A Whole New Ballgame At Johnny U's Old Place



Golden Arm, 6354 York Road Plaza, (410) 377-4019. Open Mondays to Saturdays for lunch, every day for dinner. Major credit cards. No-smoking area: yes. Prices: appetizers, $3.75- $6.95; entrees, $8.95-$16.95. **1/2

The last time I ate at the Golden Arm, Johnny Unitas came over to our table after the meal to see how we liked our food. That gives you some idea of how long ago it was. He and Colt teammate Bobby Boyd opened the restaurant in the late '60s; in the early '80s new owners took it over and Unitas moved on to other things.

As I remember, the Golden Arm was a clubby bar-restauranwhere businessmen wined and dined, and out-of-towners came hoping to catch a glimpse of Baltimore's greatest quarterback. It wasn't quite in the category of special night out like the Prime Rib or Tio Pepe, but it wasn't a neighborhood spot either.

All that's changed. I wouldn't be surprised now if half the clientele has no idea why a beef and seafood restaurant would have such an odd name. The pictures of Unitas and the other Colts lining the walls would give them a clue; but this is token sports memorabilia compared to a place like, say, McCafferty's in Mount Washington. Somehow the Golden Arm has turned into family restaurant where you can bring the kids, a place where retired couples can get an inexpensive meal.

The faux Tudor look, the dark wood and red leatherette seats are roughly as I remember them, but now the tables are jammed together to get the maximum number of people into a minimum amount of space. On a Wednesday night every table was taken -- the hostess was turning people away who didn't have a reservation. The noise level was unbelievable, and the service was ragged, to say the least.

But to be that crowded on a middle-of-the-week night, the Golden Arm must be doing something right.

One thing it's done recently is hire Tomas Sanz, who operated Thompson's Sea Girt House until it closed at the end of last year. He was originally from Tio Pepe, and he brought to Thompson's some of the Spanish restaurant's specialties like shrimp with garlic sauce. While I wasn't expecting roast suckling pig at the Golden Arm, I did have my hopes for something with a little Spanish flavor. But about as close as I got was ordering Aegean salad dressing for $1 extra. And that's not very close.

This is pretty much an American steak-and-seafood house, with meatloaf, chicken and lasagna for those who don't want or can't afford to splurge. Most of the menu is straightforward, although we did wonder what was on the "munchie tray." Not that our waitress was much help. "Fried broccoli, fried cheese, I dunno, some other fried things," she said, poised for flight. Zoom. She was off.

The other fried things were some excellent onion rings. The friemozzarella was OK; but the fried broccoli was done to a crisp, to be kind about it.

Most of the appetizers are bar food like buffalo wings and potatskins, but the Golden Arm does have pretty good clams casino. I liked the buttery seasoned bread crumbs and the bits of pepper and bacon. Too bad the clams themselves were gritty.

A special that evening was oyster stew, and it was great. The mollusks were plump and flavorful, and the milky, buttery concoction they sat in was seductively seasoned.

We did best with the specials, which probably reflect CheSanz's virtues more than the regular menu. Cornish hen country-style might even be a Spanish dish for all I know. (Not that our waitress could tell us what "country style" was -- she didn't know and she managed to stop by only just long enough to take our order.) The fat little bird was split and cooked until juicily tender, then enhanced with a sherry-flavored brown sauce, sauteed mushrooms and bacon. With fresh spinach, a very nice meal. You also get a standard salad with deep-fried croutons with dinners. Order either the blue cheese or the Greek dressing; even though they cost extra, they're both worth it.

Another special, blackened chicken and shrimp, combined strips boneless breast meat, tiny shrimp, a fiery sauce and bell pepper slices. Not bad.

Shad was just in season as of our visit; it was the fish of the day. But why bother with this wonderful fish if you're going to overcook it and serve it almost dry with some paprika?

We managed to pin our waitress down long enough to order dessert: a terrible bread pudding that looked and tasted like slices of bread with raisin sauce poured over them; an indifferent chocolate cake; and fresh strawberries. Good idea, that last one, but don't put the only two good strawberries on top.

The coffee had seen better days.

Next: Orchid

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