It was a sad summer in Remington. Dizzy Issie's closed, and, for at least a moment, its fans weren't sure it was coming back. But it has, rechristened The Dizz, and it is totally spruced up.
Regulars will take note of the new windows in the front bar and a thorough cleansing, painting and renovation of the downstairs dining room, which mostly just feels more orderly. Some of the more fundamental improvements are either behind the scenes (new kitchen equipment, new heating and air-conditioning equipment) or partly so (a vitally needed point-of-sale system).
But the ingredients that made Dizzy Issie's a Baltimore corner-bar institution remain in place. Elaine Stevens, one of the city's warmest hosts, is still here, but now as manager, and the new owner is her sister-in-law, Darlene Basta. There's still a noisy crowd of regulars, most of them neighborhood types, gathered at the bar, and the dining-room crowd is still the diverse gang of regulars - artisans, Roland Parkers, college students and hipsterbillies. The cosmetic changes to the dining room haven't made it any less homey and, yes, quirky. The Dizz can still proudly call itself a corner bar. And most customers would rather wait for a table downstairs than sit in the upstairs dining room, nice as it is.
It's still a relative bargain here, with a regular menu of midpriced sandwiches, subs, salads and hot platters (the never unfashionable hot turkey or roast beef with french fries and gravy). This regular menu has either been trimmed or re-edited, which is a good thing, because it used to feel chaotic to me, like Dizzy Issie's was trying to offer too many choices. It seems much more manageable now, and it's very nice to see a small selection of vegetarian options.
Appetizers tend to be savory and hearty. Baked potatoes stuffed with crab meat are perfect, unbothered by any special effects, just gobs of crab meat on a hot spud. The Dizz knows, too, that anything wrapped will please a crowd. In this vein, filet mignon bites came off slightly better than scallops; the bites were tender, the scallops too small.
The list of specials is more coherent, too. (It's still in Elaine Stevens' schoolgirl cursive, as much a part of this place as Morris Martick's scrawl was part of his.) When we visited, there were four soups and six sandwich and burger specials. The Dizz won't change the way you think about food, but it will give you something very close to a home-cooked meal. If there's a pork chop on the menu, order it. The chops are always thick and juicy. The kitchen smothered pork chops with a tangy honey-barbecue sauce. Fish is reliable, too, and prepared simply. A blackened tuna or a pan-seared rockfish with lemon cream were cooked carefully, presented plainly.
Entrees here come with sides - brussels sprouts, broccoli, string beans, potatoes or applesauce. They might be carrying simplicity too far, and occasionally The Dizz's food looks like home cooking from a bored homemaker. Or would the regulars revolt if instead of sending out an intact stalk of broccoli, the kitchen actually cut it into florets?
Burgers are a big deal here, and the specials menu typically lists a few variations on the basic theme - when we visited, one was whiskey-rubbed with bacon and provolone, and another was Old Bay-rubbed with bacon and cheddar. I'm lukewarm about the burgers, which I find messy and underseasoned. I think there are better things on the menu.
The beloved multitiered dessert case is still there. It was the inspiration for the best instance of customer service I've encountered in a long time. Asked whether we should approach the case or listen to her description, our waitress said, "Well, you can go over and look, or I can tell you about them, or you can go over and look while I tell you about them." The display might be kitsch, but the desserts are serious. The coconut cake, in particular, is a triumph.
On the menu •Cream of potato soup - $3.95/$5.95
•Scallops wrapped in bacon - $6.95
•Filet mignon bites wrapped in bacon - $6.95
•Whiskey-rubbed provolone burger - $5.95
•Skins stuffed with crab meat - $12.95
•Pan-seared rockfish topped with lemon butter, two sides - $15.95
•Honey barbecue pork chop, two sides - $11.95
•Blackened tuna steak, two sides - $15.95
•Coconut cake - $4.50Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun