Glenmore Garden is a rare crab house with excellent side dishes @

May 20, 1994|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Sun Restaurant Critic

It used to be that when people asked me where to get good crabs, I told them. But I know now that's not really what they want to know, even if they think that's what they want to know.

If you want good crabs, go down to Oxford and get a waterman to steam a few for you. He's just caught them. He doesn't use much in the way of seasonings, and he shows you how to pick them the authentic way -- without using a wooden mallet.

Failing that, you go to any of Baltimore's crab houses and here's what you get: The crabs (at least this time of year) are from Louisiana or Texas. Much as you love all those spices they're cooked in, you know it's probably done to sell more beer. You can barely taste the sweet crab meat, and anyway the crabs are waterlogged from being in the steamer too long.

Having said all that, I'll add that you'll still have a fine time and somehow the hard shells will still taste great.

But to get back to the original question, what people really need to know is where to find the right kind of atmosphere. Old Baltimore. Slightly seedy but warm and friendly. Like Glenmore Gardens, where I used to pick crabs a hundred years ago.

Only now it's called Glenmore Garden, and it's turned into a fern bar.

A very pretty fern bar, to be sure, with lots of blond wood and, if not ferns, then at least hanging plants.

Glenmore Garden steams its crabs to order. That means you wait 25 minutes and they still taste like crabs everywhere else I've tried: waterlogged and heavily spiced, but great anyway.

Unlike every other crab house, however, Glenmore Garden also has excellent side dishes. A fine, not-too-sweet potato salad; thin, crisp slices of fried eggplant; a fresh-tasting cole slaw; and well-seasoned creamed spinach.

Beyond the crabs and the vegetables, though, you pay your money and you take your chances. A chef's specialty, the broiled seafood platter, cost a whopping $18 for a couple of overcooked shrimp, a very fresh piece of flounder (also overcooked), one small clam casino (no bacon), a small but good crab cake, and scallops with a bitter metallic taste. Small soft-shells, lightly battered and sauteed, were a better bet. They aren't local yet, but they still tasted mighty fresh.

I picked crabs as a first course. I had planned to order one big one, but half a dozen were the fewest they would sell me, so I got six 15s. (For non-crab eaters, that means a dozen cost $15.) These were small and sweet, lots of work -- but like peanuts, you couldn't eat just one. I ended up polishing them off. They were a better first course than the cream of crab soup, which tasted like cream gravy with a little crab meat in it.

I'm not sure how cheesecake has become the traditional crab house dessert, but somehow it has. In the old days, it used to be plain and Mrs. Pose's, but now Glenmore Garden offers about 10 different varieties. OK, maybe closer to six. But the only one left the night we were there was a Snickers cheesecake, with peanuts and a chocolate crust. It wasn't as weird as the name implies -- in fact, it was pretty good.

Glenmore Garden

Where: 4813 Belair Road

Hours: Sunday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Credit cards accepted: MC, V

Features: Seafood

Non-smoking section? No

Call: (410) 488-2366

Prices: Appetizers, $4.25-$6; entrees, $8.50-23.95

** 1/2

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