On Her Own
Decent Down-Home From a Waitress-Turned-Restaurateur
This week, boys and girls, our column begins with a story.
Once upon a time, in a part of the city known as Belair-Edison, there was a small family-owned restaurant called Calo's. For many years, a server by the unusual name of Brookey Rotz worked there. Day after day, in and out of the kitchen, an idea began to form in Brookey's hard-working brain: What if, instead of being a server, she became the eatery's owner? What if she and her husband bought the restaurant? Brookey was intrigued by the idea, so she wished and wished, and events took their course (as events are wont to do), and one day--bam! Brookey became the owner of a small eatery called Brookey's Restaurant. Now, instead of being just a server, Brookey gets to shop and cook and clean up and worry about bills--and wait on customers, to judge from the night we were there. If you're the type who likes to jump ahead, the moral of this story is this: Be careful what you wish for; you might just get it.
Being at Brookey's is a lot like being at your mom's, except that Brookey won't do your laundry. But she will feed you three squares a day and offer a special menu for seniors and a selection of "Remington's Deals" for kids age 12 and under, which include a choice of entrée, applesauce or fries, a junior-size drink, and even a junior-size sundae or cookies. Our young friend Vaughn, who's 7, thought that was a deal, especially as the cookies turned out to be Oreos and he was offered (and joyfully accepted) an Oreo sundae.
Someone at Brookey's is apparently quite fond of pigs and apples, which constitute the establishment's decorating theme. They're all over the place in varying shapes and sizes, textures and types, and the decorative pigs and apples give the long room a down-home feel.
Many of the diners here are neighborhood regulars--and even if you aren't, the staff will make you feel like one. Older couples mingle with families. The ketchup gets passed from table to table. Folks are friendly, the prices are reasonable, and the eats . . . well, the eats are all right.
The appetizers we sample aren't anything exciting--we begin with the Super Snack ($5), a big plate of chicken tenders and other fried starters that you tend to find in homey neighborhood eateries. We also try an order of crab balls ($6), golf-ball-sized spheres with only a bit of breadcrumb filler, lots of crab (albeit not lump), and too little Old Bay.
C.C.'s homemade lasagna ($7.95) is the old-fashioned kind, with thick, dark-red sauce and hearty layers of lean ground beef, ricotta, and mozzarella. The dish reminds C.C., naturally, of her mom's lasagna. The salad that comes with it is fresh and cold--iceberg, tomato, onion, cucumber, pepperoncini, and croutons, but it's topped with an overly tart Italian dressing.
Vaughn's mom, Tracey, goes for fried chicken ($7.95), half a bird simply prepared, with great flavor and crunch and not a speck of grease. The accompanying french fries, alas, are the frozen variety, and, for some reason, the promised coleslaw fails to materialize. We are so busy eating and talking that we fail to ask for it.
Vaughn tears up his Remington Deal ($3.50), a hot dog and fries. The highlight of his meal, however, is the Oreo sundae that arrives at the end. Cookies and vanilla ice cream--Vaughn's face lights up. For this 7-year-old, life doesn't get any better.
I have opted for one of Brookey's more ambitious offerings, Arianne's Sauté ($10.95). Chicken medallions and shrimp are sautéed with broccoli stalks in a mixture of white wine, garlic, and butter. There's a lot of it, served over spaghetti (rice would be a better choice). The food is well-prepared and tender but, like the crab balls, the whole dish is under-seasoned. Not so the excellent garlic bread that accompanies my meal--it's garlic-heavy and delicious. Garlic might be the cure for the lackluster Arianne's Sauté. And it certainly couldn't hurt the blue-cheese dressing that came with my side salad (50 cents extra); it tastes like straight mayo with some cheese tossed in.
Desserts range from funnel cake to Vaccaro's famous cannoli. As Tracey, C.C., and I are pretty stuffed after dinner, we decide to share a hunk (and it's a big hunk) of banana-cream cake with coconut ($3). Rich, sweet, and dense, it makes us as happy with our dessert as Vaughn is with his Oreo sundae.
The busy restaurant owner, pausing for a moment in her whirlwind of activity, asks how we've liked our meals and invites us to come again. While it's no gastronomical find, Brookey's is homey, its staff is polite, and the comfort food it serves is decent (if unexceptional) and fairly priced. If that sounds like the answer to your culinary wishes, drop by. Like Mom, Brookey's always there, and she'll have a hot meal waiting.