What's so bad about a striped shirt?
Tristan Brown, our adorable waitress at House of Welsh and the granddaughter of owner Janet Jenkins, was forced midway through our meal to change from a purple-striped shirt to a white one to match the rest of the staff.
Fortunately, the sartorial switch didn't dim her high-watt smile and friendly personality. And the little shirt-swap incident was actually a neat parable for House of Welsh itself.
The restaurant, a throwback to an earlier era, is all about beautifully prepared steaks and seafood - food that's as classic as a crisp white shirt. But it gets timid when it tries the culinary equivalent of stripes and adds a little creativity to the mix.
This is not a bad thing. House of Welsh has stayed in business for more than 100 years by sticking to white-shirt food and doing it well. The restaurant opened on Guilford Avenue in Baltimore in 1900, serving seafood and steaks, much as it does today.
About 10 years ago, the Baltimore location shut its doors, and the restaurant moved to Fenwick Island, Del., said manager Ron Allender. Last year, House of Welsh returned to Maryland when it opened a second location at the site of Joe Theisman's former restaurant in Elkridge, off U.S. 1 and next to a Best Western.
House of Welsh's old-Baltimore feeling has somehow managed to survive all the moves and transitions.
Jenkins and co-owner Marty Welsh (of the original Welshes) didn't do much to the interior of the sprawling restaurant, just added white tablecloths, eliminated the sports theme and added comedy and karaoke nights. (Comedy, with a $10 cover, is the third Saturday of the month, karaoke is every Friday night.) The televisions are still there, but they're often muted or turned off.
The menu looks as if it has barely changed since the restaurant first opened, with its focus on steaks, pork chops, crab cakes and fettuccini Alfredo. Appetizers include crab dip, crab balls, mozzarella sticks and shrimp cocktail. Even the nightly specials are classics such as roast chicken and ribeye steak.
After all this time, House of Welsh has perfected these offerings. A heaping plate of calamari rings, dusted with a peppery breading, were meltingly tender, served with a robust marinara sauce. And barbecued shrimp were fat and sweet, with a restrained coating of flavorful sauce. Even the sweet rolls, made in house and served warm, were just right.
Filet mignon was a flavorful, tender cut. Like other entrees, it was served with a salad and a choice of two sides from a list of classics: corn kernels, pickled beets, coleslaw, stewed tomatoes, baked potatoes, apple sauce and others. All were as simply and impeccably prepared as could be.
Then there were the occasional striped shirts - newer, more unusual items that didn't work as well as the classics. The thick sesame-crusted tuna steak was cooked to order and impressively moist, but the promised soy sauce and ginger flavorings were so mild they were barely discernible. The sesame seeds added crunch but nothing else.
House of Welsh devotes a section of its menu to pasta dishes, including a bowl of linguini with lump crab meat in a vodka tomato sauce. Though the lumps of crab were large and sweet, the dish as a whole was bland.
Desserts are as old-Baltimore as the rest of the menu and include cheesecake, chocolate cake, carrot cake and rice pudding. We sampled the chocolate cake and cheesecake and found both to be acceptable, though nothing worth writing home about.
While eating at House of Welsh, it is easy to forget about the 21st-century suburban sprawl outside the front door. In a world that is changing, the owners of House of Welsh have made the difficult decision to stay the same - down to the traditional white shirts worn by the wait staff.
House of Welsh
Where: 6751 Dorsey Road, Elkridge
Open: Daily 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Credit cards: All major
Prices: Appetizers, $3.99-$17.50; entrees, $9.99-$24.99
Food: *** (3 STARS)
Service: *** (3 STARS)
Atmosphere: *** (3 STARS)