First courses at Snyder's outshine some of entrees Near-elegance: Longtime restaurant has classic menu emphasizing surf and turf.

August 27, 1998|By David Michael Ettlin and Bonnie J. Schupp | David Michael Ettlin and Bonnie J. Schupp,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The restaurant seems to have been there forever, but it's really only 61 years since Snyder's Willow Grove opened its doors along Hammonds Ferry Road.

Even its name speaks to another era -- and a lost bucolic setting near the banks of the Patapsco.

Fast-forward toward the end of the millennium, and you find a large, boxy building on the edge of an exit ramp from a bustling beltway that could just as well house a mail-processing operation or an assembly line.

But inside the doors, past the lounge and banquet rooms, you'll find quite another story -- an almost elegant dining room with green and white decor, heavy white tablecloths, and a long, classic menu leaning toward surf and turf options.

We really rooted for it to succeed, but, alas, our meal on a recent Monday evening fell short of four-star hopes.

We started with the complimentary crackers and soft Cheddar cheese, and by sampling the homemade soups. Bonnie chose a cup of rich ham-and-vegetable, and David the tender beef stew. Both were excellent.

Our entrees -- Bonnie's crab imperial ($17.50) and David's veal piccata ($14.95) -- included tossed salad and vegetable.

The salads were crisp and well-presented, though heavy on iceberg lettuce, but with satisfactory dressings. The raspberry vinaigrette was very sweet, and the zippy peppercorn Parmesan very creamy.

The crab dish featured large chunks of meat and very little filler -- as do Snyder's huge crab cakes, judging by the threesome delivered a table away from us. But three-quarters into its consumption (all she could manage before wrapping the leftovers for home), Bonnie had encountered a dozen pieces of shell.

David's veal piccata was overwhelmed by its sour, caper-laden white wine, lemon and butter sauce. The six thin, perfectly round medallions of meat were tender, but had an odd texture suggestive of an intermediary process between butcher and pan.

Maybe that's what he gets for ordering politically incorrect food.

The vegetable of the day was green beans. Just that phrase, "vegetable of the day," suggests something special. Our waitress, a first-day trainee, did not know whether the green beans were fresh, but the veteran server shadowing her every move said they were frozen. It proved a moot point; they were so mushy from overcooking that the beans might just as well have emerged from a cheap-brand can.

David's baked potato came cloaked in aluminum foil, something he takes as a sign that many potatoes have been cooked at once, then wrapped and kept moist and warm until they are served -- however long that might be. (And a loose sliver of foil in hot food can jolt people with filling-laden teeth.)

Carefully counting our choices to maintain our $50-and-under standard, we saved just enough room on the tab for dessert. Raspberry swirl cheesecake for David, and Oreo cookie cheesecake for Bonnie.

The soups and desserts and the crab imperial -- except for all those shells -- were highlights. With a glass of house wine, the tab ran $48.72 before tax and tip.

We offer these observations with reflection that Snyder's has been in business a mighty long time, longer than most of its patrons have been alive, surviving a fire and two floods.

Maybe we should have tried the orange roughy Francese, or sour beef and dumplings -- with apologies to Robert Frost, the meals not taken.

David and Bonnie welcome readers' suggestions on Anne Arundel restaurants with a good meal for two, priced under $50 (before tip and taxes). Write to them at P.O. Box 1152, Pasadena 21123.

Snyder's Willow Grove

Where: 841 N. Hammonds Ferry Road, Linthicum. 410-789-1149, 410-789-8244.

Hours: 9 a.m. to midnight Sunday through Thursday; 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday.

Dinner prices: Appetizers, $1.95-$11.95; entrees, $8.50-$26.95

Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa, American Express

Rating: ** 1/2

Ratings: * culinary wasteland **** culinary heaven

Pub Date: 8/27/98

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