Great food at reasonable prices

June 22, 2000|By David Richardson and Cameron Barry | David Richardson and Cameron Barry,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

We have news for the uninitiated (like us): Burtonsville is a trek, and not a very scenic one. The other news is that Old Hickory Grille is worth the trip.

The restaurant is in a strip shopping center that makes most of Baltimore's look glamorous by comparison. Inside, Old Hickory Grille is very, very plain, but clean. The serving staff doesn't look old enough to serve beer, let alone to keep a restaurant running smoothly, but this group is pleasant, professional and efficient.

The real reasons this place turns up year after year on Washingtonian magazine's Best 100 and Cheap Eats lists are that the food is terrific and reasonably priced, and the servings are so generous that you could eat for a week on leftovers. We did, anyway.

Old Hickory Grille has grown up from a bar with takeout to a full-service restaurant, mostly on the reputation of its ribs and rotisserie chicken. It has gradually expanded its menu to a lengthy tome, which includes some Cajun favorites, Tex-Mex and a little pasta. Everything we tasted had some spicy zip to it.

This includes the bread that starts every meal. Cilantro cornbread was sweet and aromatic, drop biscuits were crunchy outside, fluffy inside and slightly sour from the buttermilk. We quickly cleared the basket.

For appetizers, we split an order of Cajun egg rolls and another of crawfish tails. Three egg rolls, sliced on a diagonal, could have fed us all by themselves. They're filled with chicken, tasso ham and spinach, then deep-fried in a thick won-ton wrapper and served with a sweet and vinegary dipping sauce. The crawfish tails, breaded and deep-fried, were light, very tender and a little peppery by themselves. With the accompanying chipotle mayonnaise and horseradish sauce, they were superb.

For dinner, we had a huge half-rack of ribs, a combination platter and a salmon fillet. The ribs, grilled in the open kitchen, were meaty, tender, a little smoky and very good. They were served with dishes of small white beans baked in barbecue sauce, crisp-not-creamy coleslaw and a respectable heap of red-skin mashed potatoes, all of which were way above average, especially the potatoes.

The platter featured andouille sausage, lime-marinated shrimp and jerk chicken. The sausage was pleasantly smoky and garlicky, and the shrimp was delicious, but the chicken didn't have enough jerk flavoring to satisfy us.

A light note for our meal was the generous portion of salmon fillet, simply grilled and served with perfect shoestring french fries.

Our neighboring diners happily munched big, juicy cheeseburgers, fried chicken and some very, very large steaks. We look forward to trying some of what they were eating, as well as Old Hickory Grille's good-looking meatloaf and catfish.

Desserts are all made on the premises, and they sound wonderful: chocolate and banana bread pudding, Key lime pie, brownie a la Mudd (with chocolate espresso mousse) and strawberry shortcake.

Sadly, we could only handle the latter, having filled up early on bread. We had just enough room to savor the fresh strawberries and whipped cream that came with the good shortbread and vanilla ice cream.

The best news of all from Burtonsville is that, in addition to its original location and a second in Falls Church, Va., Old Hickory Grille has a new outpost in Columbia. We're going back, but the new place will save us a bit of a trip.

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