Food and folk music at Baldwin's Station Entertainment: A former rail stop in Sykesville has been transformed into a restaurant that features traditional performances.

December 21, 1997|By Judith Green | Judith Green,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The setting is mellowed by time, and the food and music are in harmony.

Baldwin's Station & Pub, the newest incarnation of a riverside restaurant in Sykesville, blends the visual, the audible and the edible in a bid to attract diners and enthusiasts of traditional music to this quiet little town on the south branch of the Patapsco.

Co-owners Stewart A. Dearie and Austin Isemann, who also own the Quail Ridge Inn in Mount Airy, took over and renovated the former railroad depot this year.

They have addressed the look and feel of the building, along with the food and wine it serves. The latest element is the entertainment: a traditional music series on Wednesdays, produced by the high priestess of Baltimore-area folk music, Joyce R. Sica.

The Baldwin's Station building was built in 1883 as the Sykesville stop on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad line. A designated historic structure, the former depot is owned by the town of Sykesville, which has negotiated a 20-year lease with D&I Enterprises, Dearie and Isemann's restaurant management company.

E. Francis Baldwin, the architect, was a partner in the well-known area firm Peterson & Baldwin, which designed buildings at Goucher College in Towson and Catholic University in Washington. Baldwin also designed a depot in Overlea identical to the one in Sykesville, Dearie said.

The architect's sense of humor is apparent in the depot's chimneys, which are those of an 1880s-vintage locomotive -- a charming little joke atop the Queen Anne-style building.

Inside, all is warm: walls of brick, walls of cream-colored plaster, forest-green carpet. A stylized flower stencil traces its way around the cornice and wainscoting. Many of the windows have the original stained glass, accented by cafe curtains in the same glowing colors.

"We didn't have to do a lot" to renovate the space, said Dearie, 45, who lives in Sykesville with his wife, Ridie, and their two children.

"The roof was intact. The floors were in good shape. The carpet had to be restretched some. A lot of the woodwork and the doors are original," he said. The largest expenses, he said, were for plastering and plumbing.

Dearie calls the menu "American eclectic." It's not vast: a half-dozen appetizers and entrees, two or three soups, salads, desserts. Prices range from $4.95 to $7.95 for appetizers and sandwiches, $14.95 (for grilled Portabello mushroom Napoleon) and $19.95 (marinated filet of salmon) for entrees.

"I want this to be known as the place where you can get the best steak and the best fish you can bring to the table," Dearie said. "It's left in the chef's hands" -- his is Jason McReady -- "how that happens."

The staff of 30 is managed by Sherree Lance.

One of the most popular items on the menu is "just plain" rainbow trout, served with the head on and pan-fried in pecan brown butter ($15.95).

"It's a natural. That river out there is stocked by DNR [the state Department of Natural Resources], and it's full of fly fishermen," Dearie said, gesturing toward the eastern wall. Diners associate the river with fresh fish and order accordingly, although the restaurant gets its fish from a dealer.

Baldwin's Station has three dining areas. The indoor rooms seat 30 and 60, and the veranda, with a view of the train tracks and the river, seats about 100. "We added that at once," Dearie said of the outdoor tables.

An old caboose is on the grounds. "We're considering renovating and making it into a private dining car," Dearie said.

At this time of year, the restaurant is decorated in red and green, with fir branches along the lintels, pine wreaths tied with ribbon on the walls, and vases of red and white carnations on the tables. It feels small yet not crowded, partly because of the 20-foot ceilings.

"This room seats 30-plus people," Dearie said of the smaller dining area, "but it has a spacious feeling."

The bar, stocked with California wines, separates the dining rooms. The bartender, Jenaire Hodge from St. Martin in the West Indies, is one of the restaurant's assets, a friendly woman who never seems rushed but makes sure the beverage service is responsive.

The second dining room feels smaller because it's more crowded. Instead of mostly tables for four, it has tables that seat parties of six and eight.

This is the music room. One corner is crowded with sound equipment, and another is a little raised stage just the size for a soloist or small ensemble.

The folk series that started in October is Dearie's pet project.

He started out as a musician, playing the flute, years ago, but made a quick jump to the hospitality trade when he found out how poorly music paid.

For six years, he ran the much-praised Conservatory restaurant and its allied catering business in the Peabody Court hotel on Mount Vernon Square until 1992, when NationsBank bought the holding company and fired the entire staff on "one bloody Sunday," Dearie said with a smile.

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