We had a window seat at the Red Brick Station, with a clear view of shoppers walking along the Avenue, White Marsh's Disneyesque version of Main Street, USA.
With old-fashioned street lights, broad sidewalks and a crossing guard to oversee pedestrian traffic, the Avenue is an open-air shopping mall, and Red Brick Station is smack in the middle of the action.
A fire station of yesteryear is the theme of this big brew-pub, where brick columns support arches high enough to accommodate a ladder truck. There are no shiny poles to slide down, but the bar is topped with a slick of copper sheeting, and there are displays of vintage firehouse memorabilia, from extinguishers and helmets to photos and fire-company patches.
Owner Bill Blocher opened his restaurant last November, after studying microbreweries across the country. While there are still kinks to work out in the restaurant's food and service, his White Marsh Brewing Company turns out some polished English-style ales, bitters and stouts.
We especially liked the smooth amber Avenue Ale, and its $2 price. It went well with our appetizers, delivered by a muscle-bound plate carrier who, as he set them down, told us to enjoy our "apps."
Among those apps, the hummus was creamy smooth. It had a hint of cumin and cayenne, and was served with pita wedges for dipping. We also liked the grilled chicken quesadilla with firm black beans and grilled onions. It was so fat in its pink, sun-dried tomato tortilla, it looked like a jumbo burrito. We asked our waiter to bring us a spoon so we could taste the broth in which our mussels had been steamed. Unfortunately, he knew more about the menu than he did about service basics. By the time he returned, we had long since abandoned the mussels. They tasted unmistakably like low tide. The kitchen, to its credit, took them off our bill and off the menu for the night.
There's a section of English pub fare on the menu - a contribution, the menu says, of the British chef Paul Lever. We spotted lots of people eating gloriously golden fish and chips, but we were a little discontented when we tried them. The batter was crisp on the outside, but underneath it was soft and pasty in places.
The three-pint pasta with English-style curried cream sauce was much better than the fish and chips. For $12.95, this was an enormous bowl of penne tossed with shrimp, chicken, vegetables and flavorful sausage. Though the menu says the dish is full of fire, the spicy sausage supplies most of the heat.
From another part of the British Empire, the tender Irish filet mignon was a dark beauty, in a black, malty sauce made with stout. Sweet roasted tomatoes and Yukon gold mashed potatoes were excellent foils to the smoky, caramelized flavor of the sauce and meat.
As we walked into the Red Brick Station, we realized it would be easier to put out a four-alarm fire than to ignore the gorgeous dessert tray up front. The molten-cored flourless chocolate cake lived up to the anticipation. Dry bread pudding, and banana creme brulee capped with an unmelted sugar snowball, didn't.
Red Brick Station
600 S. The Avenue at White Marsh
Hours: Open daily for lunch and dinner
Credit cards: All major cards
Prices: Appetizers, $2.95-$9.95; entrees, $5.95-$19.95
Ratings system: Outstanding: ****; Good ***; Fair or uneven **; Poor *
Pub Date: 7/16/98