Where There's Smoke...good Grills

DINING OUT

September 13, 1992|By ELIZABETH LARGE

Bohager's, 515 S. Eden St., (410) 563-7220. Open every day for lunch and dinner. Major credit cards. No smoking area: yes. Wheelchair access: yes. It's tempting to call Bohager's Bar and Grill a yuppie hangout. It has all the ingredients: the right location (between Fells Point and the Inner Harbor), happy hours and trendy events galore, trendy food. There are even T-shirts for sale in Bohager's signature colors (purple and green) with Bohager's logo splashed across the front.

But the truth is there are middle-aged folks eating dinner on the restaurant's two-level deck, and even a few parents with kids. That's because you can get succulent ribs or an excellent charcoal-grilled steak at Bohager's -- as well as find the Significant Other of your dreams.

Bohager's has two things going for it right away, before you ever get to the food. First of all, it offers free parking for 160 cars. And then it has one of the nicest outdoor eating areas around, apart from Harborplace. The deck is simple -- furnished with white plastic furniture with Perrier and Bass Ale umbrellas -- but it's spacious and fenced in away from the traffic.

Inside, the restaurant is fashionably stark. It looks industrial, as well it should -- the building was once Bohager & Sons, a wastepaper management company. The two main features of the cavernous space are a long bar and, on a level up, a huge charcoal and wood grill. One wall is covered with a black-and-white mural of a steamfitter. It seems a bit grim compared to the deck, but maybe that was because when we walked in there was so much smoke I thought the place was on fire. (Apparently, this happens whenever hardwood is added to the charcoal grill.) As one of the waiters joked, "Would you like smoking, non-smoking or natural smoke?"

But as long as you can sit outdoors and enjoy the results, who cares? The baby back ribs are fall-off-the-bone tender but still crusty, full of smoke and spice, with a good, not-too-sweet sauce. You can have them as a first course ($6.95) or entree (half rack, $7.95; whole rack, $14.95). With them try a side order of Janice's Boston baked beans ($1.95) -- a bit mushy, but a great flavor: smoky and tangy-sweet.

With a steak, you get the full flavor of the charcoal and wood fire because there's no sauce. The 1-pound New York strip ($14.75), juicy and pink, wasn't the most tender piece of beef I've ever had, but the flavor was so good I didn't mind a bit. Whole sauteed mushrooms and a baked potato are the accompaniments.

Even something as simple as a cheeseburger ($5.25), cooked just as ordered, had that same good smoky edge. It arrived on a fat onion roll with green leaf lettuce and real summer tomatoes. Crisp french fries, the skin still on, came with it and a simple, not-too-sweet coleslaw.

So far, so good. Alas, the rest of our first courses and other entree didn't measure up. Too-smooth guacamole ($4.95) had no remote taste of avocado. If I had shut my eyes I couldn't have told you what I was eating by taste or texture. A beer and Cheddar dip ($3.95) tasted spicy and nothing much else.

A tossed green salad topped with grilled tuna fillet ($6.95) was the worst of the lot. Remember the green leaf lettuce and fine tomatoes that adorned the cheeseburger? Neither was in evidence in the salad. On top of a pile of iceberg lettuce were carrot sticks, sprouts, red cabbage and various other vegetables. OK so far, I guess, but then the strips of grilled tuna (which I foolishly assumed would be grilled to order) were ice cold, had the texture of meatloaf, and tasted fishy. Salad dressings, our waiter told us, aren't made on the premises.

Bohager's redeemed itself with its apple pie ($2.95), made by caterer Linda List. The crust was short and flaky, bursting with several different varieties of apples. It's served warm with vanilla ice cream on the side. The three-layer chocolate cake ($3.25) is respectable without being something to write home about. One might say that Bohager's ice cream pie ($3.50) is basically just ice cream in a crumb crust, but it's prettily decorated with rosettes of whipped cream and candied coffee beans.

As for service, you get exactly what you'd expect in a casual place like Bohager's. Young, fresh-faced waiters and waitresses, eager to please but not as experienced as some. You'll like them, and you'll like Bohager's -- as long as you stay away from that grilled tuna salad.

In two weeks: Helmand

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