Just The Right Recipe For Harborplace


September 19, 1993|By ELIZABETH LARGE

Lone Star Grill, Pratt Street Pavilion, Harborplace, (410) 783-2970. Open every day for lunch and dinner. Major credit cards. No-smoking area: yes. Wheelchair-accessible: yes. Prices: appetizers, $4.95-$6.95; entrees, $7.95-$12.95.

Over the years Harborplace has offered a little bit of everything in the way of restaurants: fine dining (the Black Pearl), fancy seafood (Mariner's Pier One), French food (Jean-Claude's), northern Indian (Tandoor), unusual but good gimmicks (Big Cheese and Soup Kitchen), upscale Italian (Vivande and Gianni's). The variety was one of the things that made Harborplace so appealing.

But notice anything about my list? None of these places is around anymore. The truth is that the restaurants that have succeeded have certain things in common. People don't want to spend an arm and a leg eating at Harborplace, even if they're willing to do it elsewhere. Combine that with high rents, and high-volume business becomes a necessity. Also, people don't seem very willing to experiment here. And they want to feel comfortable in shorts. Harborplace's definition of fine dining is 00 now Paolo's, which is a very nice restaurant but not exactly Lutece.

The places that do best have some lowest common denominator: American seafood, sandwiches and salads, barbecue, junk food. Restaurants like the Taverna Athena are only seemingly an exception; it offers good but quite Americanized Greek food and prices are moderate.

All of which is to explain why the Lone Star Grill, new as of thisummer, should succeed where the northern Indian restaurant Tandoor failed.

The Lone Star Grill has huge margaritas and huge plates of food, most of which are under $10. If you're wearing a skirt or a tie there, you're seriously overdressed.

It has 40 tables outdoors and 20 inside; outside is definitely thplace to be. There's not much in the way of atmosphere -- just the ubiquitous Harborplace white plastic tables and chairs with red-white-and-blue Clearly Canadian umbrellas. But the harbor and the crowds are all the atmosphere anybody really needs.

It's like a big picnic, and this is definitely picnic food. The LonStar Grill serves Tex-Mex, with mesquite-grilled ribs and chicken, Americanized Mexican dishes and the house specialty, fajitas.

The first courses were the best part of our meal. You could maka dinner of them with a margarita, Lone Star beer or glass of sangria. I'm not sure exactly what's Tex-Mex about the Buffalo wings we chose. After all, that is Buffalo, N.Y., not buffalo as in "Home on the Range." But the seasonings fit the restaurant; the thin, rust-colored sauce on the plump little wings is fiery hot. You need the celery and blue cheese dressing to cool them off.

Blue calamari is so named because the tender rings of squid are rolled in blue cornmeal. That's about as fancy as this cooking gets. It's a great variation on the original, and it would have been even better if it had been accompanied by the promised salsa, which is made from fresh, uncooked vegetables.

You know the Lone Star Grill's guacamole doesn't come from a can. It's made fresh with big chunks of ripe avocado, tomato and onion. All of these gave great promise for the meal to come, even though the chili con queso dip was pretty standard.

Other restaurants in town have chicken fajitas and beef fajitasbut have you run across grilled vegetable or shrimp fajitas? Our waitress recommended the latter, which work because the shrimp are fat and fresh. But before you roll the shrimp up in the soft flour tortillas with the chunky guacamole, pico de gallo and sour cream, you do have to take the tails off yourself.

The Lone Star Grill has all the standard Mexican fare like tacos and enchiladas, plus quesadillas made with grilled flour tortillas and chicken, beef, shrimp or vegetables. If you want something simpler, the Rio Grande chicken is very good -- boned, marinated and mesquite-grilled. It comes with Mexican rice, beans and a bit of salad, none of which was particularly noteworthy.

You can get pork ribs -- four, six or nine bones -- with the mea falling off the bones and a bit too much gloppy barbecue sauce. Good french fries and coleslaw, though.

The Lone Star Grill tempts you with walnut pie, New York cheesecake, flan and chocolate cake on the menu; but there was only cheesecake -- and according to our waitress, that's all there's ever been since the place opened two months ago. It's OK, but you might as well just eat a little more guacamole and sour cream during dinner and skip dessert.

Up until now the service had been great, but we waited 15 minutes for coffee and a cup of tea. Or I should say a cup of lukewarm water. When it arrived, the waitress told me she wasn't sure the water was hot enough. I didn't explain about how the little bubbles appear on the surface when water boils so it's pretty easy to tell -- that seemed kind of ugly. But I regretted that I hadn't when it took 10 more minutes to finally get hot water.

$ Next: Szechuan House

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