Michael's Offers Meat-and-Potatoes Fare with Mixed Results
There's something quintessentially Baltimore about Michael's Steak and Lobster House (6207 Eastern Ave.,  633-6485). It's hard-working and friendly, attracting a wide variety of folks, many of whom are individually wide (like yours truly)--perhaps because at Michael's diners do not merely eat, they feed. And like the name says, they feed on steak (21/2-pound prime ribs or T-bones) and lobster, though those of you under 50 probably don't know what lobster Newburg and lobster Thermidor are. (Let's just say coronary artery disease in a lobster shell, and leave it at that.)
We venture forth on a Friday night with pals Collin and Raquel in tow, to sample the large and the small pleasures of Michael's. Ensconced in captain's chairs in the nautically themed dining room, we tuck into some warm, sesame seed-topped bread while waiting for the appetizers to arrive.
A platter of house appetizers ($6.95) is ample for the four of us and provides a variety of Greek offerings. Two cheese pies and two spinach pies are flaky and greaseless, with creamy fillings. The grape leaves are well packed with rice and ground beef. Only the taramasalata, a dip made with orange-carp roe, disappoints; it lacks the creamy consistency of the other starters and is a bit underflavored. Our taste buds are rescued by a bowl of old-fashioned crab soup ($3.50), which supplies a sinus-clearing wallop of Old Bay along with lots of lump meat and a medley of veggies including green beans and baby limas. "It tastes like my mother's," Raquel says, awed. (Raquel is a great cook, but she occupies a lower rung of greatness than does her mother, Fran. For the Jewish New Year, we received a small slice of Fran's famed honey cake, which we accepted humbly, with reverence, the way the faithful might handle the knuckle bone of a saint.)
C.C. is delighted to find crab fluff on the à la carte menu ($8.25). I'm expecting a sodden lump of mushy dough with a thimbleful of dried crab within, but I am surprised. The softball-sized sphere leaves no grease on the plate, the coating is thin (about a quarter inch), and the filling is all big lumps of crab. The dough is a bit sweet; it makes me fantasize about a new Krispy Kreme product line--the crab doughnut.
Preceding our main dishes come salads of the traditional variety--hunks of iceberg, thick slices of cuke and onion, big wedges of ripe tomato, extra cost for blue-cheese dressing (50 cents). The dressing is worth it--dreamy and smooth, and, unfortunately, the last unadulterated triumph of the meal.
Collin's New York steak ($15.95) is beautiful and big, but overcooked. The flavor emerges unscathed, but the tenderness has been compromised. Ditto C.C.'s Wiener schnitzel ($12.95), which arrives with an incompletely fried egg on top. To make matters worse, the heavily breaded, overcooked portion has been doused in a light tomato sauce. My darling is crestfallen. She does enjoy her baked potato, though, and we all take turns trading plates with her, and with one another, much to the amusement of a man at the adjoining table.
Raquel's crab lumps au gratin ($14.95) are a case of fine, sweet meat ruined by an indifferent sauce, viscous and bright yellow, more like a cheese product than cheese. Her green beans, like my Brussels sprouts, are cooked almost beyond green--almost beyond recognition, in fact. Only my whole flounder ($13.95), prepared Greek-style, pleases completely. It is fresh, and bathed in lemon and oil and salt, elemental flavors that let the fish speak for itself. Each firm white bite whispers of the sea. We eat and eat, passing the plate around, and still end up taking half of it home.
Desserts are mostly from commercial baking house Mrs. Pose, represented by a mind-numbing array of cheesecakes, but two sweets are house-made, so we choose those. The rice pudding ($3) has problems. Too watery, too thin, too much cinnamon clumped on top. Plus the rice is a bit hard; we miss the custardy consistency. At first blush, the baklava ($3) looks like it too will let us down: not a lot of nuts, no honey oozing between the layers of phyllo, which looks, well, burnt. But looks deceive us--we love the taste, which owes more to sugar than honey, and we love the dark, crunchy edges.
Michael's runs daily specials as well as weeknight bargains involving, yes, steak and lobster. But Wednesdays you can net a pair of crab cakes for $12.95 (regularly $15.95). A lot of folks are ordering them at full price tonight. They look great. And, really, does anyone need 21/2 pounds of red meat?
Open 11 a.m.-11 p.m. daily.