Bar food bonanza in Canton

Coburn's Tavern & Grill does fine job with filling fare

Sunday Gourmet

October 05, 2003|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Sun Restaurant Critic

On the face of it, Coburn's Tavern & Grill is like a lot of other bars in Canton: stripped down to the basics and boisterously noisy, especially when the Ravens are playing. The basics in this case are two bars on two floors, plain wood furniture and bare wood flooring, exposed brick walls and about a zillion TVs. It's your typical bar, although the upstairs has been recently renovated.

But Coburn's takes the notion of bar food to a whole new level. In the breast of owner George Platis lurks the heart of a serious chef. He came to Baltimore from Brooklyn, N.Y., to run the kitchen of the Camden Club in the early '90s, then moved on to two restaurants that no longer exist: Foster's in Fells Point and Anastasia's in Canton.

Platis' specialty was regional American food, with signature dishes like crab pot pie and a veal and shrimp napoleon. When he opened Coburn's a couple of years ago, he had grand plans, including introducing tableside cooking eventually.

Reality has set in.

The large menu now focuses on bar food, soups, salads, wraps, pizzas and some entrees. Beef is a specialty. Although light fare is available, heavy food is what Coburn's does best, and what the regulars come back for. Portions are generous. So when you see the three stars for food, remember I'm talking about food like nachos weighted down with a creamy crab dip as well as cheese, sour cream, guacamole and salsa (a special the evening we were there). Sometimes it's heavy food with an upscale touch, like the satisfying quesadillas made with grilled chicken breast, wild mushrooms, sour cream, cilantro and homemade pico de gallo. Or a fajita wrap, with shrimp, corn and all the usual Southwestern goodies wrapped in a warm tortilla.

Those dishes suggest the menu has a definite Tex-Mex accent, which it does, but there's plenty else to choose from. A chicken Marsala rustico overflows with mushrooms, artichoke hearts, caramelized onions and a dark, winy sauce. A slab of prime rib is jazzed up with shrimp, then covered with a garlic-wine scampi sauce. (I'd prefer the shrimp alone in the garlic sauce and the prime rib plain, but the decadence quotient is impressive.) The kitchen pays attention to what else is on the plate. Excellent mashed potatoes, fluffy and buttery, and a fresh-tasting mix of squash and corn came with both these dishes.

You don't have to consume a thousand calories when you eat here, although that's what I recommend doing. The lighter dishes we tried had nothing wrong with them, but they aren't what I remember most about the meal. You can get their equal at other places. Coburn's Caesar salad is a chopped version that's garlicky but not too garlicky, and I like the fact it's not soaking in dressing. You can have it with chicken, shrimp or grilled strip steak. Seared tuna on skewers is jazzed up with sesame oil and comes with a tasty, but too thick, peanut sauce for dipping. Scallops, wrapped in bacon with a bit of spicy barbecue sauce, flourish on a bed of cucumbers sauteed with balsamic vinegar.

Even on a very busy night, owner George Platis will stop by the table to see that all goes well, to chat a little and recommend a favorite dish or two. At the end of our meal we were yearning for nothing heavier than a scoop of the tavern's orange sorbet, but how could we order it when he was suggesting the apple pie, the bread pudding or the brownie a la mode? All of them have their advantages, none of which is delicacy.

There is one dessert that typifies Coburn's: the creme brulee, a sort of upscale vanilla pudding with a caramelized sugar topping. It comes with a scoop of orange sorbet on top and whipped cream and raspberry sauce on the side.

Coburn's

Food: ***

Service: ***

Atmosphere: **

Where: 2921 O'Donnell St., Canton

Hours: Open for lunch and dinner daily, for breakfast Saturday and Sunday

Prices: Appetizers, $5-$11; main courses, $15-$21

Call: 410-342-0999

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

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