Restaurant review

Breakfast all day at Iron Rooster in Annapolis

Breakfast, it's what's for dinner at Iron Rooster

I like Iron Rooster a whole lot, and I think you should go to this new Annapolis restaurant, so I thought I'd tell you right off the bat that this new all-day breakfast restaurant in Annapolis offers free valet parking on weekends.

Iron Rooster serves impressively big portions of good, wholesome and tasty food in a clean, well-lit atmosphere, and does so pleasantly — no, more than just pleasantly. The waitstaff actually made us feel like we were doing them a favor by being there.

This new restaurant manages to have an appealing gimmick — breakfast food served all dang day — that it executes so well that it no longer feels like a gimmick. Breakfast for dinner, the way it's done at Iron Rooster, seems like the most natural thing in the world, like breakfast for breakfast or dinner for dinner.

Here's how smart Iron Rooster is: In the evening, in addition to its lineup of omelets, pancakes, breakfast burritos and hash platters, the menu expands to include suppertime fare like steak, crab cakes, short ribs, honey-glazed pork and soy-glazed salmon.

So on a cold December night, two diners can have very well-turned-out breakfast dishes like crab cake Benedict or a California club omelet with smoked turkey, bacon and avocado, and two other diners can have splendid versions of comfort-food classics meat loaf and chicken pot pie. And everyone can share a short stack of fluffy pancakes topped with spiced honey-bourbon butter and stuffed with slices of bananas, as in there is banana worked into the batter.

And I want to say more about that food, all of which was so much better than we thought it was going to be. Mostly, we thought that because we'd been to places that tried to do breakfast dishes at night and ended up doing nothing all that well.

But I want to tell you that one guest at our table would not be quiet about the omelet being the best one he'd ever had in a restaurant. It was good, too, with the healthiest, best-looking slice of avocado I've seen in months. The well-seasoned crab meat in the Benedict was pan-seared with impressive finesse, and the whole dish was assembled carefully and garnished beautifully with fresh micro-greens.

And everyone agreed that the chicken pot pie was: a) too big a portion for anyone to finish in one sitting; b) delicious; and c) good-looking enough, what with the brown-edged biscuit batter hugging the rim of the massive bowl, to be on the cover of a magazine devoted to winter comfort food .

The meat loaf, which Iron Rooster makes with brisket and tops with black pepper pan-gravy, is the best meat loaf I've ever had in a restaurant. It's served in a thick bacon-wrapped slab, and there are pieces of bacon within the loaf itself.

What else, what else? From the bar there's a good list of local beers both in bottles and on tap and a dandy bloody mary. Someone has made sure that good music plays at a reasonable level. There are good gooey desserts like a red velvet waffle ice cream sandwich and a maple-bourbon pecan torte served in an iron skillet and topped with vanilla ice cream.

We ate on Iron Rooster's second floor, where the best tables have good views of Annapolis' historic Market House and the nearby harbor. The rooms, up and down, are decorated with what the restaurant refers to as a "farmhouse motif," which sounds irritating but is actually very nice and cozy-making because it's been done with restraint and taste. OK, the tabletop water pitchers are old glass milk bottles, and the evening doesn't end without the appearance of the inevitable Mason jar — but it's filled with strips of bacon, a happy-hour amenity at Iron Rooster.

The downstairs dining room is cozier and prettier. But the whole 5,000-square-foot complex has been effectively remodeled by its new owners from its previous incarnation as Maria's Sicilian Ristorante & Cafe, a 40-year-old restaurant that closed this summer when its owner retired.

They got Iron Rooster open in a matter of weeks, too, which suggests how serious the team is at this aptly named establishment.

You get the feeling that Iron Rooster is up before dawn, getting ready for company.

Nearby reviews: Dish Baltimore - Anne Arundel

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Iron Rooster

Rating: 4 stars

Where: 12 Market Space, Annapolis

Contact: 410-990-1600, ironroosterallday.com

Open: Monday-Saturday 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Prices: Appetizers $7.95 to $12.95, entrees $9.95 to $37.95

Food: Traditional breakfast fare as well as sandwiches, soups, salads and comfort-food entrees.

Service: Alert and thoughtful, with especially good advice about ordering.

Parking: The restaurant offers free valet parking on Friday after 6 p.m. and all Saturday and Sunday starting at 8 a.m. Otherwise, parking is at meters and in nearby garages.

Children: A children's menu includes fare like homemade chicken fingers, grilled cheese, and peanut butter and jelly.

Special diets: The kitchen can usually accommodate requests for substitutions, and all egg dishes can be made with egg whites or Egg Beaters.

Noise level/televisions: Conversation is easy throughout the restaurant. There are two silent TVs at the bar and three in one of the upstairs dining rooms.

[Star key: Superlative: 5; Excellent: 4; Very Good: 3; Good: 2; Promising: 1 ]

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