There are a lot of dead eyes at the Dead Eye Saloon, and that's not an insult to the bar crowd. This South Baltimore bar is a taxidermist's dream come true, a dark, beer-weathered joint where the trophy heads of elk, moose, bears and even a hippo are hung from the rafters, along with plastic casts of prize fish. Some are real, and some, like the hippo, thankfully are replicas.
Our eyes still on the menagerie overhead, we took a seat at a plastic table near the pool tables. There would have been less smoke in the back room, but it was freezing there and the fireplace hadn't been started yet.
With our coats still buttoned, we realized winter is probably not the best season for the Dead Eye, which is owned by the brother and sister team of Kristen and Lincoln Davis. As business slows, they're scaling back to a winter menu, closing the kitchen at 8 most nights and stopping the live bands on weekends. In rTC summer, friends say, the bar is packed, spilling onto the deck outside.
But, we asked ourselves, do people come to the Dead Eye to drink or to eat? The answer is you can do both quite happily, if you don't mind ordering from the bartender, or eating from plastic plates.
Except for burgers, all the barroom regulars are on the menu: nachos, wings, jalapeno poppers and sandwiches. The former cook didn't eat meat, and the menu still reflects her influence with a variety of seafood and vegetarian items. But if corned beef, roast beef, ham and hot dogs were taboo during her tenure, they're back now.
For starters, we liked the chicken wings, which were oven-roasted instead of fried, and spicy-hot without being too vinegary. Four button mushroom caps were barely cooked, but they were topped with delicate, lemony crab imperial. We devoured the open-face veggie quesadilla, with jalapeno slices and finely minced onion and tomato under a thick blanket of melted Cheddar and jack cheeses.
The bartender suggested we try the steamed shrimp special, and we were glad we took her advice. A half-pound of jumbo shrimp were steamed perfectly with extra-hot crab spice. We tried ours with quartered red-skinned potatoes and sliced onion, and liked the vegetables' tangy flavor.
The biggest surprise of the night was the crab cake dinner, served with crisp-steamed broccoli and homemade mashed potatoes, complete with a few lumps. The broiled crab cake was made with backfin crab meat and very little filler. It may have been over-spiced for some, but we liked the flavor and the moist, gently handled texture.
Unfortunately, the crab cake is available only as a sandwich during the winter. The kitchen folks might be able to put together a dinner plate, though, if they're not too busy and you ask nicely. They still make mashed potatoes to serve with open-faced sandwiches.
Only the "gourmet" pizza fell short. The crust was so light it tasted like toasted white bread. The sauce was sweet, the cheese lumpy. If you miss cafeteria pizza, this is the next best thing.
We had a sweet ending to our meal, even though dessert wasn't available. Our waitress checked with the cook, who on a whim happened to be making chocolate chip cookies. He brought us a few on the house, still warm from the oven.
Dead Eye Saloon
2600 Insulator Drive
Hours: Open daily for lunch; and for dinner until 6 p.m. Sunday, 7 p.m. Thursday, and 8 p.m. the rest of the week
Credit cards: All major cards
Prices: Appetizers, $3.50-$7.50; entrees, $3.25-$10
Pub Date: 12/18/97