O is for Old School
Haussner's · Tio Pepe's · Ikaros · Acropolis · Bo Brooks · Forest Diner · Angelina's · Kawasaki · Thai Restaurant · Perring Place Restaurant · Sanders Corner · Sabatino's · Matthew's Pizzaria
If you're from around here, there's a pretty good chance your parents courted at Haussner's (3242 Eastern Ave.,  327-8365). It's love that keeps the restaurant going, love and that special Baltimore loyalty to our grand old gals of the dining scene. The paintings, the plates, the mugs, the busts, the ball of string--let's just say there's barely an inch of bare wall. The next generation keeps coming back--for the sweetbreads, the duck l'orange, the world's best fried eggplant. But don't let your visit end without trying one of the luscious desserts. The famous strawberry pie is just the beginning.
Every once in a while you need to set the flavor controls on the way-back machine for the heart of the old school and make reservations to dine at Tio Pepe's (10 E. Franklin St.,  539-4675), where the sign on the door still reads jackets required for dinner. Classic appetizer Langostinos a la Parrilla (jumbo Spanish shrimp marinated and broiled in their shell) and entrées such as Tournedos Tio Pepe (three cuts of filet mignon in a sherry wine sauce with mushrooms) are still in the warm, dark, masculine, comfortable, corinthian-leather-like, richly decorated subterranean casa. Get a little more of the old-school glow with an after-dinner serving of Café Tio Pepe--espresso with brandy.
Coming back to Ikaros (4805 Eastern Ave.,  633-3750) is like coming home. The mustachioed maitre'd remembers you. You bask in the warmth of large Greek families feasting on moussaka, pastitsio, dolmades, and lamb in a variety of guises. The portions are mountainous but the prices have remained fairly low. Vegetables are a meal in themselves--Greek-style roasted potatoes, string beans and tomatoes, sautéed greens. Many of the dishes make platters for two. Finish, if you can find space for them, with Greek coffee and a piece of honeyed dessert--the always-pleasing baklava or our favorite, kadaifi, a sweet treat that looks like exploding Shredded Wheat.
Another spot that's been all Greek to Baltimore for generations, Acropolis (4718 Eastern Ave.,  675-3384) serves up mounds of the familiar Hellenic favorites in a cavernous, carpeted dining room you just know has hosted its fair share of rehearsal dinners, lodge banquets, and assorted milestones in the lives of East Baltimoreans. And the flaming cheese here can compete with anybody's.
Folks love the atmosphere at Bo Brooks (5415 Belair Road,  488-8144), where you can make a mess while you eat and catch the O's game on the TV in the bar. It's precisely the lack of ambiance that turns Bo fans on--the orange plastic chairs, the buckets for crab leavings. Oh, that and the hardshells. They do steam a darn fine crab here, the cream-of-crab soup is good and lumpy, and those giant onion rings deliver a bolus of grease and flavor.
It doesn't get much more old school than the Forest Diner (10031 Baltimore National Pike, Ellicott City,  465-5395), which has been in business for nearly 50 years. The Forest's humble brown-shingled exterior conceals a classic dining-car interior of luminous chrome and all sorts of beautiful original features: barrel-vaulted ceiling, worn Formica counter with stools, built-in pie cases, and many more diner-rific details. The food, served by uniformed servers, is of the like-Mom-used-to-make variety, with blue-plate specials and sandwiches from the grill, plain ol' veggies served in those little bowls, and, of course, pie for dessert.
The name's Italian. There are shamrocks on the door. And the most famous dish is pure Maryland. Nearly a half-century into this split- personality existence, Angelina's (7135 Harford Road,  444-5545) remains a fine place to hoist pints of Guinness or enjoy a traditional meal served by pleasantly mature servers. The menu boasts traditional Italian specialties along with Land of Pleasant Living seafood entrées, including the legendary crab cake, a softball-sized mound of meaty crab lumps bound together with only the slightest hint of filling. But we also have to rave about the soups (as good as Mom's), the fresh-baked bread, and the heavenly cheesecake.
