Indulging in calories and nostalgia Restaurant: The owner of Karson's Inn wanted to re-create the restaurant as it was in the '50s and '60s -- and he has, right down to the salads.

January 18, 1998|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,SUN RESTAURANT CRITIC

Dinner at Karson's Inn is a very retro experience. George Karson, son of the former owners, reopened the restaurant in November. (It had been closed for months while their estate was being settled.) His goal was to re-create the restaurant as it was at the height of its popularity in the '50s and '60s -- when, as he says, the lines waiting to get in stretched out the door.

Walk into Karson's now, and it's instant nostalgia.

Even if your parents didn't take you there for special occasions when you were a child (as one of my guest's did), you'll recognize the era:

Captain's chairs and red tablecloths. Motherly waitresses. Yummy warm muffins instead of slices of baguette. Fried shrimp and sauerbraten. A very limited wine list with only one bottle priced over $10.

Sometimes instant nostalgia is bad, as when you walk in and find that half the dining room is non-smoking and half is smoking.

"Isn't that illegal?" I ask one of the employees.

"I think so," she says, but she obviously isn't going to risk her job by reporting it.

Sometimes instant nostalgia is good, as when you get crisply fried oysters that slip down in hot, lusciously tender mouthfuls.

Or a mixed grill of boneless barbecued chicken breast, a juicy piece of pork tenderloin and a perfectly pink, flavorful filet mignon -- a meat extravaganza for $15.95.

An appetizer of fried tomatoes (red, not green) is at once hot, soft and crisp on the outside.

A mile-high piece of coconut cream pie looks as if it could sink the Titanic, and tastes pretty good, too.

The fillet of orange roughy is enormous, exceptionally fresh and cooked just long enough. The roughy's shrimp sauce, something like shrimp bisque, comes in a little plastic container on the side.

Tender chucks of sour beef in a spicy-sweet gingersnap gravy (a bit too sweet for my taste) are flanked with featherweight dumplings.

Forget diet food just for this one evening as you indulge in a fat lump crab cake -- fried, of course -- with those fine fried oysters and large fried shrimp. Have whipped potatoes with your dinner and sweetened stewed tomatoes, then finish off with warm pecan pie and a scoop of ice cream.

Of course, the old days weren't always better. Now, as I suppose then, Karson's serves canned green beans and sad little iceberg lettuce salads.

Our first bottle of wine, a Simi Chardonnay 1993, comes to the table already opened and tastes like cooking sherry. (A second and younger bottle -- 1994 this time -- is fine.)

Other than not opening our wine at the table, our waitress does a good job, although my heart sinks when she confides that this is her first night here.

"Baptism by fire," one guest says to her cheerfully.

Karson's Inn

Where: 5100 Holabird Ave.

Hours: Open Tuesday through Friday for lunch, Tuesday through Sunday for dinner

Prices: Appetizers, $2.75-$10.95; entrees, $10.95-$32.50

Call: 410-631-5400

Pub Date: 1/18/98

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