It's still the funky Golden West, it's just much bigger

The unlikely combinations are still on the menu

Eats

December 04, 2003|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

At the ripe old age of 6, and with a new, more spacious home, Golden West is the same nonconformist teen-ager it always was.

Like other restaurants on The Avenue, Golden West caters to a mostly young, mostly local crowd. And like other Hampden restaurants, including Holy Frijoles and Cafe Hon, to name a couple, it has elevated its brand of Baltimore quirkiness to an art form.

At Golden West, that means an eclectic, inexpensive menu, mismatched linoleum-topped tables, a seating area in the front with overstuffed couches, a colorful mix of artwork on the walls and servers in oddball attire. We're talking men in capris here, all the better to show off that ankle tattoo, my dear.

A one-page note in the front of the menu makes clear that all this slouchy charm is no accident. The note starts by asking patrons to turn off their cell phones and goes on to note that "we may, and invariably do, run out of certain things," and that "most of the time ... your food will come to the table in a timely manner," although "there are those times when it doesn't."

Owner Thomas Rudis said his new 3,600-square-foot space, a few doors down from the old, is more than four times as large and is, if anything, less funky than before. The larger Golden West, which opened in September, has a liquor license, and he plans to establish a formal bar area in the spring. Meanwhile, he's serving beer and wine.

He added a few items, but the menu is basically the same, an enthusiastic interpretation of dishes from the Southwestern United States, Asia and the Mid-Atlantic, with a generous smattering of vegetarian and vegan items.

Breakfast, served all day, includes pancakes, French toast and omelettes, as well as an extremely hearty chorizo burrito bursting with spicy sausage, potatoes, cheeses and egg. I suspect most dishes at Golden West are a little different each time they are served, depending on the mood of the chef. My version arrived with so much green chile sauce it was practically slopping over the sides of the plate.

Another favorite is Frito pie. In parts of New Mexico and Arizona, this regional treat is served right in the corn chip bag. A ladle of chili is added, a plastic fork is provided and voila - lunch.

At Golden West, the chips are covered with a spicy mix of beans, tomatoes and onions, and the whole crunchy, salty, delicious mess is served on a plate, Frito bag and all.

It's a great alternative to nachos, and it comes with real forks.

Yet for such a jubilant place, many of the dishes are restrained, even dull. The scallops served with bok choy in a special one night were perfectly prepared, but the Asian-tinged sauce lacked zing.

You'd think a place with great Frito pie might serve fantastic hash browns, but no such luck, at least the night we were there. The hash browns that came with the chicken fajitas (yes, hash browns are served with chicken fajitas here) were bland and soggy. The fajita itself was also lackluster.

Odd combinations of ingredients are part of the Golden West charm, but they don't always work. A Pittsburgh steak salad was a perfectly lovely combination of greens, tomatoes and tender meat, served with an excellent slightly tart homemade ranch dressing, but the big glop of cheese-covered french fries in the salad bowl was too much for me.

Our capri-clad server told us the desserts arrive once a week, on Wednesdays, and by Saturday, our red velvet and chocolate cakes certainly tasted several days old, though I have to admit I really grooved on the red velvet cake's marshmallow icing.

Golden West Cafe

Where: 1105 W. 36th St., Hampden

Call: 410-889-8891

Open: Breakfast, lunch and dinner Wednesday through Monday (closed Tuesdays)

Credit cards: All major cards

Prices: Appetizers $3.50-$8.95; entrees $6.75-$9.95

Food: * * 1/2

Service: * *

Atmosphere: * * *

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