Baked Goods Steal Show Heart-healthy Raises Eyebrows



Garry's Grill, 553-A Baltimore Annapolis Blvd., Severna Park, (410) 544-0499. Breakfast and lunch Mondays to Saturdays, dinner daily. AE, MC, V. No-smoking area: yes. Prices: $4.95- $13.95. **1/2

To understand the fanatic loyalty customers have for Garry's Grill, you have to start with a restaurant called Capers on Route 50. Owned by Garry Anderson and his then-wife, Michelle, it had a reputation for good and creative cuisine. The two sold Capers in 1987; and Michelle, now Michelle O'Brien, went on to open Truffles in Annapolis.

Now Garry and his ex-wife (both with new spouses) are business partners again, in Garry's Grill and a catering firm, the Main Ingredient. The two have built up a strong following in Annapolis and Anne Arundel County, so it's no wonder that you usually have to wait for a table at their small shopping-center eatery.

And small it is -- really a glorified diner that serves breakfast,

lunch and dinner. The narrow dining room has brown leatherette booths, a few tables covered in black-and-white checked oilcloth, and a long counter. Black-and-white photos of neighborhood landmarks give it local color. (Well, not color exactly.) A seductive dessert case dominates the front of the restaurant; it's hard to keep your eyes off the old-fashioned mile-high cakes and the golden-crusted pies.

And that's as it should be, because Garry's baked goods are really the stars of the show. Breakfasts include freshly baked cinnamon buns or buttermilk biscuits or Garry's excellent spicy pumpkin muffins, plump with raisins. At lunch, all sandwiches are served on freshly baked breads or rolls. (You'll get an individual loaf at dinner time.) And any time the desserts are worth saving room for -- whether you want something as homey as rice pudding or as extravagant as a triple-layer polar bear cake with lemon curd filling and marshmallow-coconut frosting.

Come at an off hour for dinner and you probably won't have to wait for a table. (No reservations are taken.) At lunch you'll probably have to wait early or late. Dinner isn't much fancier than lunch -- you can still get sandwiches and salads -- but there are always a few entree specials.

You can use the little heart symbol on the menu to pick supposedly heart-healthy dishes. But heart-healthy doesn't necessarily mean low-calorie. For instance, the "hot bubbly artichoke fondue" turned out to be a large dish of melted cream cheese, what looked like melted butter but I suppose was margarine, sherry and chopped artichoke hearts. This makes a fine hot dip for crackers, but I doubt if the pounds melt away when you eat it every night.

Our most successful appetizer was something called sesame chicken bites -- boneless breast rolled in bread crumbs and sesame seeds, baked and sliced. It came with a plum sauce flavored with spicy mustard and a pretty lemon-leaf garnish.

The soup of the day, Oriental chicken, had a pleasant Chinese flavor (tinged with sesame oil) and nice chunks of chicken, but the vegetables were overcooked and there was no need for so many croutons in such a small cup.

Dinners come with a Caesar or a house salad. Get the former. It's not the classic version (there are cherry tomatoes), but the romaine was fresh and it was lightly dressed with a really good Caesar dressing. The house salad, while generous, had too many raw vegetables, including broccoli and squash, for my taste. And the pepper Parmesan dressing tasted like ranch.

For a main course, one of my friends decided on herb-crusted salmon, another heart-healthy selection. Alas, it wasn't as wonderful as salmon can be: The herb-and-bread-crumb coating didn't keep it from being a little dry from overcooking. I wasn't crazy about the faintly sweet mustard dill sauce either. The fresh green beans and carrot matchsticks were a pretty accompaniment, but the rice was studded with grayish-green peas that had been cooked forever.

If you want to throw healthy eating to the winds, get a sandwich called Michelle's Masterpiece. Made with homemade bread, smoked turkey and Cheddar, it's batter-dipped and fried. Spicy pepper jelly makes for a sticky-sweet sauce; ask for the sandwich without it. And get Garry's fine onion rings on the side.

Best of all our dishes was garides me feta, a gaudy-looking dish of tricolor fettuccine tossed with an excellent fresh tomato sauce, big chunks of softly melting feta, a few fat shrimp and sliced black olives. Highly recommended.

Save room for dessert. Or simply come here for dessert and forget dinner. A sweet sensations pie was smooth and delicate with intense flavors of peanut butter and chocolate. Lemon layer cake was wonderfully old-fashioned, with a light yellow cake, lemon curd between the three layers, and lots of lemony frosting. But the height of decadence was the milk chocolate hot fudge cream puff -- the tender pastry shell stuffed with ice cream and slathered with hot, thick milk chocolate, with lots of whipped cream on the side.

! Next: Chart House

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