Before there was radicchio and arugula and mesclun mix in every restaurant's salad, there was the Chiapparelli salad -- perhaps the most famous house salad in Baltimore. The waitresses made great quantities of it in back, chopping up iceberg lettuce with hard-boiled egg, Parmesan, oil and vinegar, herbs and garlic; throwing in a handful of pepperoncini and some slices of red onion; adding one-half a cherry tomato per plate; and piling the whole thing on a salad plate almost too small to hold it all. And that's how they still do it. Now, though, the lettuce seems wilted and oily, and I could use more than one-half a cherry tomato; but there's no denying the appeal of the dressing.
If you ate all your salad with the good, crusty bread (baked on the premises), you couldn't possibly have room for the rest of your meal. There's nothing dainty about the portions here, so if you order something like the excellent fried calamari, fennel-scent sausage, likable saltimbocca or fat homemade spinach ravioli, you'll need to be hungry.--EL
Donna's Mount Vernon Coffee Bar, 2 W. Madison St., (410) 539-8051. *** $$
Served as a sandwich or impeccably dressed on a bed of greens, Donna's roasted vegetables are a constant favorite. Occasionally it's fun to try some of the other imaginative fare here. Even in winter, the tomato, mozzarella and pesto sandwich speaks of summer with its backyard-garden freshness. And the roast turkey sandwich with tapenade intrigues with an exotic blend of flavors.
And yet we seem to return again and again to the roasted vegetables -- eggplant, sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, with just enough dressing to allow the vegetables' flavors to come through.
Feeling virtuous after all those vegetables, we indulged at dessert with a huge, gooey, buttery pecan square. Served warm with vanilla ice cream melting atop, it's a decadent delight. Lighter in style but also tasty are the almond and chocolate biscotti -- dipped, of course, in one of Donna's excellent coffees.--M&SD
Duffy's Restaurant and Bar, 3436-38 Frederick Ave., (410) 945-9820. *** $
Look for Duffy's facing Loudon Park Cemetery. The dining room looked so quiet, we chose a booth near the bar next door. We ate delicious, large and inexpensive dinners and felt well served by our waitress. Quiet? This place should be full.
The restaurant's signature dish is actually a signature dressing. The house-made green goddess by itself won't draw crowds, though we liked it -- a marine green cream of pureed cucumber, sour cream and onion, over iceberg lettuce with lots of grated fresh carrot on top.
What should attract customers is the competence of the cook and the abundance of food sent to the table. For $43.50, before tip, we got a vibrant crab and vegetable soup; house salads served with an extra pitcher of that signature dressing; cucumber and onion salad; crab cakes; a juicy, fresh rockfish; a baked potato; mashed potatoes; Greek-style kale; beets; fresh tomatoes; two warm, exceptionally light and likable puddings; plus two gin and tonics and two glasses of wine. Crab cakes and beets aside, we liked it all.--JB
Germano's, 300 S. High St., (410) 752-4515. *** $$$
The bread sticks at Germano's are crisp, pencil-thin and more than a foot long, sticking up from woven baskets like a spray of flowerless stems. Here's one signature dish that's fun to snap and nibble between courses.
And we had plenty of courses! Our waitress suggested that we split some dishes so we could stretch our meal into a true Italian multicourse feast. Of course, this can be done in most restaurants, but it's nice when the staff lets you know that such a leisurely option won't be frowned upon.
We started with an airy spinach crepe (thumbs up), followed by crab and spinach salad with mouth-puckering dressing (thumbs down). The kitchen kindly divided our rigatoni with Gorgonzola and pistachios, giving each of us the right portion for such a rich and salty dish. Also divided was the osso buco with oven-roasted potatoes, the veal falling off each shank into a mahogany glaze.
Desserts at Germano's are too good to split, from smooth pear sorbetto to layered chocolate mousse and meringue.--KH
Gunning's Crab House, 3901 S. Hanover St., (410) 354-0085. **1/2 $1/2
You go to a crab house for crabs, right? Wrong. You go to Gunning's for huge, pillowy battered and fried green pepper rings (sprinkled with just enough powdered sugar to put them in the same genus as funnel cakes). Oh, and for a side order of crabs.
Folks crowd the homey South Baltimore restaurant or its no-frills concrete patio to tuck into a platter of pepper rings, or the equally crisp, greaseless onion rings, before moving on to a dozen fairly priced hard shells. Crabs are large, sweet and heavily enveloped in a mild, salty coating. Our table would have preferred less coating with a little more kick.