Not a chip off the old block Restaurant: Spike & Charlie's spinoff, jr., offers a surprisingly uneven meal.

December 01, 1996|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,SUN RESTAURANT CRITIC

Remember the "Kids" song from "Bye, Bye Birdie": "Why can't they be like we were,/ Perfect in every way?"

You could ask that about jr., Spike & Charlie's new baby.

Spike & Charlie's is the hip and successful restaurant near the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. While it may not really be perfect in every way, it does have both style and substance.

Jr., its more casual spinoff, recently opened in Bolton Hill where Cusack's used to be. It has plenty of style, and the potential for just as much substance. (With the added plus that almost everything costs under $10.)

But our meal was surprisingly uneven, given the savvy of owners Spike and Charlie Gjerde. This is a junior that needs a little more babying.

The contemporary space is spare and sleek, with high windows, lots of wood and glass, off- white walls and offbeat art. Just as contemporary is the menu: gourmet pizzas, Japanese noodles, a homey section of individual potpies, specialty coffee drinks. About the only thing missing that would make jr. totally Now is something Southwestern.

You can poke a little fun at such a completely '90s menu, but it's actually very appealing. The veggie club sandwich, for instance, sounded great: roasted red pepper, avocado, Vermont Cheddar and spinach. Too bad the slathering of sweet mustard dominated the good vegetables. Even worse, the bread was stale.

Speaking of bread, at the beginning we were brought delicious-looking little rolls and herb biscuits, which turned out to be stone cold and served with even colder butter.

A pretty shrimp and tomato potpie had a good crust but was a sort of unsuccessful gumbo inside, with lots of vegetables and not much in the way of shrimp.

A fine slice of pumpkin pie and an even better wedge of warm bread pudding were hurt rather than helped by their sauces: hard sauce (mostly sugar and butter) with the pie, and a too-strong whiskey sauce on the pudding.

Still, much of our meal did work. An individual pizza with a delicate crust, three cheeses and roasted garlic (plus gourmet bacon for two dollars extra) was a hit, as were the two salads we ordered -- a pretty house salad and greens with fresh vegetables, pumpkin seeds and a pleasant dressing based on pear puree.

No one could quarrel with the strange but successful pairing of fried oysters with wedges of persimmon as a first course. A creamy, fresh-tasting tomato soup was also very fine.

Japanese noodles in a fiery broth with chunks of chicken and a few prettily arranged vegetables made a good light supper.

And if you need a sweet, jr. has a brownie that tastes like a square of warm fallen chocolate souffle, and a buttery chocolate chip cookie that is completely satisfying.

Finally, I have to give an A plus to our waitress.

I had with me that night one guest who likes to find a server's breaking point, but the woman never lost her pleasant smile. (OK, it got a little fixed after his fourth joke about jr.'s not having a liquor license, but she didn't take it out on the rest of us.)

jr.

Where: 1501 Bolton St.

Hours: Open every day from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Prices: Menu items all under $10; MC, V

Call: (410) 462-9064

Pub Date: 12/01/96

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