Baltimoreans overlook more than they should

March 27, 2004|By Jacques Kelly

I'm still waiting for my lunch to arrive from a meal I attempted to eat this past week at a smart-looking Fells Point establishment. It was a beautiful spring afternoon, the old neighborhood was bustling with activity, and many delightful-looking new rowhouses were rising along Caroline Street. A construction crew was setting down sod on a well-designed park at the old Jackson Pennsylvania Railroad Wharf.

I started out in a mellow mood, but then the plague of the new Baltimore settled in. For all the delicious food served these days in Baltimore restaurants, the waiting staff does not measure up. A friend of mine calls it a state of defiant disinterest. I often wonder whether restaurant owners hire enough help, including servers and bus people. I also doubt that the owners supervise the situation with what it takes.

I'm not saying that the waiters are surly, arrogant or discourteous. They are often pleasant, but their personalities have nothing to do with getting the food and drinks on the table in a timely manner.

I think some of this has to do with one of Baltimore's underlying qualities: It is a town that does not observe and enforce certain standards. We forgive a lot of shortcomings. We are not an uptight place.

We attach no criticism to a knot of waiters talking and joking among themselves for long intervals. We don't give out demerits for not knowing the difference between scotch and bourbon, much less what makes a highball glass different from a wine goblet.

Also, Baltimore has a reluctance to embrace aggressive economic activity. We don't dote on or brag about our fancy stores that may be here. And, as I've often said before, it is a hard city in which to make a buck. Maybe that is why we forgive the scatterbrained service.

This leads me into a reverie for some of my favorite food-delivery cast of characters of the past 40 years, from the great Cookie Hudson, the red-haired whiz at the old Guilford Pharmacy soda fountain, to the well-rigged-up Read's drugstore ladies at the Howard and Lexington counter, whose smiles were as big as their uniforms. Those grilled-cheese sandwiches did not grow cold waiting for arrival.

And what about the female crew at Haussner's, whose uniforms were as white as a new-fallen January snow? This was a spot where I think the service and the setting were more fun than the food, and when it came time for dessert, those grand ladies did not forget that you were now ready to indulge in the custard pie.

While visiting other cities, I often observe a level of service I wish I could import here.

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