What was also good included Fins' black bean soup with sour cream (but hold some of the salt). Four dry coconut shrimp were invisible under coconut batter, and expensive at $7.95. A hamburger? Dull. Caesar salad? Goopy. Maryland crab cake? Too salty. Marinated tuna topped with cantaloupe salsa was simple and pleasant, but outclassed by terrific garlic mashed potatoes to the side.
Desserts tasted fresh -- a faintly lime cheesecake and "chocolate brownies with ice cream" (more like chocolate bread, we thought). Decor, parrots, shrimp, soup and potatoes are what I'll remember.--JB
Frazier's Restaurant & Tap Room, 857 W. 33rd St., (410) 889-1143. ** $$
You could cruise slowly through Hampden all evening and never happen upon Frazier's. Here's a hint: From the front it looks just like every other rowhouse on the block, but from the side one will quickly notice a half-dozen picnic tables crammed with families enjoying a little alfresco repast, and a single black cat resolutely waiting for human beneficence.
Frazier's has been in this spot for many decades, serving wholesome meat and seafood dishes alongside icy draft beers. Appetizers run the gamut from fried shrimp to a serviceable house salad. One evening's special of two soft-shell crabs came on buttery toast with side orders of sweet stewed tomatoes and french fries. While the fries were a bit anemic and the soft-shells too small, it was a satisfying meal for a breezy, warm evening. The baby back ribs were less enjoyable, with little smoky flavor and an overly sweet sauce.
When it came time for dessert, we gallantly opted for the delicious carrot cake that our waitress revealed she had made herself.--LF
Gampy's, 904 N. Charles St., (410) 837-9797. ** $$
It's easy to make a dining faux pas at Gampy's, which bills itself as the Great American Melting Pot. The menu is so huge, you can get flustered, as we did, and put together a starter course of Bongo Bongo soup, a sour South Seas spinach concoction, and sweet potato fries with maple syrup. This is not advisable.
The problem is, while there's lots on the menu, none of it seems particularly new or exciting. In the wake of fusion cuisine, fajitas and fondue seem sort of passe, and renditions here appear Americanized, not authentic. Oh, right. The concept is melting pot, after all.
That said, the place is fun and draws a diverse crowd. Good menu picks are dry-rubbed ribs, tender and spicy; creamy cole slaw; fresh salad with sprouts and chickpeas; and a tall and moist carrot cake.--KH
Griffins, 22 Market Space, Annapolis, (410) 268-2576. *** $$
Griffins has the feel of a well-oiled machine. The service staff wears the wide, practiced smile of beauty-pageant contestants or waiters accustomed to braving hordes of revelers. Griffins is right on the water in the touristy part of Annapolis and has a huge and well- appointed bar and a charming dining room.
Appetizers are not of the pub-grub variety. The hot crab dip is rich and crabby, served with hunks of baguette, and the smoked fish appetizer is a smorgasbord of fresh veggies, peppered mackerel, smoked trout and salmon.
Entrees include a lot of the usual suspects -- a hearty French dip sandwich and grilled chicken Caesar salad -- as well as a daily list of exceptional pastas and seafood dishes. Flounder Chesapeake was an ineffably tender fillet, topped with crab meat, steamed shrimp and a lemony bearnaise sauce. The lobster and bay scallop saute proved to be a tangle of pasta cloaked in a flavorful cream sauce with chunks of fresh seafood. Desserts are not to be missed, especially the Key lime pie.--LF
Gypsy's Cafe, 1101 Hollins St., (410) 625-9310. *** $$
Here's the place to come when you're in the mood for a beer and a bite, but looking for something more charming than buffalo wings and big-screen television. Gypsy's is a funky little treasure across from the Hollins Street Market; its food is creative and its beer list runs to nearly 100 microbrews.
Swaths of gold, turquoise and purple fabric are draped across a bar that's lighted with fairy lights. Against the walls are little tables decorated with flowers and leaves pressed under glass tops.
The round of baked brie made an excellent beginning. A good-sized portion, it came with almonds, fresh strawberries and slices of both cantaloupe and French bread. While the lentil soup lacked seasoning, the salmon sesame soy entree was fine, moist and delicately flavored. The Black-n-Blue Catfish, a grilled fillet topped with blue cheese and served on a kaiser roll, was a tasty alternative to the conventional bar burger. The peach pie was overly sweet to our taste, but the cannoli was a fine finish.--CC
Henninger's Ale House, 1812 Bank St., (410) 342-2172. *** 1/2 $$$
With its pretty decor and old pictures hanging on textured walls, this bar/restaurant in two converted townhouses feels like a place from another time. But the food is very au courant and very good.