitive lately.)
Money has been spent lavishly to create a clubby bar and dining rooms that have an established feel to them. The dark paneled walls, hung with sailing prints, could almost be mahogany. The colors are soothing, the lighting pleasantly dim, the booths comfortable.
L&N's specialty is mesquite-grilled fish. The selection varies according to what's fresh; we settled on a mixed grill sampler ($15.95) of swordfish, mahi-mahi and salmon. All the seafood we tried -- with one exception -- was perfectly fresh and of high quality. That one exception was the salmon on the mixed grill, but there was enough else that no one would go hungry.
The kitchen knows how to cook fish -- that is, how not to overcook it. The smoky tang of the mesquite complemented the moist flesh beautifully. For 95 cents extra you can choose from several sauces. I recommend the delicate, creamy dill sauce, which the restaurant serves on the side.
It did equally well with a New Orleans seafood platter ($16.95). My favorite part of it was two flaky white catfish fillets in a golden cornmeal crust. They alone were enough for me; but the platter also included a fillet of scrod blackened with Cajun spices, and lots of crunchy, spicy-hot fried shrimp.
My dinner came with rice; a cup of Creole gumbo, thick enough to eat with a fork and pretty forgettable; and a good "bottomless" salad. (It would be foolish, though, to fill up on salad here.) The mesquite grill included the same salad, two perfect red-skinned potatoes and steamed zucchini and yellow squash.
First courses are very limited at L&N Seafood. Dinners are so large you don't really need them, but you might try the warm cheese dip ($3.95) filled with chopped shrimp and scallops and served with crisply fried Chinese noodles instead of crackers.
L&N is proud of its freshly baked biscuits, to the point that it sells the mix; but I'm surprised that any restaurant originating in the South would serve biscuits with that much sugar in them. Not that they weren't good, but they'd be better with strawberries and whipped cream than mesquite-grilled fish. Unfortunately L&N doesn't serve strawberry shortcake for dessert; you'll have to settle for a mixed berry crisp (which is no hardship except that I wasn't crazy about the granola crust) or perhaps a slice of devastatingly rich pecan-butterscotch pie.
Where: 401 York Road.
Hours: Mondays through Thursdays, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m., Fridays, 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m., Saturdays, noon-11 p.m., Sundays, noon-8 p.m.
Credit cards accepted: Major credit cards.
Non-smoking section? Yes.
Call: (410) 825-6081.