An oldie but goodie restaurant, with a respectable porterhouse

September 03, 1993|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Restaurant Critic

The House of Welsh is one of those restaurants that have been around so long people never give them a second thought. It did get a fleeting moment of fame this spring when Ross Perot came to Baltimore and drove around looking for a former hangout, thThe House of Welsh is one of those restaurants that have been around so long people never give them a second thought. It did get a fleeting moment of fame this spring when Ross Perot came to Baltimore and drove around looking for a former hangout, the Black Bottle. Since he knew it, it's been renamed House of Welsh. (That anecdote has been translated into "Ross Perot's favorite restaurant" in the House of Welsh television ads.)

How old is it? The building was constructed in the mid-19th century, and it's probably the site of the city's oldest saloon. The restaurant itself must be one of Baltimore's oldest eating places; it started serving food in 1900.

You do feel a little like you've stepped into a time warp when you go through the front door. The prices aren't quite as low as when I last ate there back in the '70s (although they aren't bad). But it sure looks the same, with its ancient wall-to-wall carpeting, knotty-pine walls, Tiffany lamps, a portrait of an owner over the mantel and red paper place mats on top of white tablecloths. A no-smoking section? Are you kidding? They've probably never even heard of no-smoking sections.

On the other hand, you can get a sizzling porterhouse with a vegetable and salad for $11.95.

And it's a respectable porterhouse. Not thick, but fairly tender and flavorful, cooked medium rare as ordered. It does indeed sizzle. Of course, it's not charcoal-broiled -- that would be too '90s. The french fries are hand-cut and, except for the ones that get burned by the sizzling platter, are excellent.

Start with stuffed mushrooms piled high with a good crab imperial, and you've got yourself quite a nice little meal. They led me to expect more from the crab cakes, which were pleasantly seasoned and broiled properly, but could have been made from almost any kind of seafood. What crab there was must have been claw.

The House of Welsh has plenty of other seafood, as well as its six sizzling steaks. It also offers three chicken dishes, including chicken cordon bleu, which looked to me as if it had been previously frozen for the restaurant trade. But the kitchen hadn't overcooked the boneless chicken breast rolled around the ham and cheese, so it was still juicy and tender.

As for vegetables, green beans had the distinction of not only being canned but had been cooked so long they were greenish-gray and almost mush. Salads were pretty ordinary, and blue cheese dressing costs an extra dollar for no reason that I could tell. More surprising, extra rolls are 25 cents each. (You each get one free.) At least they were soft and hot from the oven.

The restaurant is so proud of its rolls they form the base of a dessert, the "House of Welsh Special." It isn't described on the menu, and no wonder. Who would ever think up a dessert that started with a cloverleaf roll heated and opened up, then was topped with cherry pie filling, ice cream and whipped cream?

Less adventuresome types will have to settle for sweets that aren't made on the premises like the pleasant carrot cake, fresh even on a Sunday night, and an apple pie that would have been better if the crust hadn't been mushy from being overheated in the microwave.

House of Welsh

Where: Guilford Avenue and Saratoga Street

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, to 11:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, to 9 p.m. Sundays

Credit cards accepted: Major credit cards

Features: American food

Non-smoking section? No

Call: (410) 685-7158

Prices: Appetizers, $2.95-$6.95; entrees, $8.95-$25.95

** 1/2

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