Interstate 83 North, Timonium / Cockeysville
When you just can't decide where to go, go to Harvey's (2360 W. Joppa Road, Timonium,  296-9526). There's something to please everyone, from noshers to big eaters, vegans to carnivores, plain eaters to epicures. Many patrons go for their favorite dish and never venture beyond it; others try something new each time. We like the calorie-conscious dinners, which taste high-cal, and the variety of wines.
One of our favorite haunts along the vast, generally charmless York Road strip is the very charming J.J.'s Everyday Café (2141 York Road, Timonium,  308-2700). The ambiance is ladies' tea room, the food bistro chic, running the gamut from no-frills to some pretty wild pasta and fresh-fish dishes. We're always in the mood for one of J.J.'s soups (especially any of the seafood bisques) or the simple, delectable fried rainbow trout with fries and slaw. We've tried the place out on the pickiest eaters we know and have never seen anyone leave disappointed.
A theme restaurant that doesn't quite live up to its Irish-pub image, An Poitin Stil (2323 York Road, Timonium,  560-7900) does offer some authentic grub amid a largely upscale menu: shepherd's pie, corned beef and cabbage, and a whale of an Irish stew (made with a whole lamb shank). Folks flock here (and we mean flock) for Guinness poured from a state-of-the-art tap system, so come early if you want to get a table and/or have a conversation. If your voice is drowned out by meal's end, put your mouth to good use working through a slice of fine bread pudding.
Wanna eat some Sopranos-style food but don't want to pay through the nose? Fazzini's Italian Kitchen (578 Cranbrook Road [Cranbrook Shopping Center], Cockeysville,  667-6104) has an offer you can't refuse. Several of them, actually: a pound (a pound!) of homemade pasta with your choice of seven different sauces; toothsome parmigiana dishes in a fresh-tasting tomato sauce and generous cheese; terrific soups and salads. City Paper's reigning Best Italian Restaurant also bakes up designer focaccia, and garlic breads that look like you made them at home (but probably taste better). If you have any room left after pounding down all that pasta, cheesecake, cannoli, and other delectables beckon.
Some pretty fancy gourmet dinners are going for pretty plain prices at the Artful Palate (10517 York Road, Cockeysville,  683-3303), a former sub shop by the side of York Road. "Artful" indeed describes the unusual soups and sauces and the creative presentations of dishes such as apricot-teriyaki salmon fillet or pasta with sun-dried tomatoes, olives, snow peas, and artichoke hearts. Desserts measure up to the main meal's promise, making the Palate a prime candidate for a special night out on an everyday budget.
For a special night out on a shoot-your-wad budget, there's the Oregon Grille (1201 Shawan Road, Hunt Valley,  771-0505). A beautifully restored stone structure at the entrance to Oregon Ridge, surrounded by gardens and paths that look bereft without a wedding party, the Grille has a semi-formal dining room (jackets required, gents) and a kitchen to match. Meats and seafood are its forte, combined in inventive ways and served with style. For that big toast, there's an extensiveif, natch, priceywine list.
Set amid rolling countryside on land claimed in the 17th century by the third Lord Baltimore, the Manor Tavern (15819 Old York Road, Monkton,  771-8155) reeks of horsy-set elegance; the place was even a stable in olden days, housing the steeds of visitors to the long-gone Slade's Tavern across the street. (George Washington's horse slept here.) The hay's been cleared out to make way for a prettified dining room serving Continental cuisine; there's also a more casual (and casually priced) menu, best enjoyed in the sunroom or terrace garden during the warmer months.
812 Park Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201