Good pastrami, latkes and Yiddish humor

October 16, 1997|By Kathryn Higham | Kathryn Higham,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

There's a funny glossary of Yiddish words on the paper place-mats at Suburban House, but to get the jokes, you have to speak the language. Goy was one of the few words we recognized. Definition: someone who buys retail.

It's a good thing the glossary didn't list goy as someone who doesn't know pastrami, or I would have taken offense. My shopping habits aside, I can recognize a great pastrami when I taste it, and this Pikesville restaurant serves it. We tried the lean, thinly sliced meat instead of corned beef in a variation of a Reuben here.

But you'll find more than deli favorites like pastrami at Suburban House, which has been around in one form or another for 50 years. Partners Mark Horowitz and Joseph Stowe took over the restaurant 12 years ago. They offer an extensive menu, full of typical diner fare like hot turkey platters and ethnic specialties such as kippered salmon and kasha. Though it's not kosher, Suburban House does offer a Friday night Shabbos dinner.

It's also home to the biggest matzo ball we'd ever seen. Literally the size of a softball, the moist, light dumpling sat in a bowl of bright-yellow broth. However, the soup didn't have the same homemade flavor as the rich puree of split pea we tried.

It isn't hard to love a latke when the potato pancakes are crisp, greaseless and golden, as they were here. A double-decker combination of creamy chocolate mousse and rich, crumbly cheesecake also was a hit. We polished off the enormous slice the way the devout tackle the Talmud: one diligent bite at a time.

Unfortunately, not everything we tried was as good. Bland chopped liver needed something to boost its flavor -- onion and salt, primarily. We chose what we thought would be a sure hit from the list of dinner specials: cabbage rolls. But stuffed with a dense ground-turkey mixture and covered in gelatinous sweet and sour sauce, they were a disappointment.

Another dinner special, the crabs cakes, looked like hockey pucks, commercially pressed and deep fried to a dark brown. The specials were served with soup or a fresh iceberg salad, and a choice of vegetable and dessert.

Our waitress said the peach cake was homemade and wonderful. It turned out to be peach slices in a sweet apricot goo on a thin sheet of pastry.

So while the specials look like a bargain, sandwiches here may be a better choice. They're served with crunchy half-sour pickles and a delightful slaw, lightly dressed. There are so many sandwiches to choose from -- hot and cold, open faced and triple-decker -- you may have trouble deciding.

Don't look to your waitress for help, though. Ours seemed tired and impatient with our questions. "Why don't you tell me what you want and I'll tell you if it's good," she said.

But she and the rest of the staff snapped to attention when a baby spilled a bowl of soup. They quickly cleaned the mess and calmed the crying child. This seems like a good place to bring the family and not get stressed out if something embarrassing happens. It's also popular with an older crowd, judging from a recent busy weeknight.

The restaurant is spare, yet bright, with mirrors to give the illusion of roominess. And there are lots of cushy upholstered booths to settle into when those pastrami cravings start.

Suburban House

911 Reisterstown Road, Pikesville


Hours: Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner

Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa and Choice

Prices: Appetizers, $2.50-$5; entrees, $3.50-$9.95

Pub Date: 10/16/97

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