Captain Larry's is the real thing


June 01, 2000|By David Richardson and Cameron Barry | David Richardson and Cameron Barry,Special to the Sun

First, you should know that there is an actual Captain Larry, who presides over his bar with grace. This means minding his own business most of the time and minding other people's when he needs to. It keeps the place spirited but orderly.

Second, Captain Larry's is an actual neighborhood bar, in an actual neighborhood. Who knows what will happen to this tidy block in Locust Point as the South Baltimore "renaissance" continues its progress? But for now, Formstone is the preferred house front, marble steps gleam, and neighbors talk to each other through their screen doors. That way, they can watch TV and still keep up with the local goings-on.

Inside Captain Larry's, we are handed the perfect bar-food menu. We have a hard time deciding what to order, but we finally start with steamed shrimp, Bermuda chips, fried clam strips and cream of crab soup. The soup was thick, sweet and chunky with crab. We got so many clam strips that we wound up eating them throughout the meal, but they would be great on their own.

Bermuda chips are freshly made potato chips, and these were delicious. But it was the shrimp that won our hearts: steamed in onion, tomato and celery seed, they were sweet and rich and slightly hot.

We really went to Captain Larry's to try its famous crab cake. How many famous crab cakes can one town have? We think that this one's fame is justifiable. It's generously sized, loaded with lump crab meat and contains very little filler. It's pan-fried and therefore flat and a little dense, but it's a very tasty cake nonetheless. On a platter, it's served with your choice of two sides; in our case, this meant excellent skin-on french fries and refreshingly piquant coleslaw.

The cheeseburger is on a par with the crab cake; it might even be better. It's amazing how good something as simple as a cheeseburger can be when it's served hot and fresh and made with high-quality ingredients. The cheese hugged the burger and the bun hugged the whole thing. Yum.

A special the evening we visited, a soft-crab sandwich, was also terrific. It came deep-fried with a light coating of batter and was properly served with fresh lettuce and tomato on ultra-white bread.

The New York strip steak was slightly disappointing; it was cooked too far from rare and, probably, in a frying pan. We probably should have stuck to classic bar food.

Captain Larry served in the U.S. Navy in Laos and Cambodia. There's some interesting related memorabilia around the bar, but it has the look of being there because Captain Larry wants to remember the people and events pictured and not to create a nautical theme.

There are also a few beautiful ship models and lots of neon beer signs, including a beauty from Double Diamond.

It's an atmosphere friendly to sailors on shore leave and landlubbers as well.

The night we were there, a DJ played music from our formative years (the Doors, the Smashing Pumpkins and Frank Sinatra) in a remarkably unobtrusive way. The bar also has occasional karaoke nights, and there are some computerized bar games.

There aren't many seats at Captain Larry's, and most of them are taken by the neighborhood regulars. If you manage to get one, leave your health-food diet, your tech-stock worries and your cell phone at home.

Captain Larry's

601 Fort Ave. 410-727-4799

Hours: Open daily for lunch and dinner

Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa

Prices: Appetizers $1.95 to $7.95; entrees $5.95 to $16.95

Food: * * *

Service: * * 1/2

Atmosphere: * * *

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

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