Ever-popular Gampy's offers good selections, but it's a bit ,,quirky

Restaurant Critic

March 26, 1993|By Elizabeth Large

Gampy's must be the granddaddy of fun restaurants in the Baltimore area, the ones that are part singles bar and part trendy eatery. The name stands for Great American Melting Pot, with a "y" thrown in to make it sound even more fun.

Campy's was one of the first restaurants around here to offer foods of different ethnic backgrounds, which was a pretty original concept when the place opened some 15 years ago. Nowadays, though, quesadillas and blackened fish and teriyaki dishes are standard American fare, and most people have forgotten that the name stands for anything.

What makes Gampy's and places like it enduringly popular ithat they offer a good selection of interesting dishes for people who want a few more choices than just hamburgers and pizza for under $10. Gampy's does have hamburgers and pizza, but the pizza, for instance, is an individual one with toppings like Boursin and bacon. The thick, 8-inch crust (a bit too thick for my taste) is slathered with rich, herb-flavored cream cheese. Not exactly your basic heart-healthy selection, but Gampy's offers some of those, too. Look for the little heart next to items on the menu.

You might have teriyaki vegetables, steamed but still nicely criswith a light, faintly sweet teriyaki sauce and rice on the side. Or you could try some of the best chicken fajitas around (the high point of our meal), made with blackened chicken and soft, warm tortillas. Just ignore the sour cream and guacamole on the side if you're worried about your calories or cholesterol.

If such things aren't a problem for you, consider getting one othe three fondues -- not many places offer them. The choices are Tex-Mex cheese, a chocolate dessert fondue or beef. For the last, raw cubes of filet mignon come with a fondue pot of hot oil and little wooden sticks to cook them on. Then you dip the cooked beef in barbecue sauce, teriyaki, a brown-gravy-like peppercorn sauce or mayonnaise mixed with mustard.

First courses at Gampy's are limited, and the ones we tried wcould have skipped. Black bean soup had an odd, indefinable flavor, and something called fried jalapeno poppers gets my vote as the strangest dish I've tried this year. Maybe ever. The peppers are stuffed with cream cheese, deep-fried and served with melba sauce.

First courses may be limited, but desserts aren't. If the chocolatpeanut butter pie and so on aren't rich enough for you, the kitchen is happy to add a scoop of ice cream and hot fudge sauce.

Gampy's isn't exactly a family restaurant, although kids woulfind plenty to like on the menu and they'd love the jazzy decor, starting with the red and blue neon zigzags on the ceiling. But it is a place with its own little quirks, and regulars accept that. Like the hot-oil call. Whoever is holding the fondue pot of hot oil yells out "hot oil, hot oil" as he carries it from the kitchen -- a little bizarre if you don't know about the fondue. Or take our waitress. She was nice as she could be until she misunderstood and brought us our check before we had ordered dessert. When we told her we weren't finished and the check would have to be redone, she muttered the f-word under her breath and threw our after-dinner candies in the trash. It did make me a little unsure about how best to ask for the check when we really were finished. But by that time she had cheered up again.

Gampy's

Where: 904 N. Charles St.

Hours: Sundays through Thursdays, 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m., Fridays and Saturdays, 11:30 a.m. to 3 a.m.

Major credit cards accepted.

Features: American food.

Non-smoking section? Yes.

Call: (410) 837-9797.

Prices: Entrees, $4.50-$12.95

** 1/2

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