Michael's has some of area's best bar food

September 16, 1994|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Sun Restaurant Critic

Although there's nothing you love as much as a fat, briny oyster on the half shell straight from the sea, you've gotten a little nervous about raw shellfish lately. Oysters Rockefeller are good, but sometimes the oysters get lost among the spinach and Pernod. What to do?

Well, you might try the baked oysters casino at Michael's Cafe, Raw Bar and Grill. It's an unorthodox treatment, but the kitchen resists loading down these plump beauties with bread crumbs. Each has a bit of crisp bacon and seasoned butter and is baked just long enough. An excellent solution.

While you're at it, try the Steamer Special, a combination of steamed mussels, oysters and clams with crawfish -- not something you find at every raw bar. These crawfish are unusual, too, because they taste perfectly fresh; that's not always true when they're used as garnish.

Finally, if you go to Michael's on a Monday or Tuesday night, eat in the bar and you can get steamed shrimp for $6.75 a pound instead of the usual $11.95.

If seafood doesn't strike your fancy, there's a nice little appetizer sampler, with a couple of potato skins loaded with melted cheese and bacon; crusty mozzarella sticks with soft, hot interiors; and fiery Buffalo wings with celery. All in all, this is some of the best bar food in town.

But Michael's isn't just a very large bar with booths. The bar is on one side, with its loud music, video games and everybody looking for Mr. or Ms. Right (or at least a beer and some decent shellfish). Then there's a pretty little dining room right next to it that caters to a more sedate crowd. Take your pick.

Seafood entrees are a specialty at Michael's, but I'd stick to the raw bar selections. (Yes, most of them aren't raw, but you know what I mean.) Michael's is known for its crab cakes, and they are full of backfin. But they had too much filler -- when you get crab cakes broiled instead of fried, it's particularly noticeable. The scallops a la Michael's were swimming in a cream sauce that was too salty to eat.

Best of any of our dinners was the veal franchaise. The tender scallops were dipped in an egg batter and pan fried; the sauce was a nice blend of butter, wine and lemon.

Dinners come with a choice of two: baked potatoes carefully wrapped in aluminum foil (so the skin gets nice and soggy); good fresh broccoli that could have used a little butter or seasoning; an excellent, not-too-sweet coleslaw that's made on the premises; and an uninteresting baked zucchini and tomatoes.

As for dessert, we had a classic strawberry shortcake (Southern-style, with a biscuit) that should never have been made with frozen strawberries, and "lemon lust," which had the texture of shaving cream but did, I admit, have a better flavor.

So all in all, a meal with some high points and low points. Like

the service. Our waitress was engaging and seemed on top of things until toward the end, when she disappeared. Why is it that some servers figure once you have your main course you couldn't care less if your water glass was ever filled, your dessert order taken or you ever got the check?

Michael's

Where: 2119 York Road, Timonium

Hours: Kitchen open 10:30 a.m. to midnight, seven days a week

Credit cards accepted: Major credit cards

Features: American food

Non-smoking section? Yes

Call: (410) 252-2022

Prices: Appetizers, $2.95-$8.95; entrees, $6.95-$19.95

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