Eating out, yes, pretensions, no: That's Baltimore

THE REAL DISH

December 13, 1992|By Mary Corey | Mary Corey,Staff Writer

Baltimoreans don't always put their money where their mouths are.

So says the latest Zagat Survey of 150 area restaurants, which found that diners here shell out less than their counterparts in at least seven other cities.

We spend a low of $10 (at Attman's Delicatessen), a high of $50 (at the Conservatory) and a median of $22.73 for dinner, one drink, dessert and a tip. That's less than top-ranked New Yorkers, by about $10.

Are we cheapskates about good food?

"Absolutely not," says Allan Ripp, spokesman for the survey and a former Baltimorean. "It's an economy-minded city. . . . It doesn't take kindly to pretension. You have to deliver and prove what's on the table before you can charge certain prices."

The winners in the "Top 50 Bangs for the Buck" category are the Woman's Industrial Exchange, Hacienda, Attman's, BOP and the Silver Diner.

Since Zagat first began tracking Baltimore in 1988, Tio Pepe, the home of garlic shrimp and the pine nut roll, has been named the city's favorite dining spot. Ironically, the Spanish restaurant is described as "deafening," "stuffy" and "claustrophobic" in the review. Rounding out the top five are the Prime Rib, Hampton's, Milton Inn and Linwood's Cafe-Grille.

Speaking of the Prime Rib, its owner -- C. Peter "Buzz" BeLer -- is having a banner year. He just won the 1992 Restaurateur of the Year award from the Restaurant Association of Maryland. This past summer, his restaurant and five others received the prestigious DiRoNA award (which stands for Distinguished Restaurants of North America). The Prime Rib, a 27-year-old institution in town, has shown real staying power, particularly in the face of new competition from Ruth's Chris Steak House.

A new restaurant landed in Glen Burnie this week. Literally.

A crane placed the 66,000-pound eatery called Checkers on North Crain Highway Thursday. The '50s throwback sports two drive-in windows, lots of neon and 99-cent burgers. Even the most expensive thing on the menu -- a double cheeseburger for $2.49 -- isn't likely to empty your wallet.

The restaurant, which will only have seating at outdoor picnic tables, is part of a Florida-based chain. Another Checkers recently opened in College Park. Although the Glen Burnie location should be up and running around Christmas, the grand opening is January 9.

We hear things are going so well at Nichiban, the new Federal Hill sushi bar and restaurant, that the owners have been --ing over to the Cross Street Market for more chicken, bean sprouts and tomatoes during the dinner rush. It's true, says partner Ghulam Hassan Ahmed, who owns the place with three relatives. He's not complaining.

At-home cooks who want the advice of a pro now can turn to Sfuzzi chef Patrick Kearney. He has just started a hot line -- (800) CHEF LINE -- for those with questions about cooking. The hours will correspond to those of the restaurant (Sunday through Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday until midnight), but we hear the best time to reach him is before noon and between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.

There's a new chef in the kitchen of the Museum Cafe. Christopher Cherry, who formerly worked at the Polo Grill and Tabrizi's, has revamped the menu, adding innovative dishes such as shrimp wrapped in phyllo dough with spinach and scallop mousse.

Diane Blair, owner of the Museum Cafe, reports that chef Michael McCall is still at the helm of her other restaurant, Morgan Millard.

Next month, Columbia is getting a new restaurant -- the Black-Eyed Pea. The chain known for its home-style cooking has three other locations in Maryland: Glen Burnie, Forestville and Oxon Hill. It's specialties are pot roast, chicken-fried steak and "Mom's" meatloaf.

At the Glen Burnie restaurant, children who don't finish their meals get chastised -- not by Mom -- but by manager Victor Legumina.

"I tell them, 'Unless you finish your dinner, no dessert,' he says. "They usually finish, and Moms love me for it."

For those who like to peruse a menu before visiting a restaurant, there's good news. Menus of Baltimore's Best, a new magazine of restaurants and caterers, is out. The $2.95 publication, which includes offerings from Windows, Amicci's and Harryman House, available at select bookstores and wine shops (or call [410] 269-4317). Publisher Andie McCullars is planning to publish Montgomery County menus in the spring. Look for the next Baltimore installment in April.

Ever feel like crawling into a cave? If you do, stop by Canton these days. The Cave, which opened two weeks ago, is one of the newest nightspots in town.

"Ever been to the Luray Caverns?" asks manager Carol Church, when describing the decor. "That's what it reminds me of. We even have Pebbles walking around on the weekends with drinks."

Have news about local restaurants, chefs or clubs? Call (410) 332-6156 or write the Real Dish, Baltimore Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, 21278.

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