In a time when the popularity of restaurants changes more quickly than this spring's weather -- with hot new places jammed and the out-of-favor spots ignored -- it's comforting to see that traditional restaurants still pack 'em in.
You know the kind of place: it doesn't advertise much, doesn't attract much attention -- it just does a good job for a steady clientele year in and year out.
This seems to be the case at The Peppermill, a fixture on York Road just outside the Beltway. All a passing motorist sees is the restaurant's sign in front of a nondescript office building. You have to turn down a side street and enter the parking lot from the rear to even see the front door.
So my husband and I were somewhat surprised, upon entering, to find that The Peppermill, a large restaurant with two dining rooms and a bar, was nearly full.
The reasons soon became apparent: soothing surroundings, pleasant service and food that was better than we had expected. And the prices left a good taste in our mouths, too.
There's a style of suburban restaurant decor that The Peppermill fits into neatly -- muted pink walls, mirrors, blond wood furnishings, all without windows.
It's a style that invites the diner to leave his cares outside -- whether they be the hassles of work, the hassles of family life, the hassles of traffic, or all three. You can't see what's going on in the outside world, so you might as well enjoy what's going on inside.
Settling in, we began with traditional appetizers -- shrimp cocktail ($5.95) and clams casino ($4.95). Both were excellent and well-prepared. The shrimp cocktail consisted of five large, steamed shrimp fanned around a small container of run-of-the-mill cocktail sauce. But the shrimp were so good they didn't need saucing. The clams had a light, delicate topping, allowing their taste and texture to shine through.
For an entree, I selected blackened catfish ($9.95) from the light fare menu. Many of our fellow diners were elderly; this section of the menu, with its smaller portions and cheaper prices, seems designed to appeal to them -- and to anyone who doesn't want a lot of food.
My small, but adequate, portion of catfish was very good, with a crispy exterior but a sweet, juicy interior. Although blackened, it was not fiery hot with seasonings. Included were a crisp, fresh salad and a huge serving of almost-overcooked broccoli.
My husband ordered liver from the regular menu ($11.95), and was surprised at the large size of the serving.
The three slices of liver were crispy on the outside, tender on the inside. Topping the plateful were several strips of bacon and a mound of sauteed onions. He said it was all excellent. Included were a very good baked potato and tasty stewed tomatoes.
Having eaten lightly, I had room for dessert.
My strawberry romanoff ($2.50) was large and delicious, with big, fairly flavorful berries rinsed in liqueur and topped with plenty of whipped cream. The berries at the bottom of the dish -- those that had soaked a while -- were particularly good.
In all, with two drinks, two glasses of wine from the large wines-by-the-glass list and two coffees, our bill was a reasonable $48.
We had enjoyed excellent service from a very personable waitress.
By the time we got ready to leave, shortly after 10 p.m., the dining rooms were virtually deserted. This is an early crowd, it seems. But the bar was fuller and noisier than when we came in.
If we hadn't had two children and a baby sitter waiting for us at home, we'd probably have stayed in this relaxing, inviting place a bit longer.
*** The Peppermill Restaurant 1301 York Road, Lutherville (410) 583-1107 Hours: Lunch, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday; dinner, 4 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 4 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 1 to 9 p.m. Sunday. Food served in the lounge all day.
Reservations: Recommended on weekends.
Credit cards: Major credit cards accepted.
Handicapped access: Accessible.
Smoking: Separate areas designated.