Holding on to old-fashioned appeal

November 19, 1998|By Kathryn Higham | Kathryn Higham,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Standing outside Snyder's, listening to the roar of Beltway traffic, it's hard to imagine the stand of weeping willows that once stood here. Those graceful trees inspired "Bumps" Snyder and his wife, Sis, to name their Linthicum restaurant Snyder's Willow Grove in 1937.

Sixty years, two hurricanes and one devastating fire later, the trees are gone, but the restaurant is still called Snyder's Willow Grove. It survives, not because it has kept up with the times, but because in some ways it's a throwback to the past.

As soon as the complimentary orange cheese spread was set down on our table, I had an overwhelming urge to order a whiskey sour, just as my parents did when we went out to a "nice" restaurant.

They would have loved this place. The music is so muted, it's barely audible. The veteran staff is made up of quiet, efficient professionals. And the attractive dining rooms, dressed in crisp green and white, are full of cushy, curved banquettes. Another draw for the mostly older crowd is the size of the portions. We watched in awe as a waitress delivered a stunningly large prime rib to a stunningly large man. He only managed to eat a third of it.

Snyder's' ad in the phone book says seafood is its specialty. What the ad really should say is "Home of world-class cream of crab soup." Served piping hot, it is a cupful of pure bliss, made of nothing but sweet crab and sweet cream, or so it seems. The soup's thin consistency, smooth and free of thickeners, is what really sets it apart. Other crab dishes are handled well, including a light-textured dip with scallions and a golden crab cake full of lumps, which would be even better with fewer bread crumbs and parsley flakes.

But our grilled tuna with a side of buttery caper sauce was overcooked, and an appetizer of skewered barbecued shrimp was tough. The other seafood we tried was even worse - clams casino covered in grease-laden crumbs and leaden fried oysters weighed down in heavy breading. With none of the plump freshness of just-shucked oysters, they were as flat as chicken fingers.

Meat may be a better choice at Snyder's. A man seated opposite us leaned over to recommend the filet mignon special, a tall, tender filet wrapped in bacon. Cooked perfectly, ours had wonderful flavor and a crispy grilled crust.

Filet mignon is on the regular menu, either plain or stuffed with crab imperial, along with porterhouse and strip steaks, and the prime rib that could feed a family of four.

Garnished with a nostalgic spiced-apple slice, all dinners are served with two choices: a simple iceberg salad, potato or vegetable, like fresh broccoli with cheese sauce. Don't pay extra for sauteed button mushrooms swimming in oil. They're not worth it.

At the end of our meal, our waitress brought over a tray filled with desserts, none of which were made in-house. The creamy peanut-butter cheesecake and rich mousse-filled chocolate cake were satisfying, but lemon meringue pie had the kind of old-fashioned appeal that suited our night at Snyder's.

Snyder's Willow Grove

841 N. Hammonds Ferry Road, Linthicum


Hours: Open daily for lunch and dinner

Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa, American Express

Prices: Appetizers, $1.95-$11.95; entrees, $8.50-$26.95

Food: **1/2

Service: ***

Atmosphere: ***

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

Pub Date: 11/19/98

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