Where taste trumps looks

Friends doesn't look like a brie kind of place


August 29, 2002|By Robin Tunnicliff Reid | Robin Tunnicliff Reid,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The manager of Friends in Fells Point claims the place has the best food that you've never heard of anywhere in town. He's right.

Although dinner specials were listed on the chalkboard propped up outside the entrance, Friends does not look like a place where you'd find much beyond pretzels or peanuts. It looks and sounds like a bar, in the dark-brown, scruffy vein of the better ones found in New York City's Greenwich Village or Washington's Adams-Morgan community.

From the speakers blares something for rockers of all ages, from the Stones to the Pixies to Radiohead. The server wears a threadbare Yoo-hoo logo T-shirt. Most of the clientele are tattooed. In the back room stands a pool table. And, no, the name has nothing to do with the TV show or Quakers.

Friends just doesn't appear to be the sort of place you'd find Boursin-stuffed filet mignon on the menu. Yet, there was the steak, thick and juicy, placed upon a bed of garlicky mashed potatoes, pungent wilted greens and sauteed onion slices. A generous slather of the garlic-and-herb cheese oozed from the center of the meat, giving it a pleasantly tangy aftertaste.

The vegetarian pasta special was extremely good. Linguine was topped with an array of sauteed zucchini, mushrooms and tomatoes and served in an attractive oval casserole dish.

Friends' take on a white pizza was a colorful spread of sliced tomatoes and green basil leaves artfully arranged over a blend of parmesan, mozzarella, provolone and feta cheeses. Paired with a salad or an appetizer, one pizza could feed two people well.

Both appetizers we tried were hits. The Louisiana barbecue shrimp owed its success to a mahogany-colored sauce that alternated between sweet and peppery, thanks to a shot of Worcestershire sauce.

A haystack of baked brie wrapped in flaky phyllo dough towered over sliced Granny Smith apples and thin, seed-encrusted crackers. It was all so beautiful that we hated to destroy it.

The sole disappointment in the food category came in the form of a slice of bland apple pie, served ice-cold. After a few bites, it was obvious that not even a few minutes in the oven could have improved this thing.

Service was lacking, though it was solicitous and friendly enough when we got it. The problem was that there was only one person providing it on a Friday night. A bottle of Blue Moon beer arrived without a glass, and a gin and tonic came in a short rocks glass instead of a proper tall one. The latter was strong enough, however, to make us forget about the oversight.


Where: 1634 Aliceanna St.

Open: For lunch Friday through Sunday and dinner nightly

Prices: Appetizers $4.95 to $7.95; entrees $7.25 to $17.95

Credit cards: Major credit cards

Call: 410-732-3885

Food: *** 1/2

Service: ** 1/2


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