Towson's American Cafe is at its best with the early courses

October 02, 1992|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Restaurant Critic

Those who are familiar with the American Cafe in Harborplace know it as a place that just keeps on jumping, where you usually have to wait for a table to eat its stylish food. But if anyone ever doubted the importance of location, consider the AmericThose who are familiar with the American Cafe in Harborplace know it as a place that just keeps on jumping, where you usually have to wait for a table to eat its stylish food. But if anyone ever doubted the importance of location, consider the American Cafe in

Towson. It's exactly the same menu, exactly the same sort of trendy decor, exactly the same sort of young, friendly staff. But how many people know it exists except for those who work (or at least lunch) in downtown Towson?

For some reason, Towson has never been a place people go to eat out at night. That was expected to change with the coming of Towson Commons and its eight-screen movie theater; certainly new restaurants like L&N Seafood and Paolo's actually in the building are doing well. But judging from the night we ate at the American Cafe, places nearby haven't been affected much. They do a good lunch business; evenings are still dead.

Hey, I thought when we walked in, this might be a good one to keep to myself. The handsome rooms seemed extraordinarily peaceful. I knew what I liked on the menu. And there aren't many restaurants with this much pizazz where main courses are under $10.

There's only one problem.

Our meal wasn't good.

To be fair, I'd probably feel different if I'd just had first courses, a sandwich or a salad. Some of our food was OK. I liked the Monterey Quesadilla ($3.95) with its soft flour tortillas filled with Monterey Jack and baked until the edges were crisp, then sprinkled with chopped tomatoes, scallions and more cheese. It came with guacamole, sour cream and salsa and was the high point of the meal.

A huge house salad with greens, tomatoes, cucumbers and garlic croutons was a bargain for $1 extra when you order a dinner. The velvety rich Maryland cream of crab and corn soup ($3.95) would have been right up there with the quesadilla, except that it was served lukewarm.

And that was the problem with the rest of our meal. We were one of three tables occupied in the whole restaurant and not one dish arrived hot. The soup was good enough that we ate it anyway. Not so our main courses.

jTC Shrimp and bay scallops over fettucine ($9.95) came in a sauce )) too salty to eat. The shrimp were tough. Chicken stuffed with artichokes and spinach was tender and the stuffing had a fine flavor, but it was drowned in marinara sauce. Ugly as well as overwhelming. (I liked the fresh green beans amandine that accompanied it, though.)

And we never got any bread with our meal.

Apple cobbler ($2.95) had the makings of a great dessert. It had been baked so the streusel topping was bubbly hot -- but the apple underneath was unappetizingly cold. We did best with the tart-sweet Key lime pie ($2.95) -- something, you notice, that isn't supposed to be hot.

So go for an appetizer or overstuffed sandwich or salad. Or coffee and dessert after the movie. You'll like the staff, you'll like the setting, you'll like the prices -- just stay away from serious food.

American Cafe

Where: 4 Pennsylvania Ave.

Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. Mondays to Saturdays, 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Sundays.

Credit cards accepted: Major credit cards.

Features: American regional cooking.

Non-smoking section? yes.

Call: (410) 321-4800.

**

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