After almost 30 years, The Mt. Washington Tavern has entered an elite circle of Baltimore mainstays—maybe to the point that it's often forgotten by people outside the neighborhood. But when we heard there were menu changes, we knew it was time to don the Izod and head to the popular borough.
The restaurant is a preppy watering hole, where lacrosse will likely be a hot topic among the friendly crowd at the gorgeous teak bar. The historic building is more than a drinking spot, though. It's divided into a complicated—at least, for the uninitiated—warren of dining areas. To our eye, not much has changed over the years in the décor department. There's still the relic wood phone booth, old-fashioned chandeliers (leftovers from the va-va-voom Gayiety Theatre), and a colorful mural of a long-gone clubhouse at Pimlico racetrack.
After waiting a tad too long in the entranceway for a hostess, we were led to the Garden Room, always one of our favorite escapes. White wicker, pretty flower prints, tile floor, and greenery galore are a bright counterpart to the restaurant's darker wood side. The space has a lazy Caribbean friendliness that almost makes you hear the gentle sea slapping against powdery sand.
Despite the restaurant's interesting artifacts and dining nooks and crannies, we couldn't help but notice that the place is a bit frayed and tattered. That's not necessarily off-putting. It's actually comfortable in the way an old bathrobe is—worn, soothing, and familiar.
Our waitress, Sarah, couldn't have been more helpful. This was perhaps the best service we've had in a long time. She was friendly and knowledgeable and didn't miss a beat, even when she couldn't get the cork immediately loose from the wine key. She told us that the menu changes every two to three years—the most recent transformation was in October. Yes, there's the expected bar-food list. But we had our eye on the dinner menu.
The meal started off promisingly with the appetizers. The jumbo lump crab wontons were flaky triangles filled with lots of crab and cream cheese and served with an impressive soy-ginger dipping sauce. One of our diners said they were the best she's had. We liked the sauce so much that we even poured some on our oh-so-'50s kind of salad—a Roquefort wedge. This was at least a quarter of a head of lettuce, nicely chilled and topped with crumbled blue cheese, chopped bacon, and sliced grape tomatoes.
We also had success with the cream of crab soup—thick but not overly floury with plentiful shreds of crab and a healthy dose of Old Bay—and crispy fried oysters. These large, flattened morsels were dusted with a Cajun seasoning that gave them just a tinge of fire and then calmed with a Cajun remoulade that was a misnomer. It was more soothing than zesty.
The stone-baked individual pizzas with their crispy crusts were the size of a dinner plate. We especially liked the roasted vegetable white pizza, laden with artichoke hearts, marinated eggplant, roasted red bell peppers, and mozzarella and fontina cheeses.
Heartier, generously sized entrees will likely serve even the hungriest diner for two meals. Both the potato-crusted salmon and Parmesan-rubbed rockfish starred fat fillets. The crunchy salmon was also sprinkled with jumbo lump crab, while the rockfish was finished with a rich, beurre-blanc sauce plus crab, too.
Sides are traditional with a slight twist, like the Roquefort tomato, a thick, red slice topped with the namesake cheese (we love a chef who's partial to this piquant blue, though the kitchen will accommodate those who aren't so fond of the potent flavor), and then browned till it's warm, juicy, and soft. Our vibrant green broccolini was a nice variation from the usual spears and veggie medley served at a lot of restaurants.
We also dove into a mess of wonderful double-cut, char-grilled lamb chops with horseradish mashed potatoes—the only drawback was we couldn't taste any evidence of the pungent root in the mash. Also, we would chuck the "mint chutney." This lime-green gelatinous mass (think sugary jelly out of a jar) added nothing to the tender chops.
We never felt rushed during our meal. In fact, the arrival of each course was impeccable. Desserts also showed up at their appropriate time. (They aren't house made, our server said, but come from various commercial bakeries.)
We were captivated by the hazelnut croquant (French for crispy or crunchy)—a delicate round, slightly smaller than a cupcake, with thin, stacked layers of chocolate cake, praline, and fluffy mousse. The chocolate spoon cake will satisfy every chocolate desire you've ever had. Imagine a dense, dark-chocolate pudding between two chocolate-cake layers and sinful squiggles of whipped cream and chocolate syrup. It'll get all those happy brain receptors going. More traditional desserts like Key lime and apple-crumb pies were also good. But the apple wedge won our taste buds with its oven heat and buttery, crumb topping.
As we retraced our steps to the front door, we understood why The Tavern was still pulling in customers after almost three decades—well-prepared food, good service, and a welcoming ambiance. Works for us.