Strong suits: attractions and location

EATS

September 29, 2005|By KAREN NITKIN | KAREN NITKIN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When you're contemplating a night on the town, you know there's a world of difference between restaurants that happen to serve alcohol and bars that happen to serve food. And when you're watching your budget, the bars that serve food often give you a better night out for your money.

Shucker's is a bar that serves food, and a good one at that, as long as you don't expect the food to be the main attraction. The main attraction is the terrific location, so close to the water on Thames Street in Fells Point that you can smell the diesel from the boats going by.

Owners Tony Lombardi and Andy Rosenthal make wise use of the great view and fun neighborhood with more than 20 metal outdoor tables, arranged in a semicircle around the outside of the restaurant and situated under a wide awning in case of rain.

If you prefer heating or air-conditioning while you dine, tables are available inside as well. The rambling space is clearly designed for fun as well as food. Televisions, pool tables, DJs and live music provide entertainment, and on the second Thursday of each month, a mechanical bull is trailered in for patrons who want to try their luck.

You might recall that the Irish sports bar Timothy's used to be at this location - and before that, Brown's Wharf. Lombardi and Rosenthal bought the place from the Delaware-based Timothy's chain in April. They added more seafood to the menu, while keeping traditional bar food staples like crab dip, burgers and nachos.

The seafood appetizers at Shucker's give a good first impression of the kitchen. One could do a lot worse than spending time watching the sailboats and water taxis float by while working on a cold beer and bowl of steamed clams in Shucker's extremely garlicky and buttery broth.

But the bulk of the menu, while for the most part avoiding obvious missteps, fails to distinguish itself. Fried calamari in a pleasantly crunchy batter loses points for being served too cold, and for not being particularly flavorful. The rings and tentacles were arranged on a sea of cocktail sauce, and served, oddly, with a tub of Russian dressing.

And that wasn't the only case of odd accompaniments. The teriyaki mahi mahi (try saying that three times fast) arrived with garlic mashed potatoes and corn on the cob, as well as a ball of wasabi paste and a pile of pickled ginger. Is the dish Asian or American? Apparently the chef can't decide. The fish was slightly overcooked, which I could forgive, but it was also coated in an almost unbearably salty teriyaki glaze. The corn was also overcooked, but the potatoes, mashed with their red skins still on, were creamy and yummy.

A wrap sandwich of chicken, honey mustard, iceberg lettuce, tomato and cheeses simply had too many flavors competing for attention. The squares of grilled chicken had been sprinkled with a blackening seasoning, making it too salty to work well with the sweet honey mustard, and the garlic-herb flavoring in the tortilla was overkill.

The kitchen seems to do best with simple items prepared in simple ways. Crab cakes, to their credit, featured lots of crab meat and not much else. And a salad with grilled vegetables and salmon (ordered by a friend who just started Weight Watchers) featured an excellent slab of moist, unadorned fish, though the grilled vegetables were mostly zucchini, and were coated in overly vinegary marinade before grilling.

Desserts at Shucker's don't stray far from the usual selections of chocolate cake, ice cream sundae and cheesecake. The chocolate cake had a gritty taste, and the apple pie, served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, had a mushy crust.

But Shucker's isn't about fine dining. It's a fun bar in a terrific location. It'll be interesting to see if it succeeds in a spot that seems like a natural for a bar, and yet has suffered from high turnover.

Shucker's

Where:

1629 Thames St., Fells Point

Call:

410-522-5820

Open:

Daily for lunch and dinner, brunch starting at 10 a.m. Sundays

Credit Cards:

All major

Prices:

Appetizers $5.99-$11.99, entrees $12.99-$19.99

Food: ** 1/2 (2 1/2 stars)

Service: *** (3 stars)

Atmosphere: *** (3 stars)

Outstanding: **** Good: *** Fair or uneven: ** Poor: *

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