Pappas Restaurant and Sports Bar does not fall prey to the restaurant industry urge for constant change. The restaurant, which opened in Cockeysville in September, offers the same pleasantly old-school dining experience that locals have loved since the early seventies, when Mark Pappas opened the first Pappas Restaurant in Parkville.
"We're doing the same thing in a new neighborhood," says managing partner (and Mark Pappas' son-in-law) Justin Windle. That means traditional preparations, tons of seafood and — of course — those famous Pappas crab cakes.
Scene & Decor From the outside, Pappas in Cockeysville is brand spanking new and it looks enormous. Inside, half the space is a gleaming sports bar, stocked with tons of large TVs.
During our visit, we sat on the other side, which is a more traditional restaurant setting, with carpeted floors and comfortable booths. When we arrived, around 6:30 on a Monday night — usually a quiet restaurant night — the place was packed.
The crowd was, admittedly, not a young one, though we did spot a couple multigenerational families with kids tagging along. (A glance in the sports bar suggested that might be where the younger diners gathered.)
Appetizers Some of the charmingly old-school touches at Pappas include the baskets of plastic-wrapped crackers that sit on each table and the dishes of cucumbers, marinated in bracing vinegar dressing, that arrive just after orders are placed.
The cucumbers, full of flavor and still crunchy, were so vibrant that the appetizers we ordered — shrimp cocktail ($12.99) and clams casino ($8.99) — seemed somewhat pale in comparison.
We loved the spice of the cocktail sauce and the savory, rich flavor of the breadcrumb-bacon-clam combination made us smile. But the presentation of the clams was a little sloppy and a couple of the shrimp were just the tiniest bit overcooked. Nothing major, but our expectations were high thanks to those cucumbers.
Entrees Longtime Pappas fans will find plenty to like on the Cockeysville menu, which sticks to the classics. (The sports bar and restaurant have slightly different dinner menus, though many restaurant favorites appear on both.)
Veal and shrimp piccata ($27.99) was cooked and seasoned nicely, its sauce tart and briny but well-balanced. A broiled rockfish special ($24.99) was a lovely piece of fish, also cooked just right. Despite a heavy sprinkle of paprika, though, it wasn't seasoned enough for us. However, we chalked that up to a matter of taste, not one of skill in the kitchen.
Unsurprisingly, our favorite entrees were the crabby ones. The chicken Chesapeake ($23.99) included a large scoop of creamy crab imperial on top of a chicken breast, pounded thin and grilled until cooked through but still juicy.
The crab cake ($19.99 for a single), the dish that has landed Pappas on multitudes of "best of" lists, was chunky with lump crab, very light on filler, and as big as a baseball. It deserves its fame.
Each entree comes with two side dishes — another throwback to a bygone era in dining. House salads were overflowing plates of crispy lettuce and vegetables and sauteed zucchini was liberally seasoned and cooked until tender. We also loved the jackknife potato, a little round tin containing the insides of a twice baked potato.
Drinks With our dinners, we drank glasses of New Harbor sauvignon blanc ($6) and Ferme de Gicon Cotes du Rhone ($8), both very drinkable and food-friendly wines. Pappas also has a decent beer selection, including several new local brews, like the Union Craft Brewing Blackwing Lager ($5), which we sipped with appetizers.
Service The only dim spot during our meal was our waiter, who put in a minimum of time with our table. Our food came from the kitchen in a timely manner and a handful of other waiters jumped in to make sure we had drink refills and everything we needed, but our assigned waiter was often nowhere to be found.
It seemed we were just unlucky. During dinner, we overheard those other waiters chatting with their tables and sharing information about specials. We would have enjoyed that attention, too.
Dessert A slice of triple mousse cake ($5.99) was chilly and sweet. Like the rest of the meal, it lacked surprises, but that was part of its charm.
And charm is something that Pappas has in spades.
Nearby reviews: Dish Baltimore - Cockeysville / Hunt Valley