The casual Pit Stop is not yet up to speed

December 14, 2006|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,Special to the Sun

The highlight of our meal at The Pit Stop recently was getting dessert from the owner's daughter, an elementary-school-age charmer who pretended to take our order and then dispensed ice cream sandwiches to our children, taking a third one for herself.

Chris Correll, who purchased the restaurant with partners Bryan Montz and Joe Bowie, converted the space last summer from the white-tablecloth Italian restaurant Avanti to a distinctly casual bar and grill with a race-car theme.

Correll, a Jessup resident, believes his new format will bring in more people who just want to eat out without indulging in a big fancy meal. He ran the place as Avanti for two years before making the change.

Correll said Avanti, which had been in business for 30 years, had burgundy carpet, white wainscoting and Roman columns throughout the dining space. All that's gone, and it's hard to imagine that the new decor is an improvement.

The restaurant is still divided into a bar and a dining area, but the dining room is an echo-chamber space of bare tables and bare floors, with car-related photographs and old license plates on the walls as decorations. The Roman columns have been converted to faux street signs.

The room was quiet the night we were there. At first, we were the only ones in the dining room. Later, another group arrived.

The menu at The Pit Stop still has some Italian dishes, including lasagna ($8.95) and stuffed shells ($8.95), as well as expected bar entrees such as prime rib ($19.95) and grilled salmon ($14.95).

All this could be OK, but the kitchen lacks finesse, and the quality of the dishes we tried ranged from acceptable to not so much.

An appetizer of chicken wings ($5.95), served steaming hot in a puddle of piquant hot sauce, may have been the best thing on the menu. The generous chicken pieces had plenty of crisp skin and moist meat.

Clearly, someone in the kitchen knows how to use a deep fryer, churning out fresh fries and decent chicken tenders ($5.95) that sizzle as they hit the table. But entrees that required more than a plunge into hot oil weren't as good.

Pork riblets ($9.95), slathered in an overly sweet barbecue sauce, were tough and fatty. Chicken marsala ($11.95), with its mix of grilled chicken strips and plump, flavorful mushrooms was promising but accompanied an overly sweet wine and overcooked spaghetti.

A crab-cake platter ($17.95) with fries and a side of vegetables was a safe choice. The two grilled cakes were generous in size and contained a fair amount of crab, though not much lump meat.

The menu said all entrees were served with side salads, but we didn't get any. Instead, the main courses came with piles of broccoli and carrots that were still cold in spots. One bright spot was the tub of caraway-tinged coleslaw that came with the riblets.

Even on this slow evening, service was still less than ideal. Cutlery and plates didn't arrive until we requested them, and some dishes were served before others.

One of my children got her food several minutes after everyone else had been served -- a classic restaurant no-no, especially for a place with kid-friendly touches like chicken tenders served in a cardboard box shaped like a race car.

In addition to ice cream, The Pit Stop serves basic desserts including apple pie, hot fudge sundaes and chocolate cake. Correll says he plans to open an outdoor patio when the weather gets warm, add crabs to the menu and make other changes. Perhaps he recognizes that The Pit Stop needs a tuneup.

The Pit Stop

Where: 8801 Washington Blvd., Jessup

Call: 410-792-0355

Open: Daily for lunch and dinner

Credit cards: All major

Prices: Appetizers $4.95-$9.95, entrees $7.95-$19.95

Food: ** (2 STARS)

Service: 2 (STARS)

Atmosphere: * 1/2 (ONE 1/2 STARS)

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