Beef in the comfort zone

November 16, 1995|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,SUN RESTAURANT CRITIC

According to a survey in the November issue of the trade magazine Food Arts, Americans may be more health conscious than ever; but when it comes to eating out, they want their beef.

My survey was slightly less scientific. I went to McCafferty's on a rainy weeknight and saw that the place was packed -- when other restaurants would be languishing on the vine. Everybody, young and old, was eating great slabs of beef, rosy and juicy, with mounds of mashed potatoes.

I like to think of McCafferty's as the Prime Rib of the '90s.

In the '90s, to make a sweeping generalization, people want to be comfortable above all. So McCafferty's decided not to go for a sophisticated, New York-style decor. Nothing chic or luxurious here. Instead the owners created a sort of faux sports bar atmosphere. With live cocktail piano in the bar proper.

Yes, much of the interior design consists of uniforms under glass and caricatures of sports figures and media personalities. People feel comfortable wearing their casual clothes here. But the maitre d' is in a tux and the New York strip costs $23, salad and potatoes not included.

What a great concept. A neighborhood eating place where the average check is likely to be $40 a person.

McCafferty's has terrific prime rib -- enough beef in one serving to feed my family for a week. You can get a one-pound New York strip that's perfectly aged and full of juicy flavor, or meaty, crusty-edged lamb chops still pink at the bone.

Anything that involves meat here is right on the money. (Well, almost anything. I wasn't wild about the Black Hills gumbo that had chunks of beef in it like a stew.)

Not that there's anything wrong with the seafood. The smoked salmon was a standout: a nice chunk -- not thin slices -- with a mild smoky flavor and a suave dill sauce, arrayed with chopped red pepper, capers and onions.

Shrimp St. Paul, another first course, were fat and delicious, sauteed in butter with a little honey and Cajun spices.

But you have to realize that everything else is something of an afterthought. Entrees come with "seasonal vegetables." I'm not sure that green beans in November count, but that's what we got. The pleasingly lumpy mashed potatoes scented with garlic were room temperature when they arrived at the table. The house salad is "fresh from our victory garden," according to the menu. I don't know, maybe their victory garden does grow

jicama and winter tomatoes. (But to be fair, the lettuces are fresh and green, and the dressings decent.)

How else can you end a dinner of steak and mashed potatoes except with a slice of apple pie, warm with a very short crust and a big scoop of vanilla ice cream? You could have the rum flan with berries or the super rich dark chocolate truffle cake, but my advice is to stick to that excellent all-American pie.

McCafferty's

1501 Sulgrave Ave.

(410) 664-2200

Major credit cards

Open Monday through Friday for lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; Monday through Wednesday for dinner, 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m., Thursday to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday to midnight, Sunday to 9:30 p.m.

Prices: Appetizers, $6.95-$7.93; entrees, $15.95-$26.95

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