Patrick's, Cranbrook Shopping Center, Cockeysville, (410) 683-0604. Open every day for lunch and dinner. AE, MC, V. No-smoking area: no. Wheelchair-accessible: yes. Prices: first courses, $2.75-$24.95; entrees, $9.95-$24.95.
Let's start with the apple pie at Patrick's. What, you may ask, is apple pie this good doing hidden away in a shopping center restaurant that a lot of people won't know about unless they live in the area? It has a crust that's short, tender and delicately flaky. The filling is made from apples with real flavor, and they aren't cooked to mush either. They're baked with just enough sugar and spices to bring out the flavor. Patrick's serves this excellent pie warm, with a scoop of French vanilla ice cream.
But the apple pie isn't the only surprise Patrick's has to offer. It calls itself a restaurant and pub, so I expected to be eating near a television above the bar. Patrick's does offer the TV/bar experience if that's what you're looking for; but there's also a more formal dining room, plus private dining rooms for parties. It's a much bigger restaurant than you'd expect, seeing it from the outside.
The main dining room has been designed with comfort foremost in mind. The tables are large, and you sink into the upholstered chairs when you sit down. The room's colors are soothingly neutral; the lighting is kept at a comfortable level. Best of all is the fireplace at one end of the room, with a real fire behind glass doors.
The next surprise is the menu. This looks like a nice, moderately priced suburban restaurant. You don't expect main courses to cost $18 and up, with dishes like veal Rossi and stuffed lobster tail. But then, just as you get over that shock, you see that there's a whole section called "Lite Fare."
No, these aren't sandwiches or salads (although these are on the menu, too). And the "lite" doesn't have to do with calories -- not with fried oysters and sour beef and dumplings included. Judging from our meal, it doesn't describe the size of the portions either.
What dishes fall under the category of Lite Fare seems to depend on their prices: This is a selection of 10 dinners that cost $10 to $12 rather than $18. Of course, if this still seems like a lot of money, Patrick's is perfectly happy for you to sit in the comfortable dining room and have a club sandwich or a chef's salad.
Along with some pretty fancy entrees, the kitchen produces a lot of first courses that are essentially bar food, like buffalo wings, "drunken" shrimp, potato skins and onion rings.
It turns out this kind of food is what Patrick's does best. A "fried combo" included fat shrimp; tender strips of boneless chicken; hot, melting mozzarella sticks -- all of them with crisp, grease-free crust -- and barbecue, cocktail and mustard sauces. Crab balls, full of crab meat, were appealingly spiced and led me to believe that crab cakes might be a good bet for a main course.
Of our first courses, only the soup disappointed -- a crock of Louisiana shrimp and crab gumbo. It had generous amounts of seafood, but was much too thick and not hot enough. The crock had been filled so full the soup slopped over the sides into the saucer.
If I had to do it again, I would stick to the simplest entrees -- the steaks, the crab cakes, the shrimp. We picked two fairly %J elaborate dishes from the Lite Fare category, chicken Louie and sour beef and dumplings, plus a special that evening, an Eastern Shore platter.
The chicken Louie tasted just OK, and something should have been done about its looks. The large white plate was covered with chunks of white chicken meat in a white wine sauce with some pale gray-green artichoke leaves and pale brown sauteed mushrooms. Not even a sprig of parsley to give it color.
The sour beef was better, with a snappy sauce (no pun intended). The two large dumplings were pretty heavy, and the chunks of beef weren't as tender as they should have been; but it wasn't a bad meal.
The Eastern Shore platter sounded great, with turkey, ham and fried oysters. But instead of carved slices we got rounds of ham and turkey, presumably from boneless rolls. It wasn't the same. The two oysters, like all the fried food at Patrick's, were fine.
With dinner came a choice of two: potatoes, salad or sauteed mushrooms. Parsley potatoes were cooked forever, but seasoned deliciously. The steak fries were just steak fries. As for the salad, it's hard to imagine a restaurant that can produce the apple pie I rhapsodized about at the beginning would turn out so uninspired a salad, with iceberg, grated carrot and packaged croutons.
But more on the desserts: There's a separate, bound dessert menu. This is a restaurant that takes its desserts seriously. If you crave chocolate, you must have the chocolate passion cake, which delivers all the name promises and more, including a very pretty white chocolate heart for garnish. But if you really want to feel sinful, hold out for the peanut butter pie slathered in hot fudge sauce.
Next: Westminster Inn