Beer and crayons, pasta and ribs

May 27, 1999|By Kathryn Higham | Kathryn Higham,Special to the Sun

Rocky Run Tap & Grill is a study in contrasts. This kid-friendly bar-restaurant with crayons and kraft paper on the tables is a casual eatery that can pull off sophisticated pastas as well as down-home ribs and beans.

Slide into a booth, under blackboards with colorful chalk art, or next to a wall filled with neon beer lights and "Far Side" cartoons.

A row of unusual hot sauces lines the room, products with names like Jump Up and Kiss Me, and Belligerent Blaze. If you plan on using some of them, start with a beer to quell the fire. Just don't expect the same smooth lemon wheat or pale ale brewed at the Rocky Run in Columbia -- at least not yet. The owners are still waiting for state approval to serve their microbrews in Baltimore.

There's now a trio of Rocky Runs in the area; the Columbia establishment and a Glen Burnie location preceded this Charles Village spot, opened by Mike Donnelly and his father, Bert, on New Year's Eve. The staff here is young, well trained and quick. We sent our waitress away twice before we figured out what we wanted to eat.

The menus of all three restaurants are similar, although the Baltimore Rocky Run has more vegetarian selections. Mostly, it's casual fare, like burgers, sandwiches and salads.

Ribs and pastas are standouts. The smoky, succulent meat on the ribs pulled right off the bone. Brushed with a honey-garlic glaze, the meat was masterful.

Almost as good, the Old Bay pasta was full of shrimp and scallops that had been cooked separately in garlic butter till their edges turned crisp and golden. We were surprised by the subtlety of the tomato and cream sauce. It had rich flavor without being too thick, and the crab spice lent just a whisper of spiciness.

It's funny that the same kitchen that can whip up that Old Bay sauce turns out soups as thick and unappealing as paste. Potpie was the soup of the day and, yes, we should have known better. This was truth in advertising, because the soup actually was like salty, flour-thickened pie filling, with bits of vegetables and chicken.

The bruschetta, on the other hand, was something of a misnomer. They should call it "untoasted wheel of airy bread cut into wedges." We liked the fresh topping of tomatoes, basil, onions and green peppers, but we would have preferred the traditionally crisper bread underneath.

On the subject of names, we couldn't resist ordering the "Route 100 Roadkill Chicken," as awful as it sounds. Two grilled boneless chicken breast cutlets, moist but not particularly Cajun-spicy as promised, were topped with melted Jack, guacamole and pico de gallo, a fresh salsa. The scariest thing about this dish was the enormous size of the loaded baked potato on the plate.

You can get all the flavors of the Route 100 chicken with a starter of blackened chicken nachos. Served on a large platter, thin, warm tortilla chips were covered in melted Cheddar, accompanied by nuggets of seared chicken, a dollop of guacamole and pico de gallo. The dish was large enough for four to share.

So was the baked potato, topped with sour cream and bacon bits. Along with the jumbo spud, our chicken dish was served with homemade baked beans that had sweet tomato tang.

We tried fresh, unadorned vegetables and a salad of crisp romaine as sides with the rib platter mentioned above. Pasta dishes come with just a thick slice of garlic toast, but you can add a salad for $1.33 more.

If that price seems odd, consider the tall, dry carrot cake at $4.23, the ordinary Key lime pie at $2.94 and the petit chocolate mousse, a steal at 93 cents.

Rocky Run Tap & Grill

3105 St. Paul St.


Hours: Open daily for lunch and dinner

Credit cards: All major cards

Prices: Appetizers, $1.98-$8.93; entrees, $5.49-$16.96

Food: **1/2

Service: ***

Atmosphere: **1/2

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

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.