Steamers tempts a vegetarian

April 26, 2001|By Robin Tunnicliff Reid | Robin Tunnicliff Reid,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

CATHY, ONE OF my more intrepid dining companions, swore off meat, fish and fowl years ago as a matter of principle. Although finding restaurants that offer her more than the ubiquitous "steamed vegetables over rice" is much easier now than it used to be, there are some places where she just runs into a dead end.

Such was the case at L. P. (as in Locust Point) Steamers, a small seafood place on Fort Avenue.

Whether it was because of the lack of vegetarian dishes, the smell of crab spices, the 30 kinds of beer displayed at the bar, the plastic lobster on the counter that sang "Rock the Boat," or a combination of all, Cathy ordered the first crab cakes she'd had in more than a decade.

Normally, I would not put Cathy in a situation where she'd have to break her dietary vow. But this was a case of pure journalistic competition: I'd heard that the New York Times would be recommending L. P. Steamers in a Sunday travel section very soon, and I didn't want to be scooped.

Whatever guilt I felt for forcing Cathy to sacrifice principle for my feeble dreams of being some sort of culinary Bob Woodward vanished as I watched her polish off those crab cakes. And truly it was worth any remorse she may have in the days, months, maybe years to come.

Broiled to a perfect shade of golden, the crab cakes had the right mix of meat (from Louisiana this time of year) and filler - a blend of Saltine cracker crumbs and bread. There were some spices tossed in as well, but Steamers' owner, William "Bud" Gardner, said he'd have to kill us if he divulged what they were.

Gardner's humor permeates this immaculate little slice of Baltimore. The slightly curved walls and wooden timbers overhead evoke shipboard dining. No napkins here; just peel off a paper towel from the roll anchored to the shelf alongside your table. Salt and pepper shakers are stowed up here, too, made out of Corona beer bottles.

In the wall above our table was a shadow-box scene of some seafood shacks (eateries) along the Chesapeake Bay. A few feet away, over another table, was a huge map of the world, poked with pins to show where customers have come from since the restaurant opened five years ago.

From our benches, we could look across the narrow room and check out the fresh seafood arrayed on ice near the cooking area.

The steamed seafood appetizer was more than adequate for dinner - a long, foam tray of Prince Edward Island mussels, gulf shrimp, tiny South American lobsters, and local oysters and clams. I ate it and still managed to finish an order of crab fluff, that local specialty of crab cake dipped in a pancake-like batter and deep-fried.

The fluff recipe belongs to Gardner's fiancee, Beverly De Bold. She makes most of the sides, as well, such as the nicely textured cole slaw that came with Cathy's crab cake.

Desserts are limited to three choices: Cheesecake Factory cheesecake, ice cream sundaes from Good Humor and delightful little cream puffs filled with slightly chilled, thick yellow custard.

Currently, Steamers can seat 40 people. Gardner says he hopes to get permission to expand into the building's second floor and add a deck. Until then, either get there early to get a seat or be willing to wait for an excellent meal. Steamers didn't make the New York Times - or prompt a vegetarian to suspend her principles -- without good reason.

L. P. Steamers

1100 E. Fort Ave.

410-576-9294

Open: For lunch and dinner seven days a week

Prices: Appetizers $1.50 to $3.50; entrees $2.50 to $16.95

Credit cards: All major cards

Food: *** 1/2

Service: ***

Atmosphere: ***

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