At least the view is delicious

July 22, 1999|By Kathryn Higham | Kathryn Higham,Special to the Sun

It's hard to say what we liked more about the location of Brown's Wharf -- the long expanse of windows letting in the view of the harbor or the slow honk of tugboats pulling away from the Broadway Pier. It makes sense that tourists would be drawn to this Fells Point restaurant, especially with the water taxi stopping nearby.

Tourists may not notice, however, what was apparent to us as soon as we opened our menus. They'll pay more for their meal on the water at Brown's Wharf than they would at similar but land-locked restaurants in the city. Consider the crab dip at $12.95, the crab cake platter at $28.95 and the surf and turf at $49.95.

It would be one thing if this were one of Baltimore's finer restaurants. With its bright-blue chairs, shiny-green tabletops and oversized tin sconces on the walls, Brown's Wharf, which opened last December, is attractive enough. But the owners have turned what was once the white-tablecloth Piccolo's into a more casual restaurant, one that has some problems to work out in its kitchen.

We didn't mind paying a little extra for the crab dip, however, once we saw that the portion was so large. Served in an oval casserole dish topped with Parmesan cheese, the dip was different and appealing -- a thin, creamy blend with lumps of crab, fresh spinach leaves and bits of artichokes and red bell pepper. A warm loaf of bread that we sliced at the table was a big improvement over the basket of oil-soaked pita-like chips that came with the dip.

We overheard a waiter describing the garlic shrimp as one of the restaurant's signature dishes. I'd sum it up in a few words: no garlic, four shrimp. The sweet sherry cream sauce wasn't bad, but it's not what we'd call garlic sauce. And, even though the shrimp were jumbo, charging $12.95 for four of them seemed unreasonable.

The list of complaints grew longer as the evening proceeded. The Maryland crab soup tasted like canned vegetable soup dressed with lumps of crab. The salad Nicoise was missing a key ingredient, string beans, and the tuna steak on top of baby greens was dry. Worst of all, the bland vegetarian lasagna reminded us of something from a school cafeteria.

Chicken Chesapeake, a recommended dish, was better. Two tender chicken breasts were submerged in creamy crab sauce, next to a portion of instant mashed potatoes and steamed squash. The chicken was juicy; the flavor of the crab sauce was fine. But there was so much white sauce and such a lack of presentation that the chicken was less appealing than it should have been.

Despite hyperbolic claims on the menu, the crabcake was not the best we've ever had. It wasn't the worst, either. There was some filler in the mix for a slightly firmer texture, but it was made with a decent amount of lump crab. We tried it as a sandwich on a kaiser roll with limp, pale fries and a pickle for $14.95.

Our apathetic waiter brought us the check before asking if we wanted coffee or dessert. We sent him back for decaf and the two dessert choices that were available. The java was weak, but the desserts didn't disappoint: an artfully layered chocolate pyramid cake with a moist texture and deep chocolate flavor; and a classically rich New York-style cheesecake.

Want to suggest a restaurant for reviewing? We welcome your input. Send e-mail to kathhigham@aol.com or write to Kathryn Higham, Newsroom-Fifth Floor, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278.

Brown's Wharf

1629 Thames St.

410-522-6600

Hours: Open daily for lunch and dinner

Credit cards: All major cards

Prices: Appetizers, $3.50-$12.95; entrees, $9.95-$49.95

Food: **

Service: **

Atmosphere: ** 1/2

Rating system: Outstanding: ****; good ***; fair or uneven **; poor *

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