No woodpile in the back, but the ribs are good

Restaurant: Razorback's is no typical rib joint, but that's no problem

the menu's varied, the prices are good and you can get an excellent meal.

Sunday Gourmet

February 17, 2002|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,SUN RESTAURANT CRITIC

Razorback's

Food: ** 1/2 stars

Service: *** stars

Atmosphere: ** stars

Where: Dulaney Valley Shopping Center, Towson

Hours: Open every day for lunch and dinner

Prices: Appetizers, $5.95-$9.95; main courses, $9.95-$24.95

Call: 410-821-9550

The new Razorback's Raw Bar & Grill in Towson fills a particular niche: It offers ribs for yuppies. This is not a bad thing unless you're a purist about your barbecue - that is, if you believe that real barbecue can only come from a shack with a woodpile out back.

If the name of the restaurant sounds familiar, that's because Razorback's used to be in Canton. It recently moved to larger quarters where Fisherman's Wharf used to be. The dining room still has the seafood restaurant's pleasant middle-class suburbia feel to it, in spite of the lively bar in front.

How does Razorback's differ from your typical ribs place? Let me count the ways. At Razorback's you can order three different kinds of baby back ribs (traditional, with a Caribbean sauce, or with a Kentucky bourbon sauce). You can get pulled pork barbecue, which comes in a tomato tortilla. This works very well, but is nothing if not trendy. Razorback's shrimp are wrapped in pancetta, not bacon. The waitress describes the finish of the Shiraz at length when you ask about the wine list, not something you expect in a ribs place.

From the name, Razorback's Raw Bar & Grill, you might expect a bit more in the way of a raw bar. When we asked our waitress about "today's varieties" of oysters, it turned out we could have any kind we wanted as long as they were bluepoints. That was fine; they were big, tasting sweetly of the sea, and slipped down easily. I'd stick to the raw shellfish over the clams casino, which seemed a little lost in their thick blanket of cheese.

First courses had their ups and downs.

Crab soup was short on crab, a simple fix. A couple of more complicated starters worked very well. The plump shrimp with pancetta, grilled to a smoky tenderness, was an inspired marriage. Their slightly sweet mango barbecue sauce balanced the saltiness of the Italian bacon. (The shrimp can also be had as a main course.) Chicken with Monterey Jack and Cheddar cheeses folded in a spinach tortilla had lots of spunk, and was prettily decorated with crisp curls made from fried strips of tomato and spinach tortillas.

Razorback's baby back ribs, lean, tender and delicate, had a slight char and a bourbon sauce that juggled sweetness, fire and flavor.

French fries were crisp shards of potato, and the coleslaw was better than adequate. A sandwich of fried oysters, bacon, lettuce and tomato turned out to be a decadently good take on a classic BLT.

On the other hand, the cedar-planked salmon was a bit dry, and its lemon-chive mojo sauce was almost nonexistent. Worse, the rice (topped with black beans) had the consistency of rice pudding. The same mushy rice was the bed for a boneless Mediterranean chicken breast, a dish that had a lot going for it otherwise - notably its sauce of artichoke hearts, tomato and leeks.

Razorback's desserts mostly revolve around ice cream and whipped cream: on a nondescript but freshly made apple tart, between chocolate chip cookies and, best of all, on a large, warm brownie. If one of those isn't rich enough for you, try a slice of Berger cookie cheesecake, made with a base of cookie and a layer of chocolate frosting covered with cheesecake filling.

The night we were there, Razorback's was doing a great bar business but not selling much food. That surprised me, given the prices (good), the menu's variety (surprising) and the quality of the food (a bit uneven, but order the right thing and you could have an excellent meal). Maybe the problem is that the bar in front hides the fact that a relatively sedate dining room waits for families in back.

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