Barbecue place delights and dismays Restaurant: In its new location, Charred Rib shows ups and downs in food and ambience.

September 27, 1998|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,SUN RESTAURANT CRITIC

Our dinner at the Charred Rib's new and more spacious location - half a mile away from its old location on York Road - didn't start off as well as it might have. We had had reservations for a week, so we weren't happy about being put in the Outer Siberia room behind the bar - a brown box of a room with no pictures on the walls. Of course, not everyone can sit in the two pretty main dining rooms when the restaurant is this busy. But we wanted to.

Not only was our dining room ugly, it was noisy. All the families with young kids and babies seemed to have been banished to this room. When the hostess led us to a table next to the wait station by the door that led to the bathrooms and kitchen, I dug in my heels.

Eventually, we got a better table - not the table of my dreams, which would have been in the main part of the restaurant, but a better table. Eventually, the families with young children left, so the noise level dropped. Things began to improve, but next time I would request a table in one of the main dining rooms when I make my reservation.

At first glance, the menu looks as if a bunch of fraternity guys planned it. Potato skins, buffalo wings, ribs and the like are a mainstay. But once you get past all the bar food, you'll find plenty to appeal to almost any taste. Case in point: The special of the day was blackened mahi-mahi. The fillets, fresh and flavorful and just edged with fire, were topped with delicious backfin crab meat. They had a rich lemon-butter sauce as well. It was a very appealing dish, one that you wouldn't expect from the same kitchen that produced the onion loaf, a spectacularly greasy mass of fried onions shaped like the french-fry basket it was cooked in. I don't know what kept it stuck together, but my guess is sheer grease.

People come here for the ribs, as you'd expect from the restaurant's name. (My husband complained that the name sounds carcinogenic. But it was a different era when the original Charred Rib was named.)

A big drawing card is the rib combos: ribs with chicken, ribs with crab cake, ribs with fried oysters, ribs with shrimp tempura - you get the idea. The ribs, generously meaty, aren't charred at all. In fact, ours had a sort of steamed softness, which half our table liked and half didn't. The sauces we tried, the original and Cajun, were quite good, smoky sweet and homemade-tasting.

Still, I would order the Charred Rib's filet mignon over its ribs, much as I love barbecue. Two delicious 4-ounce filets, cooked rosy pink, were wrapped with bacon and perfectly grilled. They were certainly better than the crab imperial, which contained very little in the way of crab.

As you might expect from a place that specializes in barbecue, the Charred Rib has good buffalo wings, fat little morsels with a spicy-vinegary sauce that grows hotter as you keep eating, and lots of celery and blue cheese dressing to cool you off. They and most of the other starters are standards, except for the coffee salad. It's made of lettuce, tomatoes, egg and onion chopped together and tossed with a homemade coffee dressing, from a recipe so secret even the waitress couldn't tell us what was in it. If I had to guess, I wouldn't guess coffee. Or much of anything - it was pretty tasteless.

So our meal had its ups and downs. Typical was dessert: an array of fabulous not-made-in-house cheesecakes, and then a homemade rice pudding so thick and gummy you could stick your spoon in it and pick it up by the spoon. (I'm not exaggerating; I did it.) But if you factor in the prices, which are surprisingly reasonable, and the excellent service; if you know what to order (definitely those filets); and if you get to sit in the main dining room - hey, you could have a great time at the new Charred Rib.

CHARRED RIB

Food: **1/2

Service: ***

Atmosphere: *1/2

Where: Yorkridge Shopping Center

Hours: Open every day for lunch and dinner

Prices: Appetizers $2.95-$8.75; main courses: $8.95-$19.95; major credit cards

Call: 410-561-0060

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

Pub Date: 9/27/98

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