Want to see Baltimore in the '90s? What was and is -- in one comfortable place? Head for the Bay Cafe, the warehouse turned condos in Canton, the working-class neighborhood turned upscale.
Even more than two years of wandering through the old-and-new of Baltimore restaurants hadn't prepared my husband and me for the bio-diversity of the Bay Cafe.
Walking along the restaurant's promenade, we thought we must be among the oldest people there. Not comforting for two fortysomethings.
Yet, as the night wore on, we realized that there really was a considerable number of fiftysomethings, sixtysomethings and even-older-somethings dining amid the youngsters.
Inside, music rang out loudly from the public address system.
Outside, the "music" was a mixed medley of the wind, the revving cigarette boat motors and the voices emanating from the bustling dining area.
Hon, welcome to the '90s. It's all here. Water taxis, charters, police boats, even kids in strollers.
And the Bay Cafe's menu shares the eclectic personality of Baltimore today. There were crab imperial and crab cakes beside swordfish steaks and Tex Mex.
And guess what? The food was good, far better than we'd expected from a place with so much visual appeal and where one of the host esses has a beetle tattoo on her leg.
Sensory overload? Nearly. But the food was so good we managed to stay focused on the reason for our visit.
I began with an appetizer of Steamed Spiced Shrimp ($9), my husband with Oysters on the Half Shell ($5.25). The seven shrimp were as large as any I've seen and were superbly, although not very spicily, prepared. The oysters, my husband said, were as good as any he could remember having. Both dishes came with a lemon slice and excellent cocktail sauce.
For entrees, I picked the Swordfish Kabob ($13.95); my husband, Shrimp Scampi ($14.95).
The kabob included green and red pepper, onion and tomato -- all delicious. The large strips of thick, nicely marinated swordfish were fork-tender. Like the shrimp scampi, it was a healthy portion.
The scampi was a work of art, both to the eye and the palate. Ten shrimp (good-sized but not as big as the monsters in my appetizer) were served over superb rice, the whole thing drizzled with lemon-butter sauce and dusted with parsley. Again, the seasoning was light, but excellent.
With our entrees we were served small side dishes of green beans. I found them hard, cool and tasteless. My husband found them lightly cooked with a tasty spice (cinnamon, perhaps) and tomato sauce.
I may have found the beans cool because the wind intensified as we ate, cooling our food and repeatedly blowing out the oil candle on our table, yet reminding us that this was waterside dining, which often carries both charm and distraction.
We each had a glass of wine with our entrees. Unfortunately, the wine, like the cocktails, was served in disposable plastic. Real glass would have been a big improvement.
Oddly, our after-dinner coffees were in stoneware mugs. And the coffee was good.
My husband passed on dessert. Not me.
I chose the Oreo cheesecake ($3.50) from the four dessert offerings. It was rich with a thick, cookie crust and cookies throughout the creamy filling.
With two cocktails, two glasses of wine and two coffees, our bill was just under $67. By the time we filled out the credit card form in darkness -- our candle had gone out one too many times and the restaurant's outside lights were faint -- we realized that we had had a good meal.
We left still marveling at the mix of humanity, which increased as the night wore on.
At the Bay Cafe, you can come as you are -- whatever you are.
Bay Cafe 2809 Boston St. 522-3377
Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Saturday; 10 a.m. to 2 Sunday, brunch served 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Credit cards: Major credit cards accepted.
Handicapped access: Accessible.
Smoking: No separate areas, but because much of dining area is outdoors, not usually a problem.