Let beer be your guide at Riptide in Fells Point

Restaurant review

July 20, 2008|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Sun Restaurant Critic

My rule of thumb in ordering at the new Riptide by the Bay in Fells Point is this: If it goes with beer, go for it.

That means, for instance, you will be perfectly happy with the steamed crabs. They are homegrown, cooked to order with a seasoning mix that involves a lot of Old Bay but also some other ingredients like extra red pepper. Ours were meaty and not waterlogged.

Come to think of it, Riptide may be Fells Point's only crab house. Obrycki's and Mo's are nearby, but they aren't in Fells Point proper. Not only that, the place has more atmosphere than you might expect in a crab house. What was once a sailors' bar has been renovated head to toe, with lots of shiny wood, booths, ceiling fans and walls painted an attractive green. The alley along the side has been turned into a covered "breezeway," so you can get the effect of eating outside without worrying about the elements. (Unfortunately, there's also a too-loud TV out there.)

Oddly, I called to find out about the place just after Riptide opened, and no one mentioned that it would sell steamed crabs. But not only are there steamed crabs, there's corn steamed in its husk with more Old Bay. Someone in the steam room knows not to overcook corn on the cob, and it tastes local.

If you don't feel like picking crabs, Riptide's signature dish is something called the High Tide. This is a crab cake made from three different grades of crab meat, including some mighty fine lumps, on a big, soft roll with a sauce labeled "sweet remoulade" (think Russian dressing), lettuce, tomato and smoky bacon. It's a big, squishy, flavorful handful and well worth ordering.

It goes with beer, too.

Riptide's version of surf and turf was a special that evening: a half-rack of meaty spareribs with a big bowl of spicy steamed shrimp ready for peeling. (This was one of those specials where you start off by asking for extra napkins, no matter how many the server brings.) I'm not going to say Riptide is a place you'd come to for the barbecue, but the ribs were perfectly respectable, even though the sauce tasted store-bought.

But when we veered away from the "if it goes with beer" rule, we got into trouble. That's in spite of the fact that Riptide serves several drinkable wines by the glass in handsome stemware. (The wine list is only wines by the glass, though the restaurant will sell you a bottle if you insist.)

A special that night was grilled tuna fillet. It was ordered medium-rare and came medium-well, served on a pool of what looked like the "sweet remoulade." Not a good idea.

Also stay away from the Maryland crab soup unless you like yours very heavy on tomato in the broth. It was almost tomato soup with vegetables and crab.

Scallops, stuffed with crab meat and topped with imperial sauce, were more accurately the Riptide's version of crab imperial with a few scallops hidden inside. (Well, how would you stuff a scallop anyway?) It was too salty to eat. The bad news for me was that our server gave me the leftover stuffed scallops by mistake, while my guest got the leftover steamed shrimp to take home. (I know, I know. I should have checked.)

Dinners come with two sides. This evening, they included a good squash mixture and crisp french fries. You can have a house or Caesar salad in place of the two, but salad dressings and sauces don't seem to be the kitchen's forte, so I'd recommend the sides. We also ordered green beans and the house-made coleslaw ("cut long," our server told us), but the kitchen was out of beans, and the coleslaw never arrived. Come to think of it, the bread we ordered never arrived either. You're probably beginning to get my drift about the service: extremely good-natured, not very polished.

If you have room for dessert, the dark chocolate cake with chocolate icing was very fresh and supposedly house-made. (Riptide must have a master baker in the kitchen who knows how to ice professionally.) I liked the apple pie, which would have been even better if it hadn't been warmed up in the microwave. Our server was a big fan of the fried ice cream, but don't let anyone talk you into it. The batter is much too heavy.

So, not everything works. On the plus side, Riptide by the Bay is an excellent place to get crabs in Fells Point; it has a pleasant atmosphere and an enthusiastic staff; and you can get a crab cake sandwich with applewood-smoked bacon on it. There's plenty to like here.

elizabeth.large@baltsun.com

Riptide by the Bay

Address:: 1718 Thames St.,

Hours:: Open for lunch and dinner daily

Prices:: Appetizers, $6.95-$12.95; entrees, $13.95-$26.95

Call:: 410-732-3474

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

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

Service ** (2 stars)

Atmosphere *** (3 stars)

Online

Check out restaurant critic Elizabeth Large's daily blog (baltimore sun.com/diningatlarge) for restaurant news and notes and reader feedback. Don't miss Top 10 Tuesdays.

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