So, you're like Mr. or Ms. Sushi now. You know your maguro from your hamachi, your wasabi from your pickled ginger. And those little laminated cards that allow you to photo-ID all your fishy options? Those are for yahoos. To borrow a bit from '80s New Wave band the Vapors, you're turning Japanese, you really think so. If this sounds like you, it's probably because you're a veteran visitor to Kawasaki (413 N. Charles St.,  659-7600), one of Baltimore's oldest (nearly 15 years) and most reliable sushi slingers. In addition to all the cold fish, Kawasaki cooks up some hot tempura and teriyaki dishes. And their neat-o window-side sunken tables give you the feel of eating on the floor Japanese-style--without having to curl up your gangly occidental legs.
It seems strange to use the phrases "Thai food" and "old school" in the same sentence, but Waverly's Thai Restaurant (3316 Greenmount Ave.,  889-7303) certainly feels like a faithful longtime friend. Maybe it's the nostalgia-firing location, across the street from the late Uncle Lee's, for generations Baltimore's signature Chinese eatery. Maybe it's the décor--plush, deep red, and art-strewn, sort of like an Asian Haussner's. Then again, it's probably the wonderful food, comforting yet sublime and surprising (especially the pad Thai and the extensive selection of pan-fries), that makes us think of Thai Restaurant as the Thai restaurant.
OK, the place is knee-deep in senior citizens, but it must be true that wisdom comes with age. The oldsters pack Perring Place Restaurant (Perring Parkway and McClean Boulevard [Perring Parkway Crossing Shopping Center],  661-0630) every day for lunch and dinner, plunking down a little for a whole lot of pasta, seafood, chicken, or steak. The soups are wonderful, and don't miss the steamed mussels served with a garlic butter you'll want to bathe in. Most of the stuff is homemade, including desserts like rice pudding and a dynamite coconut cake. Look around you and groove on the '50s vibe. You've never felt so young.
Sanders Corner (2260 Cromwell Bridge Road, Towson,  825-5187) sits in the pastoral shadow of the Loch Raven Reservoir. Given the setting, this enormous and old-fashioned eatery doesn't need to do much to draw customers. So you won't find strong spices, outrageous flavors, or unusual methods of preparation at Sanders', just traditional home cooking at good prices. The portions are generous and the fare is full of stuff your doctor told you not to eat, so plan on taking a stroll around the reservoir to compensate.
Say what you will about the sameness of food in Little Italy--at this section of the city--at Sabatino's (901 Fawn St.,  727-9414) you know what you'll get and you know it will be beautifully presented in simple yet elegant surroundings. Just say yes to the eggplant parmesan, which is consistently fresh and delicious, and to Sabatino's bountiful Bookmaker's salad, a filling combination of iceberg lettuce, radish slices, olives, shrimp, salami, and provolone drenched in parmesan dressing. And if you love ricotta, the lasagna alone makes the hassle of parking in Little Italy worthwhile.
Matthew's Pizzaria (3131 Eastern Ave.,  276-8755) has fed Highlandtownies its deep-crusted pies for more than half a century, and the joint's owners long ago decided not to fix what ain't broke. The plate-sized pizzas stick to traditional toppings, but when the result is this chewily tasty, you don't need such dubious pizza innovations as pineapple, barbecue chicken, or calamari. A word to the wise: On weekend nights, when the tiny dining room is jammed with families and couples, be prepared to settle for takeout.
The sign in front of Tyson Place (227 W. Chase St.,  539-4850) says cocktails, and they mean it. They're not being hip or ironic or hoping to call in a cavalcade of parched hipsters trying to be Dean Martin for the new millennium. This quiet little restaurant with its horseshoe-shaped bar, burgundy-upholstered chairs, and straightforward menu (great crab soup and house salad) is a time capsule from when cocktails were cool the first time around.
812 Park Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201