Buddies Pub & Jazz Club, 313 N. Charles St., (410) 332-4200. *** $$
A popular weekday lunch spot that doubles as a jazz club on weekend nights, Buddies is a deceptively good place for dinner, too. Ignore the cigarette burns on the wooden bar and the fact that the narrow room is mostly empty on Saturday at 7 p.m. Who would expect decoratively pared kiwi as a garnish or a house salad with fresh arugula?
The menu, featuring pastas, paninos, club sandwiches and seven entrees, is not exotic, but the kitchen fulfills its promises. The assorted vegetables were fresh and ice-cold in our vegetable and dip appetizer. A half-pound burger -- a house specialty -- was good enough to convert a vegetarian to carnivore, as our bartender bragged. The broccoli quiche was served hot and creamy, but the melted cheese on top was a bit of overkill. An Oreo ice cream pie, courtesy of Ms. Desserts, was the perfect finisher on a hot night. We were surprised just how satisfying a meal at Buddies can be.--PJ
Camden Pub, 647 W. Pratt St., (410) 547-1280. ** $$
It's hard to get in the door here when the Orioles are in town. We visited on an off-Orioles night and had the place to ourselves. That, however, did not lead to any special attention from the waitress, who had to be flagged several times from her bar stool.
Fortunately, there were lots of autographed baseballs, bats and other sports memorabilia to keep us amused. As for the food, the high spots were the fiery blackened chicken stripes that came with a cooling sour-cream-and-salsa dipping sauce and the almost-4-inch-thick club sandwich piled high with turkey and roast beef.
The shrimp salad on kaiser roll, however, was a stingy portion for $6.50. And the four-layer lemon cake and chocolate raspberry cake provided an uninspiring ending.--SL
Charles Village Pub, 19 W. Pennsylvania Ave., Towson, (410) 821-8155. ** $$
Sure it's a sports-bar institution, with three locations and legions of fans, but we couldn't help but feel that the Charles Village Pub had slipped a bit during our visit.
The nachos -- shredded cheese, chili, salsa and jalapeno peppers on a bed of chips -- were satisfyingly gooey and the winner of the night. Close behind were the crisp waffle-cut fries. The tough steak sandwich -- which arrived well-done rather than rare, as requested -- was the bona-fide loser.
The rest of the meal was mediocre: Crab soup was more reminiscent of tomato-vegetable than the Maryland favorite, and there was not a hint of pink in the "medium rare" bacon cheeseburger. Two cheesecakes were our only dessert choices. The Snickers version was too sweet, while the strawberry was overwhelmed by a citrusy tang.--MC
Claddagh Pub, 2918 O'Donnell St., (410) 522-4220. *** $$
Claddagh Pub is part of the current Canton renaissance; any number of good, casual eating spots have opened up there recently. Claddagh is a pleasant little bar-restaurant, fresh and cheerful with a green-and-white color scheme and Irish murals and motifs.
The kitchen is capable of producing dishes beyond bar food, such as a delicate cream of crab soup spangled with parsley, the flavor of the sweet cream setting off the flakes of white crab meat.
Still, simplest is best. The specialty of the house is grilled meat, like the flavorful T-bone that's often a special and the fat, meaty lamb chops. Order the superb mashed potatoes on the side. This is simple food done well -- a restaurant that knows its limitations and doesn't stray beyond them.--EL
Clyde's, 10221 Wincopin Circle, Columbia, (410) 730-2828. * 1/2 $$$
There's no denying Clyde's popularity as a Columbia gathering spot, but after having eaten there, there's no understanding it either. Our meal there can be summed up in a word: bland.
The potato-skins appetizer consisted of too much potato and limp skin, with gloppy Cheddar melted over bacon. The stuffed portobello mushroom looked promising on the menu, but the spinach-based stuffing was lifeless, and even the mushroom seemed flavorless.
The entrees were no more inspiring. Prince Edward Island scallops were rubbery and topped by a peach salsa that was billed as "fiery" but tasted as if it could have come from Gerber's. The New York strip steak was so lifeless we almost asked for steak less we almost asked for steak sauce. And a child's hamburger, ordered well-done, came medium-rare. Desserts, a tasty Key lime pie and an excellent peach bread pudding, came too late to salvage a dismal meal.--M&SD
Country Fare Inn, 808 Westminster Road, Reisterstown, (410) 363-3131. *** $$1/2
Don't worry about the name. Yes, Fiori's went to Country Fare's location, and now Country Fare's gone to Fiori's. All you need to know is, this is the old, old house on Westminster Road, not the old, old house near Owings Mills. It's always been very pleasant, and still is.