At downtown's Stagecoach, Southwestern doesn't mean Tex-Mex

August 12, 1994|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Sun Restaurant Critic

The night we had dinner at the Stagecoach, the bar downstairs was rocking. (There was a party going on, and what a party. It spilled out onto the sidewalk.) But up a flight of stairs in the new dining room, all was serene.

While the bar downstairs is a gay bar, the dining room and upstairs lounge cater to a broader clientele. As you can guess from the name, the Stagecoach Saloon and Restaurant is the latest place to latch onto the craze for Southwestern food. The good news is that it's a sophisticated version, at least as far as the interior design is concerned. No wagon wheel chandeliers or sombreros on the exposed brick walls.

I wouldn't have used as much green -- forest green walls, green tablecloths, green napkins, green carpeting -- for a Southwestern restaurant. But the art on the walls is worth a second look, even a third, and I like the way cactuses are placed here and there in strategic corners.

Don't think Tex-Mex when I say Southwestern, although there are burritos and such on the menu. Think lots of hamburgers and steaks. The beef includes some blue-ribbon cuts, but also some chuck wagon fare for under $10, like meatloaf and what I ordered, a "Gutherie steak" dinner.

This was prepared along the lines of chicken fried steak, but a little higher class than that. The beef was covered in a good, creamy gravy with chopped spring onions and mushrooms on top. It came with new potatoes and a raucously colorful mix of red cabbage, zucchini and yellow squash.

You could barely get your mouth around the Southwestern hamburger, with its eight ounces of lean beef, fat sesame seed bun, sauteed mushrooms, bacon and cheese. (There was also supposed to be barbecue sauce, but it turned out to be ranch dressing on the side.) The fries come with the skins on -- maybe I'm naive, but I always think that means they aren't frozen. Or you could substitute the Stagecoach's crisp fried onion rings.

Moving away from the beef that's the mainstay of the menu, a Pueblo chicken dish had all the virtues those news reports about Mexican food have been complaining about: lots of calories, lots of fat. Yum. The boneless chicken breast was covered with melted cheese, sour cream and salsa and wrapped in a soft, hot tortilla. There was rice on the side and more of those good vegetables.

This is a large menu, so if Southwestern doesn't appeal there's plenty else to choose from, including pastas, pork dishes (although the kitchen was out of pork that night) and some seafood.

A couple of our first courses didn't measure up to the rest of our meal. Spicy chicken wings were fine but paired with slimy celery, the way it gets when it's been sitting too long in the fridge. The kidney beans in the chili were crunchy. But a first course of batter-fried vegetables had the appeal of tempura (except that their sauces were two of the salad dressings, ranch and honey mustard).

Stagecoach

Where: 1003 N. Charles St.

Hours: Open for dinner Monday to Saturday from 5 p.m.-11 p.m., for brunch and dinner Sunday 11 a.m.-11 p.m.

Credit cards accepted: MC, V

Features: Southwestern food

Non-smoking section? Yes

Call: (410) 547-0107

Prices: Appetizers average $4, entrees, $10

** 1/2

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