In defense of lounges

November 21, 1996|By Laura Rottenberg | Laura Rottenberg,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Since it's been more than a decade since Bill Murray did his scathing lounge singer act on "Saturday Night Live," it may be safe to come out strongly in favor of lounges. At these magical places, noun blends seamlessly with verb. After all, what do you do at a lounge? You lounge. They're like waiting rooms with better conversation and mixed drinks.

An old favorite of dyed-in-the-wool lounge lovers, Johnny Dee's has been around. A great lounge needn't have great food, but among Johnny Dee's charms is a pleasant and inexpensive menu. Nor does a great lounge require stellar service, but Johnny Dee's has some of the kindest waitresses around.

A successful lounge is all about ambience. The first thing about Johnny Dee's that generates that elusive aura of hip is its location. Even with address in hand, you could drive around for hours and never hit pay dirt. Regulars may be upset that I'm divulging the whereabouts of their perfect lounge. To them I say, "Learn to share."

If you're heading south on Loch Raven Boulevard from the Beltway, pass Joppa Road, and before you get to Putty Hill, turn left into a little shopping center. Fronted by a narrow parking lot, Johnny Dee's straddles the shopping center's side.

It is dark, filled with low-slung Naugahyde chairs in maroon, cinnamon and avocado (the colors of all 1970s kitchen appliances). Chairs are clustered in intimate conversation circles around squatty, wood-veneer cocktail tables.

At eye level all around the room, small plaques bear the names of, presumably, the lounge's long-standing patrons. The back half of the lounge has the decorative motif of a back porch, complete with faux windows and window boxes of plastic plants strung with lights.

Once you've been ensconced at a table, the slouching begins. You order a drink and relax a little. Your drink comes (preferably something nostalgic, like a Harvey Wallbanger or whiskey sour), and you scrunch down in your seat a little more. Dinner at these low tables is so relaxed that you find yourself practically prone when scooping bites from your plate. It's OK, though, you're looking cool.

As for the food, the house salad with Roquefort is an ample serving of iceberg lettuce, carrot bits, celery and cucumber and radish rounds. Served on the side, the dressing is rich and unctuous, with just the right amount of blue cheese bite. The house soup the night we went was a salty black bean with tiny curls of ham and nicely tooth-resistant whole beans.

The shrimp sandwich is a house favorite, swaddling freshly cooked small shrimp in a lightly seasoned mayonnaise with crunchy celery chunks. We ordered it on a kaiser roll, which might have been better toasted.

Johnny Dee's burgers do come on toasted kaiser rolls with all the usual accompaniments, including nicely golden plank fries.

More substantial entrees run to the hearty and meat-heavy. A special of roasted pork loin (a little dry) was served with a big dollop of buttery mashed potatoes and a scoop of moist stuffing.

Baby-back ribs are offered with a Carolina-style sweet barbecue sauce heavy on the vinegar and tasting faintly of cloves. The ribs themselves were somewhat tough, but the sauce was flavorful, and the accompanying fries and coleslaw were lovely, the latter featuring very fresh finely chopped green and red cabbage speckled with coriander seed.

Before you sidle back out to the parking lot, you may want to try one of Johnny Dee's desserts, namely the gooey house sundae or a big slab of plush pumpkin pie cradled in a flaky crust.

Johnny Dee's Lounge

1706 Joan Ave.

(410) 665-7000

Hours: Open daily for lunch and dinner

Credit cards: All major cards

Prices: appetizers, $1.55-$4.95; entrees, $5-$12.25.

Pub Date: 11/21/96

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