Good Food, Pretty Rooms, Slack Service


June 12, 1994|By ELIZABETH LARGE

Elkridge Furnace Inn, 5745 Furnace Ave., Elkridge, (410) 379-9336. Open for lunch Tuesdays to Fridays, for dinner Thursdays and Fridays. AE, MC, V. Prices: appetizers, $2.50- $6.25; entrees, $15.95-$19.25. **1/2

Some restaurants you fall for, even though you know you shouldn't, for reasons that have very little to do with the food. (And in the case of the restaurant I'm about to tell you about, nothing to do with the service.)

Such a place is the Elkridge Furnace Inn.

I knew I was going to have trouble being objective the minute I got out of the car. It was a beautiful May evening, with a soft breeze and the early evening light just beginning to fade. We followed a winding brick path through the lush, flowery yard to the front porch of a handsome red brick Colonial.

The earliest wing of the house, which is on the National Register of Historical Places, was built 250 years ago. The main part was constructed as the home of second-generation Ellicotts in the 19th century.

Some five years ago the state of Maryland gave Dan Wecker (formerly an assistant chef at Kings Contrivance) and his brother Steve a long-term lease to the historic property. They spent thousands of hours and nearly $200,000 renovating it. In 1991, the mansion was a decorators' show house to benefit Historic Ellicott City Inc.; since then the Wecker brothers have used it as a catering facility, with plans eventually to have a bed and breakfast. Recently, the brothers opened a restaurant in the inn, serving lunch and -- two nights a week -- dinner.

The downstairs consists of a tavern and two formal dining rooms painted in soft, buttery yellow with maroon trim. The colors are picked up in the draperies and table linens. Candles on the antique sideboard glow softly, while black marble mantels add to the stateliness of the rooms. But nothing is too formal for comfort.

In fact, I could wish the service were a little more formal -- or just better. The otherwise charming waitress chewed gum. The waiter brought one of my guest's soup after our other two first courses were finished, and never offered a word of apology. We were asked if we wanted more bread; we said yes but we never got it. We were never asked if we wanted coffee.

Still, have you ever noticed how much you'll put up with if the staff seems genuinely nice even if a bit inexperienced? So it is at the Elkridge Furnace Inn. (Four stars to the maitre d', though, who tried to pick up the slack.)

If this were my restaurant, I'd make two quick changes that would improve things 100 percent. First, the service would have to shape up. Second, I'd get new plates.

I'm not kidding about that second one. Have you ever tried to eat salad on a butter plate and dinner on a salad plate? Helpings aren't that small, but they seem so when they're crowded on the wrong-size plate. And the food slips off when you try to cut it.

The seafood sampler is a good example. It was just the right amount for a first course, but it was on such a tiny plate it seemed skimpy for the price ($6.25). Two fat, rosy shrimp jostled for space with a bit of flavorful crab salad, delicious marinated scallops and -- unfortunately -- a crayfish that had seen better days.

The poached flounder Margueray was rolled up and wedged into a small gratin dish with a bed of wild rice. The fish was good and fresh, and I liked the delicate cream sauce with mushrooms and one perfect shrimp. I wouldn't poach the fillet for so long, though.

Two pretty little tournedos of beef (can you imagine eating these on a salad plate?), grilled just pink, were stuffed with a bit of pesto sauce, heavily scented with basil and garlic. Pretty good, but I wish the chef would remove the string that holds them


Sometimes the kitchen goes a little wild, as with a chicken breast stuffed with spinach and cashews, with a tangy-smooth goat-cheese sauce on the side. But the combination worked.

The menu is limited and changes from day to day. This day it included for first courses, besides the seafood sampler, an excellent gazpacho, icy-cold and flavorful and quite spicy. (It may have tasted so good because we waited so long for it.) We also had broccoflor and cheese popovers. Don't ask me why the kitchen used a hybrid of broccoli and cauliflower rather than one or the other. But anyway, the vegetable was baked into two small cheese popovers and served piping hot with salsa and sour cream. Strange but not unappealing.

Desserts are in another class entirely. Strawberry shortcake was made the old-fashioned way, with a warm, sweet biscuit, sliced berries and plenty of whipped cream. A creamy slice of Bailey's cheesecake seduced us with the smooth flavors of mocha and liqueur. And for out-and-out hedonism, chocolate mousse was swirled in a macadamia nut cookie crust. All three belonged in the Dessert Hall of Fame.

Next: Boston's

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