"Kelsey's Restaurant and Spirits. Established 1994," the sign says. Right there you know this is going to be a faux pub, with a large bar, mahogany-stained paneling and brass railings, shiny and bright as a new penny. Indeed, this is supposedly an Irish pub, which -- thank goodness -- only means there are a few shamrocks on the menu and some very good beers available.
No, you don't have to eat cabbage here, or boiled potatoes. Not that I don't like cabbage, but most people will be happier with Kelsey's eclectic and trendy menu. The kitchen's idea of Irish food is chicken Ireland, two large boneless breasts on angel hair pasta topped with sauteed red and green peppers, onions, mushrooms and a bit of provolone cheese. It would have been excellent if the chicken hadn't been cooked to a fare-thee-well.
The kitchen did better with its New Orleans dishes, like a jambalaya made with big shrimp, tender clams and mussels, a nice chunk of swordfish, spicy andouille sausage and a zingy, tomato-based Creole sauce. A "Louisiana delight" starter featured fork-tender bites of chicken and beef seared with fiery Cajun spices; we dipped them in a bearnaise sauce that needed more vinegar.
Unfortunately, the kitchen got carried away with seasonings and put so much pepper in the cream of crab soup I couldn't eat more than a few spoonfuls. A nice little rack of lamb was so overwhelmed with its mustard coating and dried rosemary that you could hardly taste the perfectly cooked meat.
We stuck to the dinners, but a large part of Kelsey's appeal is that it has a varied light-fare menu, with steamed shellfish, salads, sandwiches and pastas. There's even a kid's menu. (It's a sort of family Irish pub.) Something like the crab Rangoon could feed a family of four. For a month. The large crock of hot, softened cream cheese and crab meat was topped with crumbled phyllo pastry and surrounded with what must have been half a loaf of sliced French bread and an assortment of fresh fruit.
If you have any room left, desserts are extravagant and very good, involving lots of chocolate and whipped cream.
This is the spot where the Cafe Normandie, a French restaurant, used to be. What with it and Cafe des Artistes and La Provence and Restaurant 2110 going under, it seems as if Baltimoreans turn around and run when they think they're going to have to eat French food. But a nice Irish pub, with Cajun specialties, hamburgers and pastas, packs them in.
Where: 8480 Baltimore National Pike, Ellicott City
Hours: Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Sunday noon-11 p.m.
Credit cards accepted: AE, MC, V
Features: American food
Non-smoking section? Yes
Call: (410) 418-9076
Prices: Appetizers, $4.95-$6.50; entrees, $5.50-$16.50