Value dining at a country bar Restaurant: You can get haute cuisine at the Timber Creek Tavern, but don't count on atmosphere.

September 13, 1998|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,SUN RESTAURANT CRITIC

Looks are deceiving. The Timber Creek Tavern appears to be a backwoods bar. The parking lot is filled with pickup trucks and four-wheel drives, and some of them have Confederate flags on them.

Inside the large dining room next to the bar, people are smoking, and one man is smoking a pipe. When was the last time you ate dinner out with a pipe smoker? When, for that matter, is the last time you had salmon Portofino with lump crab, scallions, sun-dried tomatoes and a white wine sauce in the same room where people were playing pool?

There is potential here for a sort of rustic-chic decor: the paisley wallpaper, the deer head, the various outdoor-sports memorabilia that decorate the walls. But with the addition of the pool table, all hope for rustic chic is gone. The real world has taken over the dining room, the world where people come to get a beer and a hamburger, shoot a little pool, have another beer.

Families with kids eat here because the food is good and the prices are more than reasonable. The Timber Creek Tavern is an interesting combination of bar, family dining and, yes, a little haute cuisine.

Much of the credit goes to Jim Mikula, a former partner in Bohager's and the now-closed Neon Moon in Canton. The rest goes to chef Bruce Clarke, who this night was cooking out back on a charcoal grill.

The menu is made up mostly of burgers, sandwiches, pizzas and salads, but you can also get some elegant little entrees. A fat grilled pork chop, even though it was cooked a little longer than I like, had a fabulous smoky flavor. Its apple-horseradish relish added plenty of zing, and on the side came the two vegetables of the day, red-skinned potatoes roasted with herbs and whole ** baby carrots sauteed with fresh broccoli.

Even better was my superb filet mignon, buttery tender and rare, with a great grilled flavor. It lay on a bed of slivered and sauteed red, green and yellow peppers, and had an intriguing bit of sauce tinged with soy. For $15, it was a steal. And speaking of steals, half a plump chicken grilled with jerk seasonings and two vegetables alongside was only $8. The rest of the prices were comparable.

Salmon Portofino was beautifully grilled and topped with fat lumps of crab and a buttery wine sauce, while sun-dried tomatoes gave the dish spark. We also tried the crab cakes, which were nicely done with plenty of lump crab and a good balance of seasonings and binder.

Timber Creek's appetizers are, for the most part, classic bar food, like a half-pound of shrimp. These were steamed with potatoes and onions and enough spices to set your hair on fire. But there are a few other choices. Mussels in white wine with garlic toast pleased us, as did the smooth, flavorful cream of mushroom soup.

The special appetizer that night (usually there is one) was made up of layers of fried eggplant, fresh tomatoes, mozzarella and spinach with a delicate blush-pink sauce. Good, but it could have doubled as a main course with a salad.

We finished off with Timber Creek's piece de resistance, a banana wrapped in phyllo pastry and deep-fried, then served with homemade chocolate chip ice cream and chocolate sauce. Wow. (The other choices weren't bad either: a rum-scented bread pudding and a banana chocolate chip poundcake.)

As for those niceties like polished service and a good wine list - well, you don't expect them in a country bar. But the truth is, I've had a lot worse service at a lot fancier places.

Our collective hearts sank when we heard there was no wine list, but our waitress was willing to bring out a bottle or two from behind the bar for us. We settled on a Kendall-Jackson chardonnay. She opened and served it with surprising expertise, given that wine isn't a priority here.

This is value dining, but you aren't shortchanged on anything but atmosphere at the Timber Creek Tavern - both figuratively and literally (if you mind people smoking).

TIMBER CREEK TAVERN

Food: ***

Service: ***

Atmosphere: *1/2

Where: 10092 Belair Road, Kingsville

Hours: Open every day for lunch and dinner

Prices: Appetizers: $3.50-$7.50; main courses, $7.50-$16; major credit cards

Call: 410-529-7999

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

Pub Date: 9/13/98

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