I am fond of skateboarders. One of my sons used to be one. When our young skater used to slip away from home, my wife and I knew chances were good that he was either at "the statue" in front of the Lyric Opera House or at "the bowl" in Lansdowne, working on his tricks.
In those years, I learned that although many skaters looked "hard," they were good souls. But until I visited Johnny Rad's, I did not know that skaters were so fond of vegetables.
Johnny Rad's, named after a character in a skateboard movie, sits in the 2100 block of Eastern Ave., next door to a firehouse and across the street from a duckpin bowling alley. The location was home to Kelly's Tavern until Kelly headed for the comforts of rural Delaware. Owners Rich Pugh and Steve Ball are skaters. Pugh said he still makes an occasional appearance at "the bowl."
Some artfully decorated boards of professional skaters adorn the walls of this dark yet simultaneously welcoming establishment. A long, handsome bar stretches out on one side of the tavern, and black tables and high stools line the walls.
One cool, rainy weeknight, a mix of customers young and old, couples and families, strolled in. Service was quick, competent and, even though one of our servers had some tattoos, absolutely free of attitude. The staff made the three of us (me, my son — the former skater, now a high school English teacher — and his girlfriend) feel welcome. The bar has a well-chosen beer list and the $3 drafts of Victory Prima Pils helped warm my mood.
The menu was limited — bar fare, salads and pizzas — but the dishes had flair. A bowl of house-made hush puppies ($5) came with a creamy horseradish sauce that was outstanding. We polished off the sauce before the hush puppies, in part because the hush-puppy portion size was so generous.
Another bit of bar fare, the el vortex, was a black bean hummus ($6), a vegan dish (Pugh is a vegetarian). It came with ample servings of carrots and celery. The dominant flavors were smooth notes of rich black beans topped with a dose of sizzling cayenne pepper. This was one hot hummus.
Of the 12 types of pizza on the menu, we picked the one with the most meat, the A-1 ($12 for a small). This was a thin-crust pizza with pancetta, prosciutto, fresh mozzarella and tomato sauce. It was good, not great. A better choice, I think, would have been a pizza with more vegetables.
Only a skateboarder would name a salad "Nomad." This, I was told, is the nickname of professional skater Bill Danforth. The names of most items on the menu have some connection to skateboarding. This mix ($8) of mesclun, baby spinach, cucumber, tomato, crumbled feta and scads of chopped green olives was superb. The flavors were balanced, and again the portion was large.
There were no desserts, so, as a reward for eating all those vegetables, I ordered another $3 draft.
Johnny Rad's is a relaxed spot — a place to grab a cold draft, a quick bite to eat, and — believe it or not, dude — an awesome salad.
Where: 2108 Eastern Avenue, Baltimore
Phone: 443- 759-6464
Entrees: Pizzas and salads $8-$15
Credit Cards: All major
Open: Seven days a week , kitchen open 5 p.m.- 11p.m.
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