Tradition with a pleasant twist Restaurant: The Turf Inn in Timonium offers Italian and American dishes, with everything fresh and prepared on-site.

November 22, 1998|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Sun Restaurant Critic

We're going where? said my daughter when I told her the restaurant of the week would be the Turf Inn. She has no appreciation of nice, old-fashioned eateries. She prefers places like the Fusion Cappuccino Cafe, where you can get sweetbreads and tofu in a sun-dried cranberry sauce, and the background music of choice is Eagle Eye Cherry.

The dining room will be brown, she said. The whole boring history of the restaurant will be printed on the back of the menu, she said. Everything will have thick gravy, the salad dressings will come out of a bottle, and there won't be any fresh vegetables, she said.

Well, she was wrong about the decor. The predominant color in our comfortable dining room was pink, unlikely as that seems. And she was wrong about the menu being a history lesson. I had to call the restaurant to find out that the DiPaola family - the mother, two brothers and a cousin - owns and runs the Turf Inn, which they opened in 1968.

And she was wrong about the food. According to Tony DiPaola, they butcher their own meats, bone their own fish and make everything - from the pepper Parmesan salad dressing to the chocolate eclair for dessert.

The menu has a lot of Italian dishes, although you wouldn't call this an Italian restaurant, because you can also get steaks, prime rib, chops and a long list of seafood specialties. I noticed my daughter didn't have any complaints about her two fat back-fin crab cakes, golden crusted and gently seasoned, or the fresh broccoli sauced with a little melted butter that came with them. She also ate every scrap of her salad with its house Italian dressing.

That evening the special was a large chunk of prime rib (10 ounces) and a salad or vegetable for $8.95. What a bargain - or it would have been if it hadn't come to the table stone cold. Not room temperature. Cold.

Start your meal with the Turf Inn's version of oysters Rockefeller. It's a down-home version, but I liked it a lot. Three plump oysters on the half shell were piled high with well-seasoned, fresh spinach; a bit of rich, cheesy mornay sauce finished them off. Or have the scampi, with fat shrimp swimming in a hot, buttery garlic sauce. Soup is another possibility. The crab soup tasted like other crab soups; what made it stand out was that it was served nice and hot.

A specialty of the restaurant is "Manuel's Franchaise Creations." You can have chicken, orange roughy, flounder or veal gilded with a bit of light batter and served with a lemony butter sauce. Orange roughy isn't my favorite fish, but it was beautifully fresh and nicely cooked.

Veal Marsala worked well, too. The medallions were tender in their dark, flavorful sauce studded with fresh mushrooms. The pasta alongside had a chunky, fresh-tasting marinara sauce. The Italian dishes reminded me of what you might get in a family-run restaurant in Little Italy - although it seemed a bit more reasonably priced.

The desserts aren't from Vaccaro's, though, as they usually would be in Little Italy. The rum cake is made on the premises; so is the warm, spicy apple pie and the double chocolate cake. But my favorite was an eclair. It didn't look pretty, but it had fresh-tasting custard in a tender pastry shell with a bit of chocolate glaze on top.

Turf Inn

Food: ***

Service: ***

Atmosphere: **1/2

Where: 2306 York Road, Timonium

Hours: Open every day for lunch and dinner

Prices: Appetizers, $4.95-$6.95; main courses, $8.95-$21.95 (market-priced seafood higher); major credit cards

Call: 410-252-2911

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

Pub Date: 11/22/98

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