Eastside bistro fare is just what the doctor ordered

December 03, 1998|By Kathryn Higham | Kathryn Higham,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Around the corner from the much-hyped renovated American Can Co. in Canton, there's a hideaway bistro called Doc's Eastside. The place belongs to Steve Cochran, for years the Rock and Roll Doctor on WQSR radio. Cochran started out in the food business, then did a 20-year stint in radio, and returned to food in the '90s as a partner in Bohager's. Now, he's back in the neighborhood he grew up in, spinning a mix of Cajun, Italian and American comfort fare.

There's nothing trendy about the decor at Doc's, and that feels just right. A few of Baltimore's famous painted screens are hung on the butter-cream walls, but the personality of the place is driven mainly by Cochran himself, who looks at ease making small talk in the dining room.

At first, Doc's seems like a friendly neighborhood pub that serves its share of casual food, from sandwiches and burgers to pizza and po-boys. Few bars, though, could turn out a Southern-fried pork chop this good.

All sizzled brown on the outside, the thick chop was tender inside, enhanced with a ladle of subtle sage pan gravy. Talk about your other white meat. To make it even better, the chop was paired with incredible garlic mashed potatoes that were infused with, but not overpowered by, the essence of rosemary. Wow.

Our other entrees were almost as good. Coated with a heavy pastry crust, the homey chicken pot pie was full of chunks of chicken and finely diced vegetables, in a sauce that tasted as if it had been flavored with thyme and citrus. I prefer a more butter-rich taste, but my friend said it outdid her grandmother's best effort.

The Eastside chicken, pan-fried cutlets topped with melted mozzarella, prosciutto, wild mushrooms and basil, is one of the most popular dishes on the menu, our waiter told us. When it didn't arrive with the rest of our dinners, he came over to say it was his error and not the kitchen's. His honesty, and his skilled, unobtrusive service throughout our meal, impressed us. The chicken wasn't bad, either.

It took us a while to figure out what added the bright tangy note to our shrimp fra diavolo. Coating a large bowl of al dente linguine and plump jumbo shrimp, the piquant tomato sauce was so balanced it was hard to tell. Our best guess: a dash of balsamic vinegar.

That sauce would have gone well with the fried mozzarella, greasy-but-good parcels of fresh cheese coated with bread crumbs, and with tender calamari, barely kissed with flour for the lightest of fried coatings. Both were served with a chunky marinara sauce that seemed more like stewed tomatoes.

We preferred those appetizers to the crawfish pie, Doc's signature appetizer. The puff pastry rings filled with spicy Creole sauce and crawfish left us cold, in part because the sauce was lukewarm and overwhelmingly tangy.

These are minor quibbles, though, for a moderately priced, white-tablecloth bistro that manages to do so much right. Doc's is the perfect antidote to the cookie-cutter food turned out by chain restaurants. From homemade garlic croutons on salads to house-blended herb butter tucked into breadbaskets, the food here starts from scratch and adds a sense of individuality to the restaurant.

Where else will you find a Canton fried banana, rolled in phyllo and oozing luscious chocolate?

Doc's Eastside

2522 Fait Ave.

410-563-3621

Hours: Open daily for dinner

Credit cards: All major cards accepted

Prices: Appetizers, $3.75-$8; entrees, $5.75-$16.50

Food: ***

Service: ***1/2

Atmosphere: ***

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

Pub Date: 12/03/98

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