Lucille's serves Louisiana sampler, alligator included

The Po'boys and gumbo mix with the standards

Eats: Dining Reviews, Hot Stuff

September 09, 2004|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Like other restaurants at Power Plant Live, Lucille's has a theme. While Babalu serves Cuban food and Ruth's Chris is all about red meat, Lucille's is about Louisiana. Jambalaya, fried oyster po'boys and fried catfish strips are on the menu, and the spacious, wood-floored interior is given a few touches of the Deep South, like large shuttered windows.

Yet Lucille's is still a very American bar and restaurant, serving very American food. It's rock 'n' roll with a few licks of zydeco thrown in.

Lucille's is meant to be fun. The spacious restaurant, which opened about a year and a half ago where Bill Bateman's Bistro used to be, has a large bar in one room and pool tables and video games in another room.

But I went on a night that wasn't particularly fun - a rainy Wednesday. The dining area was nearly empty, and only a few people sat at the bar. To make matters worse, the stormy weather was wreaking havoc on the satellite system, so the music faded in and out as we ate. Televisions were turned to news and sports but had no closed captioning.

Our server seemed bored, and even though the food arrived quickly, she was inattentive. Empty appetizer dishes stayed on our table too long, and she brought a single glass of water to the table, instead of serving everyone. When she delivered a wrong entree, she simply shrugged and took it away without apology, returning 15 minutes later with the replacement.

All this is no big deal if the place is buzzing. Manager Dan Garraffa told me the daily happy hours, with their two-for-one drink prices, are very popular, and on Fridays, free noshes bring in the crowds, and live acoustic music keeps them entertained. After dinner, the tables are pulled back to make way for dancing.

Standards such as grilled chicken sandwiches, burgers and crab cakes provide unimaginative fuel for those late nights on the town, but the menu also had a few dishes that were more interesting.

Probably the most unusual offering is the alligator appetizer - thin cutlets of alligator meat, flavored with a citrusy marinade and grilled on metal skewers. Alligator is a mild meat, chewier than chicken, and the marinade gave it both tenderness and flavor. The skewers arrived on a bed of creamy cole slaw livened with strips of red pepper.

I also liked the gumbo, which had such large chunks of sausage and chicken that there was barely any room in the cup for the rice and the spicy clear broth.

A vegetarian version of a muffaletta, a New Orleans sandwich usually made with sliced pork and a salty olive spread, featured grilled eggplant, marinated mushrooms, roasted red peppers and melted provolone cheese on firm wedges of ciabatta bread. A thick layer of the delicious olive spread elevated this sandwich beyond the boring norm. That, and the fact that all sandwiches arrive with house-made waffle-shaped chips that are grease-free, crispy and generally delightful.

Another Louisiana dish, the shrimp etouffee, was an extremely rich combination of rice, shrimp and vegetables in a creamy and only slightly spicy sauce. The shrimp, served with their tails still on, were medium-sized and tender, but to my mind, this dish did not deliver enough flavor for the calories.

Non-Louisiana items could not have been more straightforward. The crab dip was gooey and creamy, with crab flavor but not much actual meat. The filet mignon, so thick it was almost round, was a lovely piece of tender and nicely flavored meat, cooked medium rare, as requested. Its only flaw was that the exterior was excessively charred, creating a salty, burnt flavor.

Desserts were standard. A carrot cake with sweet cream-cheese icing was a little unusual because it was loaded with raisins, and a chocolate mousse cake was about as dense and rich as any I've tasted. However, we could detect the refrigerator taste that occurs when desserts are sliced and then stored.

Lucille's could be a fun place to go for a night out, but it's not destination dining.

Lucille's

Where: 26 Market Place, Power Plant Live, Baltimore

Call: 410-539-5353

Open: Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., Sunday 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Credit cards: All major

Prices: Appetizers $5.50 -$12, entrees $7-$19

Food: * * *

Service: * * 1/2

Atmosphere: * * 1/2

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