The quieter side of the bar scene

June 03, 1999|By KATHRYN HIGHAM | KATHRYN HIGHAM,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

If you're looking for a low-key place to dine outdoors this summer, check out the Pickled Parrot in Canton. Owner Peggie Oliver bought the bar last year, installed a green awning outside and painted the concrete block and brick walls with a tropical scene. With upscale plastic furniture, a big-screen TV and a Corona-clutching parrot perched overhead, this Baltimore beer garden is not fancy, but it's comfortable.

Oliver, who managed bars in Canton and Fells Point before going to work for herself, said she wanted to create an alternative to the bar scene in Canton, a quieter place where an older crowd would feel at home. Inside, she added tables to the bar area, a pool table in the back and hardwood floors throughout.

Ambience isn't the only thing that's laid-back at the Pickled Parrot. Service can be spotty and food sometimes takes longer than it should. But don't let that stop you from going for a meal here. The pub fare is above par and brunch on Sunday is a bargain.

Brunch includes a choice of either a tame Bloody Mary or oddly peachy mimosa and a complimentary basket of blueberry mini muffins, sweet and cakelike and warm.

We loved the blueberries in our pancakes, too. They added a tart and juicy edge to three large, golden pancakes, with crisp strips of bacon and a fresh fruit garnish on the side.

We liked the Parrot Benedict even better. This version of eggs Benedict had perfectly poached eggs covered in crab meat, melted Cheddar and fluffy, mousselike hollandaise. What really made the dish were the jumbo lumps of crab meat, so pure-white they mimicked the white of the egg.

For dinner, the Pickled Parrot runs an ambitious list of weekly specials. We'd like to go back to try dishes such as tomato-basil asparagus bruschetta, and angel-hair pasta with crab meat and cream sauce. I say "go back" because the specials are introduced each Friday and we went on a Thursday. There wasn't much left by then for us to try.

Still, there's enough on the regular menu to please, including terrific chicken wings that a Buffalo native deemed "smack on" and a juicy, hand-formed hamburger jazzed up with frizzled jalapenos and pepper cheese.

I'd go back for the Parrot salad alone. Served in a huge bowl, it mixed romaine and leaf lettuces with walnuts, chunks of blue cheese, tomatoes, button mushroom slices and other vegetables in just the right amount of balsamic vinaigrette.

An appetizer of blackened tuna bites was less successful. These nuggets of tuna steak were dusted with Cajun spices and fried crisp, but some of the smaller pieces were almost as dry as jerky. We liked dipping the larger, tender chunks in pink "bistro" sauce seasoned with horseradish.

The crab cakes were puzzling. Because there was so much crab and not much filler, we thought their flavor would be better. They looked good but tasted ordinary. Side dishes of homemade, unadulterated mashed potatoes and fat spears of fresh asparagus almost made up for them. Steamed crabs may be a better bet; they'll be on the menu again this summer.

Be sure to ask if there are any desserts made by the same employee who creates those tiny blueberry muffins. Not only was her coconut cake moist and light, but it also had a sloppy appeal that screamed homemade.

The Pickled Parrot

3020 Elliott St., Canton

410-342-1344

Hours: Open daily for lunch and dinner, with brunch on Sundays until 3 p.m.

Credit cards: All major cards

Prices: Appetizers, $3.95-$8.95; dinner entrees, $5.25-$23.95; Sunday brunch entrees, $4-$8.95

Food: ***

Service: **1/2

Atmosphere: **1/2

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

Pub Date: 06/03/99

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