New Orleans classics, and all that Jazz

May 21, 1998|By Kathryn Higham | Kathryn Higham,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

New Orleans is known as much for its music as its food, so it makes perfect sense for Main Street Blues to capitalize on the marriage by featuring Big Easy fare, and live music six days a week.

Owned by Dennis Martin and Patric Branham, this new Ellicott City eatery is a thin stretch of a restaurant, with tables hugging the teal sponge-painted walls all the way to the mural in the back depicting blues greats B. B. King and Muddy Waters. If your eyesight's not so good, you might think someone is frozen in a perpetual groove back there.

The atmosphere is simple but fun, with alto and tenor saxophones hung on the wall, along with framed programs of jazz and blues shows. Tablecloths may be vinyl, but the ceiling is pressed tin and the floors oak.

That highbrow/lowbrow quality comes through on the menu, too. There are meaty chicken wings, done in the standard buffalo style, despite the menu's claim of a smoked chipotle hot sauce.

There are also oysters Louisiana, as good a baked oyster as a person has a right to expect. Baked on the half shell with cream, fresh spinach and chunks of smoky tasso ham, the oysters turned into hot, buttery morsels in their luscious sauce. If I hadn't been distracted by the jazz trio playing "Body and Soul," I might have lifted a shell to my lips to slurp every last drop.

Similarly, dinner choices range from upscale filet mignon to a down-home catfish po' boy. Served on a toasted hoagie roll with lettuce, ripe tomato and pink Cajun dressing, the catfish was dredged in cornmeal and fried greaseless and golden. We had it with a side of red cabbage slaw, freshly made and vibrantly purple.

The filet mignon was fabulous, smoky and as soft as butter. The plate was pretty, too. Accompanying the beef were a tumbleweed of fried potato threads and a melange of thick-cut, roasted eggplant, zucchini and onions. We couldn't figure out, therefore, why the kitchen set all that gorgeous food on a pile of instant mashed potatoes.

Our portion of jambalaya was huge, a massive mound of the tomato-based rice dish, studded with lots of shrimp and chunks of smoked and regular ham. It wasn't spicy-hot, but it was loaded with thyme, which came within a pinch of overriding all the other flavors. That didn't seem to bother the person in our group who ordered it, or the woman whose opinion she garnered at the table next to ours.

Another New Orleans classic, the seafood etouffee was ladled over two chicken breast fillets on rice. Bits of scallop, whole shrimp and oysters were smothered in the mild brown sauce, with tender baby mussels dressing the side of the plate like groupies. We liked the delicate seafood flavor of the sauce, but etouffee neophytes may expect more fireworks, especially if they equate Cajun food with heat.

On the job only a week, our friendly waiter struggled through the night, at one point delivering desserts and walking away with our forks still in his hand.

Fortunately, the desserts tasted almost as good as they looked -- a sundae made with dense, fudgy wedges of homemade brownie, a tart blueberry-peach crisp and a cakelike strawberry shortcake, all served with vanilla ice cream. Only the banana bread pudding with bourbon sauce was served a-la-mode-less. It was as moist, decadent and tropically seductive as New Orleans itself.

Main Street Blues

Address: 8089 Main St., Ellicott City 410-203-2830

Hours: Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner

Credit cards: Major cards

Prices: Appetizers, $2.50-$7.95; entrees, $6.25-$16.95

Food: ***

Service: ** 1/2

Atmosphere: ** 1/2

Ratings system: Outstanding: ****; Good ***; Fair or uneven; Poor *

Pub Date: 5/21/98

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