1997's contributions to casual dining

January 01, 1998|By Kathryn Higham | Kathryn Higham,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Your New Year's resolution may be to eat less, not more, but that shouldn't stop you from checking out some worthy newcomers to the Baltimore area's casual-dining scene. Here's a look back at the best of the bunch to open in 1997.

In Canton, where the construction crews never seem to stop, Dooby's Bar & Grill (3123 Elliott St.), opened in May, tucked into a corner rowhouse. The purple paint, hanging lava lamps and beaded curtains are fun, but the real attraction is chef Derek Broman's casual, California-style fare. Try the roasted vegetable quesadilla and grilled pizza with gourmet toppings - two favorites.

Not far from Dooby's, Jennifer Moeller Price, executive chef and co-owner of the Wild Mushroom, debuted her newest offering this year: Port O Bella (2701 Boston St.). This open-air bar and cafe is an inexpensive spot to have a casual meal on the water. As soon as it opens again in the spring, I'm heading back for a fabulous ostrich burger. Thick and lean, it tastes like the finest beef, only better.

Over on Charles Street, newcomer Zodiac (1726 N. Charles St.) is serving an eclectic menu that ranges from Italian to Indian, Tex-Mex to Thai. Sesame-encrusted salmon with cold buckwheat noodles, and rare duck breast in orange "voodoo" sauce are a couple of winners. Club Charles owners Joy and Ester Martin did a fabulous job renovating the restaurant, which once was a Baltimore speakeasy. It's worth a visit just to check out the astrological mural that inspired the restaurant's name.

Further down Charles Street, Azeb's Ethiopian Restaurant (322 N. Charles St.) opened in July. Owner Azeb Teklay, a former Indianapolis engineer, has added authentic touches to the upstairs dining room: animal-skin rugs, cushioned stools and coiled baskets that serve as tables. Go with a bunch of friends and have fun eating with your hands, wrapping up morsels of flavorful stews in pieces of soft enjera bread. Chunks of chicken in awaze, a thin sauce with sauteed onions, peppers and wine, and shredded beef in dark and spicy barbarre sauce, are good picks.

If Italian is more your style, head over to Little Italy, where Della Notte (801 Eastern Ave.) opened this year. Formerly DiVivo's, Della Notte is a bustling restaurant and bakery, with a fun, over-the-top atmosphere. Here, I had two of the most memorable dishes of the year: vitello portobello, an updated take on veal Marsala, and tiramisu gelato, ice cream and cake rolled into one creamy scoop.

Follow Eastern Avenue all the way to Greektown to find Yianni's Cafe (4701 Eastern Ave.), a pastry shop that opened on the cusp of 1997. (OK, I'm cheating a little here. It opened its doors last December.) Desserts are the main attraction, but don't miss the tall, frothy coffee frappe, cayenne-kicking shrimp salad, and the classic Greek egg and lemon soup, avgolemeno.

Howard County gained another microbrewery in 1997. The Ellicott Mills Brewing Co. opened in May at 8308 Main St. in downtown Ellicott City. Once the town lumber and hardware store, the building has been transformed with dining rooms on three levels, including a stone-walled smoking bar in the basement.

Order the dark lager Alpenhof Dunkel to go with appetizers of venison sausage, smoked duck breast with raspberry sauce and green peppercorns, or fried turkey wings with spicy peanut dipping sauce.

I'll be heading back to Ellicott Mills soon for another of its German-style beer samplers. For about the price of a pint, the four tiny mugs will quadruple my New Year's toasts: to health, happiness, peace, and, well, a faster metabolic rate.

Pub Date: 1/01/98

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