New Fells Point pub deserves attention Restaurant: Go there for the pleasant dining space. Go there for the wine 'samples.' Or go to Tomcat Alley for the food. But be patient if the service is a little rough around the edges.

SUNDAY GOURMET

July 28, 1996|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,SUN RESTAURANT CRITIC

Tomcat Alley is the 1 millionth funky little bar-restaurant to open up in Fells Point. Why should you eat there as opposed to any of the other 999,999?

Well, for one thing, it has the most appealing little courtyard dining area I've ever seen, with antique brick walls and ivy growing all over them. On the other hand, the space is still in the construction stage, and the owners haven't gotten the proper permits yet. Maybe it's not such a good reason to eat there.

How about the 40 or so wines by the glass, including 3-ounce "taste" glasses if you want to try several and still get up from the table?

Or the newly expanded dining room next door to the bar -- a long, narrow room with soft, mocha-colored walls, print tablecloths under glass tops and what looks like the original stained glass in the windows?

To get the bad news over with first, service is not the reason to give Tomcat Alley a try. One of the owners was also the waiter, host and busboy; he was having a tough time keeping up. But maybe you won't care that you have to keep your dirty cutlery for the next course, or that you have to ask to have your water glass refilled, or that your party orders three desserts and gets four.

The food goes a long way to make up for such glitches. We loved the Kansas City sushi, made not of raw fish but cooked strips of beef tenderloin rolled around slivers of hearts of palm and artichoke hearts, with a drizzle of horseradish sauce and capers. The shrimp bisque was everything a soup should be: a velvet rosy pink with nice big chunks of shrimp. A fine cheeseburger on a baguette came with terrific hand-cut fries.

The low-fat choice we tried (there are several on the menu) was so full of flavor the missing fat didn't matter. It was grilled jerk chicken, the boneless, skinless breast marinated in Jamaican spices. On the side were garlic mashed potatoes (too garlicky for me) and a mix of prettily cooked fresh vegetables. Other dishes that pleased included a creamy hummus and an odd but good salad of greens, artichoke hearts, prosciutto and dried apricots.

Not quite so successful were the soft-shell crabs, tempura style. The tempura batter was an improvement on the usual fried soft-shell batter; but the dish needed some sort of sauce, if only a little soy. Pasta primavera had fresh vegetables and good shrimp, but the cream sauce on the linguine was a bit gummy.

Dessert included slices of European-style cakes, with fondant icings, liqueurs and drizzles of raspberry sauce. They were fine; the only disappointment was a plate of fresh fruit with whipped cream on the side that for some unknown reason included canned pear halves.

Tomcat Alley

Where: 1705 Aliceanna St.

Hours: Open Monday through Saturday 4 p.m.-1 a.m.

Prices: Appetizers, $2.25-$6.95; entrees, including burgers, $5.98-$17.25; Major credit cards accepted.

Call: (410) 327-7037.

Pub Date: 7/28/96

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