Stonebridge's down-home food a hit $50 and Under

January 29, 1998|By David Michael Ettlin and Bonnie J. Schupp | David Michael Ettlin and Bonnie J. Schupp,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Run your hand along its Formstone walls or taste the sour beef, and you'll know the Stonebridge Restaurant is about as down-homey as an eatery can get.

The little restaurant just north of the Stoney Creek drawbridge has a growing reputation among the locals of Riviera Beach and Pasadena for home-style cooking and modest prices.

We made our first visit about 8: 30 p.m. on a Friday and were seated in the nonsmoking area -- a former screened porch, next to what the remodeling turned into interior Formstone walls.

About half of the tables were occupied -- the stragglers of a dinner rush that had consumed all the steak and "mom's meatloaf" on hand. But there was plenty left to choose from on the diverse menu, including 11 of the 12 "home cooking favorites" offered with a choice of three veggies and roll and butter at $5.99.

Bonnie started with a cup of tasty Maryland crab soup ($2.95), rich with vegetables, beef and crab, but not overly spicy. David had potato skins -- a trio of potato halves stuffed with Cheddar cheese and topped (by request) with a slice of bacon rather than crumbled bits.

From the home-cookings options, David tried the roast turkey platter with mashed sweet potato, green beans and salad. It lived up the menu's homey promise -- the turkey freshly sliced, the potato freshly cooked, green beans from the freezer rather than canned.

Bonnie's sour beef was the closest to her mother's own wonderful recipe she has encountered in a restaurant -- thick, tender chunks of meat in a vinegary ginger-snapped gravy and served with a potato dumpling. For veggies, she added a second dumpling and also took the green beans and salad.

The greens proved the only real disappointment -- the salad unimaginative, consisting of several large pieces of lettuce and two slices each of cucumber and out-of-season tomato, crammed into an awkward bowl. And a few of the otherwise tasty green beans were overly stringy.

The rolls never arrived, but with the ample size of the servings, we hardly noticed.

Desserts -- like the other food, made on the premises -- were extraordinary. Bonnie enjoyed black-bottom cheesecake, and David savored a delicate cappuccino mousse pie. With two glasses of wine and a twice-refilled cup of coffee, the tab ran just under $31 before tax and tip.

We returned to Stonebridge two days later to find its breakfast just as nice, in particular its top-of-the-line Eggs Maryland ($6.95) of poached eggs, sliced tomato and crab meat on a toasted English muffin, topped with tangy hollandaise sauce.

The Stonebridge has been owned for nearly six years by Minnesotan Leigh Mattson, 43, who, judging by the patronage, has made a success of a restaurant with a rough past. Mattson said it was built in the 1930s and was a bar in the heyday of wartime shipbuilding -- "a jumping place when the steel workers got paid."

It was operated as a restaurant under various owners and names, including Captain Gilley's Seafood House, before a period of vacancy and a raffle a decade ago through the Orchard Beach Volunteer Fire Department that was won by someone who didn't reopen.

Mattson, formerly food and beverage director of the BWI Marriott, said the first years were tough as he built a new image for the restaurant. He recalled in particular his first attempt at sour beef. "The customers were not pleased," he said. The next morning, a "local lady" knocked at the door early, a Tupperware container of sour beef in hand.

Mattson recounted her words: "This is the way we make it here."

Now he does, too.

Stonebridge

Restaurant: Location: 8238 Fort Smallwood Road, Riviera Beach. 410-360-2928

Hours: 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Dinner prices: Appetizers, $2.75-$9.95; entrees, $5.95-$14.95

Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Discover, Diners Club

Rating: *** 1/2

Ratings: * culinary wasteland

**** culinary heaven

Pub Date: 1/29/98

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