New eating places that seem likely to make the cut

These eight serve up what it takes to survive

Eats

Dining reviews

Hot stuff

December 30, 2004|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

It takes a lot of guts to open a restaurant. Owners choose a location, fine-tune their recipes, hone their wine lists and tinker with their interiors. Then they hire staff, open their doors and hope for the best.

You've probably heard that 90 percent of restaurants go out of business before they are a year old. Several studies have found that the number is closer to 30 percent the first year, with 60 percent of restaurants closing before they reach their third anniversary.

Here are some of the new Baltimore-area restaurants reviewed this year that seem likely to beat the odds.

Sun, Moon & Stars (400 Red Brook Blvd., Owings Mills, 410-902-1910): Chef/owner Alan Dolid's menu includes such inventive appetizers as a delicious corn and crab beignet, as well as sandwiches and salads with more than a few stylish tweaks. Don't miss the crispy homemade potato chips or the luscious old-fashioned desserts, including banana pudding, lemon bars and whoopee pie.

Buddy's Elliott Street Bar and Grill (3123 Elliott St., Canton, 410-522-0222): Owner Buddy Shearer and chef David Gutman have turned a rehabbed Formstone-covered rowhouse into a dining destination, with beautifully plated, pleasantly complex dishes such as salmon topped with feta cheese and tapenade and pistachio-studded lamb stew. The crab cakes are fantastic; desserts are masterpieces.

Slainte (1700 Thames St., Fells Point, 410-563-6600): Patrick and Katie Russell, owners of the popular Kooper's Tavern, have opened a stylish Irish pub serving straightforward, comforting Irish food, including lamb stew, shepherd's pie and a hearty Irish breakfast that is available all day. The location can't be beat, right on quaintly cobblestoned Thames Street, with a picture-perfect view of the harbor and Locust Point on the other side.

Mari Luna (102 Reisterstown Road, 410-486-9910): Blame Jaime Luna for that bright yellow building on Reisterstown Road. After years of working for other restaurants, most recently as executive chef of Babalu Grill, he has finally opened a place of his own, with sprightly, addictive food that you can't stop nibbling, from delicious fajitas filled with freshly grilled meats to salmon veracruza, flavored with chili, lime and garlic.

Park Avenue Cafe (8 Park Ave., Baltimore, 410-637-3262): This Greek-inflected bistro on the west side of town is not expensive, but it treats customers as though they are spending a mint. The menu includes several Greek classics, including pastitsio, a Greek lasagna with ground beef, a terrific gyro, stuffed grape leaves and a lemon-chicken soup.

Chubby's (9113 1/2 Belair Road, Perry Hall, 410-256-6626): T.J. Topper and Kevin Mundy apparently never saw a calorie they didn't like. The signature dish at their restaurant is a 2-pound burger topped with ham, bacon, cheese, sauteed onions, mushrooms and green peppers, and, of course, lettuce, tomato and mayo. The signature dessert is a deep-fried Oreo.

Taco Fiesta (618 S. Exeter St., Inner Harbor, 410-2FIESTA (410-234-3782)): After 12 years in College Park, owner Jerry Gutierrez sold that location and opened one in Baltimore. Everything about this casual Mexican restaurant seems designed to put patrons in a good mood, from the classic Stones and Fleetwood Mac songs playing over the sound system to the citrusy yellow and orange walls, painted with large tomatoes, onions and jalapeno peppers.

Cafe 921 (921 Reisterstown Road, Pikesville, 410-580-1400): This cafeteria-style kosher restaurant in the cavernous former Pikes movie theater seems to have something for everyone, including a salad bar, brick-oven pizzas, calzones, soups and even a sushi bar. And Lonnie Borck and Menashe Shabtai make sure it's all kosher-certified. Of course, there is no meat, which by kosher law cannot be served with dairy products, and no shellfish, which is also forbidden. But Cafe 921 offers a wide variety of food at reasonable prices, and that should appeal to anyone, whether they adhere to a kosher diet or not.

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