Our Mr. Brooks

March 10, 1994

Make a list of the attributes deemed necessary these days for a successful restaurant -- convenient location, plenty of parking, trendy food, haute decor -- and you wonder why Marconi's is still one of Baltimore's favorite dining places. Many old restaurants survive by moving imperceptibly with the times. At Marconi's a culinary Rip Van Winkle would find comfortably familiar surroundings.

In large measure this happy preservation of classic dishes -- and damn the cholesterol -- is the legacy of John C. Brooks, the gaunt guardian of the front door who owned or managed the restaurant for four decades. Mr. Brooks, who died Monday at 89, was the personification of Marconi's: courtly, restrained, conservative, a bit of an anachronism and the epitome of quality.

Even Mr. Brooks made his concessions, although he did so decades after the competition. Not until the '80s did Marconi's accept credit cards (though it would take your personal check!), and only in the past couple of years has it taken reservations or seated patrons after 8 p.m.

Old Baltimoreans, in particular, continue to flock to the dowdy rowhouse on Saratoga Street because of the high quality of the food and service, which Mr. Brooks protectively guarded. A menu that hasn't changed perceptibly in decades was part of the attraction. Nominally Continental, the cuisine is classicly Maryland. And so is the service: attentive and efficient but not staid. Marconi's will not seem the same without Mr. Brooks at the door. Not until the first course is served, anyway.

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