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Eat Feature

New Old Baltimore

Winterling's · Mamie's Café · The Trolley Stop · Morgan Millard · Bay Breeze · Owl Bar · La Tavola · Opa

Posted 2/25/1998

What the hell is New Old Baltimore? Another one of those hybrid cuisines taking the chefoisie by storm? No, it's our term for restaurants that strive to bring together disparate worlds. It could be a shiny new place that hearkens back to the days of comfortable food and comfortable prices, or an old standby reinventing itself without losing what worked in the first place. It's a restaurant that manages to both celebrate and reinvigorate dining traditions. Good combo, that.

Winterling's (3200-2 Foster Ave., [410] 675-7700) used to be old old Baltimore, a white-tablecloth Canton haunt that opened in 1923. The original Winterling's closed in 1988, reopened for a brief, failed upscale phase in the early '90s, then came back again in 1996 with an old-fashioned menu and very old-fashioned prices. The new Winterling's serves up hearty, likable home-style fare and plenty of it--a fine place to stuff yourself on the budget.

Hampden's Mamie's Café (911 W. 36th St., [410] 366-2997) is another relatively new restaurant that serves up splendid old-Baltimore eats, in an appealing dining room that does the vintage/mix-and-match thing without being cloying or cute. More vintage still is Mamie's superb crab cake, which goes for $6 in sandwich form and outclasses cakes for which we've paid more than twice the price. And they deliver.

The roots of Ellicott City's Trolley Stop (6 Oella Ave., [410] 465-8546) go deep--some form of hospitality has been offered in its brick building since the 1830s, when it was an inn serving railroad travelers. You can't get much more hospitable than the place's latest incarnation (after a stint as a Bucket o' Blood—type tavern)--on the right night you can score the likes of prime rib, grilled swordfish, or whole lobster with the trimmings for less than $10.

Located in the nation's oldest shopping center, Morgan Millard (4800 Roland Ave., [410] 889-0030) has been in business since the 1890s, but the cuisine is pure 1990s, whether the kitchen's putting a nouveau accent on old-style fare (cornmeal-crusted chicken, smoky pan-seared catfish) or going thoroughly modern (luscious blue-cheese-and-baked-pear salad, silken sweet-potato-and-leek soup). The prices and trappings (cool blond wood, New Age music) are generally upscale, but there's an under-$10 "Neighborhood Favorites" menu, a nice touch considering that the neighborhood is high-rent Roland Park.

Bay Breeze (250 S. President St., [410] 625-6400), the latest restaurant to make a go of it at the harbor's Scarlett Place, mixes straightforward surf 'n' turf plushness (the menu could be transposed to, say, Ruth's Chris Steak House with few changes) with some appealingly exotic touches--tasty, Middle East—inspired honey-sesame flatbread instead of rolls, or pools of herbed mayonnaise and raspberry coulis to complement the abundant and excellent crab cakes. It's a traditional meal with a pleasant surprise or two up its sleeve.

The Belvedere's storied Owl Bar (1 E. Chase St., [410] 347-0888) is another bit of old Baltimore that's alive and kickin' as the millennium approaches. The Owl's newfound success is due in part to its tasty fancy-pants pizzas, fresh seafood dishes, and creative salads. The best of the old Owl has been preserved, including the gorgeous brickwork interior and the unwieldy--but still fun--yards of beer. On weekend evenings it's a roost for thirsty young singles.

La Tavola (248 Albemarle St., [410] 685-1859) serves Italian food the way Italians eat it--the freshest, best quality ingredients, simply prepared. It's an old-fashioned approach that brings out the best in New Old Baltimore food. The excellent pastas, topped with every sauce under the sun, are made in-house, as are the spectacular desserts. Not to be missed are the mafalde alla Fiorentina (wide pasta ribbons in a nutmeg-scented cream sauce with pine nuts, spinach, and raisins) and the roasted shank of veal with potatoes. And don't forget dessert, specifically the wine-poached pear in gorgonzola sauce--che magnifico!

Opa (1911 Aliceanna St., [410] 522-4466) takes the best of old-fashioned Greektown--fat spanakopita, piquant taramasalata--moves it about a mile and a half west to an open, airy Fells Point space, and augments it with an eclectic menu full of creative fish and vegetarian dishes that are lighter than usual Greek-restaurant fare but every bit as satisfying. Which explains the big crowds on weekend nights--when you offer the best of both worlds, everybody wants a piece of the action.

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