Casual But Not Careless

Restaurant: Reisters Country Inn has gone from dress-up dishes to simpler fare, and has lowered its prices. But quality has not been sacrificed. SUNDAY GOURMET

July 11, 1999|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Sun Restaurant Critic

It didn't take long for Steve Kurzweil and his chef, Bruce Studler, to realize that dishes like duck with glazed cherries and spiced pecans weren't going to fly at their new restaurant in Reisterstown.

Last November, a year and a half after they bought the Forest Inn at auction and opened it as Reisters Desire, they changed the name to Reisters Country Inn and changed the menu from New American to casual American. In the process they lowered prices. All of this worked very well with the restaurant's knotty pine and Tiffany lamp interior. Recently, they added a handsome deck to the back of the restaurant.

Reisters Country Inn is on a busy highway; but if you're seated on the deck, surrounded by woods, you hardly hear the traffic. When darkness falls, torches and strings of miniature lights give soft illumination. All in all, it's a pleasant place to be on a warm summer evening -- except for the graffiti. Customers are encouraged to write or draw on the exterior wall, which is fun for the kids but doesn't add to the romance of the setting.

I liked the food when the restaurant was Reisters Desire, so it's not surprising that I liked the new, simplified version on my most recent visit. Dinner began with hot, soft biscuits served with honey butter. It was hard to get interested in appetizers once we got started on those biscuits.

As for the appetizers, the ones we tried were of the meal-in-itself variety, except for some crisply fried zucchini sticks with a zingy horseradish sauce. The others I'd recommend sharing. "Texas crabgrass" turned out to be the classic hot crab and cream cheese dip with the addition of spinach. A large shrimp and cheese quesadilla, very prettily decorated, had lots of pizazz. And a country inn's version of beef satay, we discovered, is much like the Thai version with cold Asian noodles on the side.

Reisters' prices now really are lower, with specials every night, like the Wednesday and Thursday all-you-can-eat buffet for $9.95. The night we were there it featured fried chicken and pork loin in Madeira gravy with fresh-looking vegetables, mushroom and other salads and some appealing desserts.

We, though, ordered straight from the menu. A crab cake, fat with lump crab and perfectly seasoned, was the star of the evening; it cost a modest $10.95.

If even that's more than you want to pay, you can get hamburgers, sandwiches and salads any time of day.

The most expensive item on the menu is a "cowboy steak," a New York strip cooked pink and juicy and topped with a spicy bit of chili butter. With fabulous golden-crisp onion rings and a baked potato, it's a bargain at $16.95.

Our other two entrees didn't quite reach those heights. The fish of the day was beautifully fresh tuna with a fine tomato-caper sauce, but it was cooked longer than I like.

An "Italian chicken bake" with strips of chicken, prosciutto, spinach, penne and a marinara sauce was OK, but if I had been ordering chicken I would have gone for the great-looking fried chicken on the buffet.

As for dessert, you could have a fresh-fruit deep dish pie served a la mode -- this night it was peach and apple; a Kahlua bundt cake; or a sundae, all of which were fine. But they paled in comparison to the warm, soft bread pudding made with croissants, raisins and spices and served with a rum sauce. Now there's a dessert worth its calories.

REISTERS COUNTRY INN

Food: ***

Service: ** 1/2

Atmosphere: ***

Where: 1100 Westminster Pike, Reisterstown

Hours: Lunch Friday and Saturday, brunch Sunday and dinner nightly

Prices: Appetizers, $3.50-$5.95; main courses, $7.50-$16.95

Call: 410-517-1100

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

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