Hull Street Blues is a quirky place, but fare and prices are commendable

September 18, 1992|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Restaurant Critic

Actually, we came upon the Hull Street Blues Cafe by accident. We had gotten a little lost in the Fort McHenry area and were trying to find our way back to Key Highway when we drove by the cheerful storefront. I remembered vaguely that someone had recommended the food and then I had forgotten about it.

But when we arrived there for dinner a few nights later, my heart sank. Inside, the Hull Street Blues Cafe seemed to be nothing more than a South Baltimore bar with a few patrons watching the ballgame on TV. They turned, looked at us, and turned back to their beers.

A waitress appeared and must have decided we didn't look like serious beer drinkers. Without asking she led us to the unexpectedly pretty little dining room next door. The Hull Street Blues Cafe's Commodore Room -- a pretty grand name for such a cute little room -- sports a nautical theme, but it also has candlelight and lace cafe curtains and stained glass and classical music on the sound system.

It hasn't been discovered yet, judging from the night we were there. One other table was filled. That's surprising because it's been open for four years and the food is good. A little quirky, but good and not expensive for what you get. Obviously I can't say much about the service because we didn't have to compete for '' our waitress' attention.

The short menu is ambitious and weighted toward seafood. We ordered accordingly. All the seafood we had was exceptionally fresh; an enormous pile of plump mussels in their shell for $4.50 was not only fresh but remarkably free of grit. (This was enough for two as a first course.) The cup of crab soup ($2.25) was decent enough but pretty ordinary, full of the usual vegetables and shreds of crab.

What impressed me most was the fish of the day, a huge, delectable filet of salmon ($11.95). It was so tender, so sweet-fleshed, it really didn't need any sauce. But as sauces go, this was a good one: delicately creamy with the tang of Dijon mustard. The fish came with seasoned rice and a mixture of nicely cooked fresh vegetables.

The Hull Street Cafe's broiled crab cakes (priced daily, this day $15.95) are its specialty. The two I got were tiny (yes, I know that the cost of back fin is prohibitive) but full of generous lumps of crab. They would have been spectacular if they hadn't been overcooked.

The cafe has good little salads, worth the extra cost ($1.95). They're made with fresh greenery and ripe local tomatoes. Try the house dressing, creamy garlic-pecan; it sounds dreadful but is actually pretty good.

Desserts were limited to apple cake and a white cake with raspberry filling and vanilla buttercream, both enjoyable and both $2. They were left over (although they tasted fresh) from Sunday brunch, which seems to be the Commodore Room's big meal of the week. It's an extravagant all-you-can-eat buffet for $9.95.

Hull Street Blues Cafe

Where: 1222 Hull St.

Hours: Light fare daily 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., dinner Tuesdays to Thursdays, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday brunch 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Credit cards accepted: AE, MC, V.

Features: Seafood, beef and chicken.

Non-smoking section? yes.

Call: (410) 727-7476.

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