True, the Mt. Washington Tavern has the reputation for being the place where yuppies go to find true love. (No one over 40 could take the noise level for long.) And one friend of mine, now that the light rail runs by her house, takes the train from BTrue, the Mt. Washington Tavern has the reputation for being the place where yuppies go to find true love. (No one over 40 could take the noise level for long.) And one friend of mine, now that the light rail runs by her house, takes the train from Bolton Hill just for the hamburgers. But with the opening of the Garden, or maybe I should say the enclosing of its garden, the Mt. Washington Tavern has positioned itself as a place to go for the food -- food beyond nachos and $7 burgers.
The area in back used to be a pleasant place to eat outside on a warm but not too warm summer evening. There are too few evenings like that in Baltimore, though, so this winter the Garden opened. It has a completely different feel than the cozy but dark main rooms of the tavern. The floors are white tile with a pattern of black and green, the walls are painted white and there's lots and lots of glass. When the weather is good, the roof slides open; otherwise the high-ceilinged room is cooled by fans and air conditioning. With all the glass, green plants and fresh flowers on each table, it still seems as if you're eating outdoors. It's a great room (as long as you don't mind the noise), and it makes the place more of a restaurant and less of a tavern.
The menu hasn't changed with the addition: There's still the same mix of trendy fare and full-scale dinners. Basic is better, we found, although the kitchen showed real promise in some respects. A steak sandwich ($7.50), for instance, is the kind of safe food that satisfies -- the small, charbroiled steak pink and tender. The thin french fries that come with it -- skin still on -- are hot and crisp and fairly grease-free.
Potato skins ($3.50), of which there are six varieties, are deep-fried and then covered with Cheddar, broiled and sprinkled with chopped green onions. Bar food par excellence. Maryland crab soup ($2.75), which the menu says won first place in the Maryland Crab Soup Cookoff, is mighty good -- spicy, chockful of vegetables and shredded crab. Too bad it came piled unattractively in the cup, with a good portion of it slopped over into the saucer.
The Tavern's Tempting Tasty Tangy Texas Tortilla ($6.25), to give it its proper name, starts with a crisp platewide tortilla topped with a fiery beef mixture, then Cheddar, lettuce, tomato, onion and sour cream. With a little more care this would have been a real winner -- I would have liked to have seen the lettuce chopped or shredded, not put on in large chunks.
Move on to more ambitious dishes and you may run into trouble. A boneless chicken breast and shrimp combination served over fettuccine ($17.50) almost works. Each ingredient is properly cooked and the proportions are good. (Sometimes a dish like this is all pasta.) But such a heavy hand had been used with the rosemary you could taste nothing else -- you couldn't even smell anything else at the table. Fresh broccoli was served with it, not overcooked but also served without a smidgen of anything: salt, butter or sauce. The house dressing on a salad tasted like vinegar-flavored ketchup.
Our waitress told us that of the desserts, only the mud pie ($2.75) was made on the premises. Sad to say, the mocha and chocolate ice cream was grainy and had already started to melt when we got it. But not to end on a down note -- because much our meal was good -- when we asked for bread we were brought a basket of very fine corn bread.
Mt. Washington Tavern
Where: 5700 Newbury St.
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday, 11:30 a.m. to midnight Thursday through Saturday.
Credit cards accepted: AE, MC, V.
Features: Eclectic fare.
Non-smoking section? No.
Call: (410) 367-6903.