Fit to Be Tried
Classic Thai Beckons From Glen Burnie
It's not that the strip malls south of town don't have their charms, but at Thai-Gour Café (7477 Baltimore and Annapolis Blvd., Glen Burnie,  761-8399), the food is so sublime and the service so soothing that C.C. and I wanted a setting to match. A dark, candlelit cave of a room, perhaps, or a thatched hut by the sea.
Which is not to say the owners haven't done their best with this large, cavernous space. Forget the lively but generic bar and pass into the small but cheerfully decorated dining room, where a menu of classic Thai awaits. C.C. and I went twice in a week's time, when errands drew us to the southern suburbs, but Thai-Gour is well worth a trip for its own sake. The more than reasonable prices provide an added lure.
For starters, the tender calamari ($4.95), lightly fried in rice batter, is nice. But even if you're a sucker for squid, as I am, consider opting instead for the unusually named Gold Cups ($3.95), six bite-sized pastry shells filled with an aromatic, curried mix of chicken, corn, carrots, and peas. Vegetarian spring rolls ($4.95) get their meaty gusto from mushrooms. Kanom jeeb ($4.95), steamed dumplings containing ground pork, shrimp, and water chestnuts, are topped with minced, fried garlic. The chicken satay ($5.95) is nicely smoky, and even better when dipped in the accompanying sweet and slightly spicy peanut sauce. The stuffed chicken wings ($5.95) are more of an architectural achievement than a taste treat; the filling of ground pork, crab, and glass noodles gets lost inside the wing meat, which is cleverly pulled back and wrapped around the stuffing. They're best admired from afar, or minimally sampled as part of an appetizer combination platter of all of the above ($9.95), perfect for two to share.
Soups, for me, speak the delicate language of Thai cooking more eloquently than any other part of the meal. The tom yum ($3.95 with chicken, $5.95 with shrimp), ruled by lemon grass and chiles, packs heat, and the broth is thick with big straw mushrooms. Better still is tom ka kai ($3.95), which stirs the same ingredients into a base of fresh coconut milk, with lots of thinly sliced white chicken, some onion, and a whisper of galanga (a spice that imparts a flavor of peppery ginger) added to the mix.
Entrées at Thai-Gour are enormous, so come hungry or plan on leftovers. And if you like the heat turned up high, tell your server; we found our dishes tasty but a bit tame.
Having recently endured an unorthodox (and unsuccessful) pad Thai at another place, we were relieved to savor a terrific one here ($7.95). I know shrimp have come down in price recently, but how Thai-Gour can afford to serve so many big shrimp for eight bucks is a mystery--one I don't so much ponder as celebrate. The rice noodles are tender, the bean sprouts fresh, and the garnishes of tofu, crushed peanuts, and scrambled egg add taste and textural appeal. The Chicken Paradise ($8.95) makes delightful use of the spicy-sweet peanut sauce that accompanies the satay; here it provides a bed for thin-sliced white meat garnished with emerald steamed florets of broccoli.
For a vegetarian change of pace, we sampled eggplant pad ped ($6.95), Thai eggplant in a black bean and fresh basil sauce with fried tofu, green and red peppers, onion, and garlic. The heady, complex eggplant was complemented by a heady kick of pepper. We reverted to beef with pik khing ($7.95, also available with pork or chicken), a dish of meat, red and green peppers, and crisp green beans combined in a peppery garlic sauce. C.C., who feels green peppers can easily overwhelm a dish, appreciated the chef's restraint.
At last, we came to the moment C.C. had been awaiting--dessert. More to the point, sticky rice and mango ($3.95), a stick-to-the-ribs confection she adores. The warm block of sweet rice is topped with coconut milk and sesame seeds, then paired with sensuous slices of ripe mango. My dessert pick, coconut custard ($2.95), wasn't much to look at. The large, tan block of coarse custard looked hard as a rock, but it made for smooth eating. Quite sweet, though the coconut flavor was surprisingly subtle.
A few of Thai-Gour Café's dishes (fish, soft crab, honey ginger duck) stray into the lower double digits, but most are under $10. You'd be hard-pressed to find this kind of variety for less than a 10-spot. We won't have too much trouble thinking up a reason to return to Glen Burnie soon.
Open 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday through Friday, noon-midnight Saturday, and noon-10 p.m. Sunday.