The 'fine-tuning' at Eager House takes a whole new band


June 27, 1993|By Mary Corey | Mary Corey,Staff Writer

It opened only months ago, but already the Eager House is reinventing itself.

The historic Mount Vernon restaurant, which reopened in February, has a new chef, a new general manager and a new menu.

Owner Ernest L. Murphy says he realized the restaurant needed "fine-tuning" shortly after it opened.

"We are going in a very new direction," he says. "We noticed that the customers wanted a higher level of service and food. Initially, we had entrees of $15 or less. Now we think we're going to move that up. And we've gone from heart-friendly food to Baltimorean cuisine with a French accent."

He's assembled an impressive new staff to help him revamp. Marc Dettori, who Baltimoreans may remember as the maitre d' and manager of the former Conservatory, has signed on as general manager. Most recently, Mr. Dettori was running his own catering firm.

What made him return to running a restaurant?

"I didn't want to come back to the business. It's very demanding and hard, but Mr. Murphy offered me a great challenge. So I thought, 'Why not try it again?' "

Diners already can see the difference. Mr. Dettori has brought in Sharon Ashburn to create a new summer menu. Ms. Ashburn, formerly the chef at Tabrizi's, has taken a regional American approach, with an emphasis on seafood, fresh herbs and locally grown produce.

Her new dishes made their debut two weeks ago. The early word is that the grilled soft crab with avocado and tomato salsa is a hit.

In August, there are even more changes in store. Claude Chauvin, the respected chef and partner of the former Cafe des Artistes, will become the executive chef of the Eager House. We hear he's in Nice these days, preparing for his new venture.

* CATCH THE STAGECOACH: Grab your cowboy boots and 10-gallon hats, the Stagecoach is coming to town. By early July, the Stagecoach, 1003 N. Charles St., will open its first phase -- a country-western bar with dance floor on the first floor. This fall, owner Larry van der Veken hopes to have a steakhouse restaurant with rooftop cafe on the second floor. And six months later, look for a second rooftop cafe. He's determined to keep prices moderate, with the average entree around $12.99, he says.

As for the crowd, Mr. van der Veken says, "Because of its `D location, we'll probably have a large gay clientele. But we're not trying to cater to any particular group."

* THE ART OF FOOD: That's what Barbara Lahnstein and Odessa Dunson are practicing these days. They're partners in Metropol Cafe and Gallery, a restaurant and art space at 1713 N. Charles St. For the past two years, the two women have been selling their culinary wonders at the 32nd Street Farmers Market. They've been so successful that they decided to make the move into restaurants, taking over the space vacated by the BAUhouse.

Among the specialties (all of which happen to be under $10): goat-cheese quiche, cognac-cured salmon and rainbow trout smoked over apple wood with fresh horseradish cream.

"We believe that food should be an art form," says Ms. Lahnstein.

The restaurant, which is open Wednesday through Sunday for dinner, is small, with only 13 tables. But the partners plan to add tables outside soon.

* NOW OPEN IN CANTON: Skipjack's, 2324 Boston St., opened for business last week. The bar-restaurant, which seats 120 people, serves "contemporary" cuisine -- including broiled seafood platters, veal Marsala and burgers, says owner George Kotsaris.

* THIS JUST IN: There's a new chef in the kitchen of Paolo's in Towson these days.

John Pullis, who was most recently a partner in the Adobe Cafe in Philadelphia, became the new chef in the kitchen there several weeks ago.

And he's a man with an agenda. Mr. Pullis wants to begin regular wine dinners. His next one in August will feature Maryland wines and food. Look for him also to expand the California-Italian menu with specials that hint of his Southwestern background.

Mr. Pullis is also intent on making his own desserts -- something that other restaurants in the chain don't do. His frozen lemon mousse with raspberry sauce sounds like a winner for summer.

But in talking about his decision to join the successful chain, he sounds more like a clear-thinking businessman than head-in-the-clouds chef.

"The great thing about independent [restaurants] is that as a chef you have a lot of creative freedom. In corporations, you don't have as much control. But you have more stability," says Mr. Pullis, who recently became a father.

So far, he has no thoughts on the local dining scene.

"I haven't eaten out yet," he says with a sigh. "I haven't had a day off."

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