The Falls

A Reuben sandwich, pictured, at The Falls in Mt. Washington. (Jed Kirschbaum, Baltimore Sun / November 15, 2010)

Big windows, bold lines and glossy surfaces make the central dining area of The Falls cafe on Kelly Avenue in Mount Washington appear clean, bright and energized. Another part of the dining space offers muted lighting and a sense of privacy conducive to quiet conversation. With one curious exception, The Falls' menu is no less attractive.

11:48 a.m. We enter. The floor space of the main dining area is spacious and framed by two counters, one fronting the kitchen and the other facing a sentinel-like wine rack. The west wall is partially lined with booths long enough for six adult patrons … or eight starving artists. Toward the rear, a couple more tables are snuggled between bookshelves.

11:55 a.m. Midway through the lunch hour when the place is nearly packed, the servers seem confident, efficient and relaxed, which supports the welcoming vibe. Ours is also contagiously good-natured and had a great smile. We order soup and sandwiches and ask her to bring the soup as a starter.

12:11 p.m. Our sandwiches arrive. Our delightful server asks if we need anything else. Perhaps our soup? From then on, she apologizes every time she stops by the table.

I have a cup of the cream of crab ($3 cup, $4.50 bowl) and my dining companion has the Maryland crab ($4 cup, $6 bowl). We like each one of them. My soup's consistency is close enough to perfect for my tastes. There is plenty of shredded crab and, more importantly, the taste and texture is excellent. The Maryland crab's color is an appealing, if surprising, umber and is a very satisfying rendition of this oft-screwed up regional fixture.

Both of us want to try The Falls' Magical Pig pork sandwich. I mean really, how can you not go for a magical pig? But for the review's sake, I order the pig ($9) and he ordered the Rustic Italian ($8) and we share them.

On just about all points of the meal we agree. The tender, marinated, slightly piquant pork is a beautiful thing, but they either need to add more of it to the sandwich or turn down the bread volume. There was nothing wrong with the bread itself, nor inspirational. It's just that its ratio to the meat was off by about half. On the subject of inspiration: Nobody's likely to write sonnets about it, but the interior meats of the Rustic Italian were as fresh and happily familiar as any good sandwich of its ilk. But the bread? Not only was it not crusty "crusty Ciabatta," but it was, by my reckoning, dry and crumbly and it, like the pig's roll, overwhelmed the other ingredients. My dining companion is less circumspect: He called it "stale and mealy." I like everything else about The Falls and it deserves a visit and I don't want to scare off any potential fans on the chance that we got an uncharacteristically bad batch of crusty ciabatta. But there you have it.

12:31 p.m. We finish. One more note on the meal, and maybe this is a trend I should be watching for: Fries that defy the use of ketchup. The Falls' fries are crisp, hot, carefully seasoned with just enough salt and spices. No condiments need be applied. For fry lovers, these taters are entree worthy. Tag-teamed with either of the soups, and you're in for a whole new kind of happy meal.

12:41 p.m. We pay up and saunter outside where we can cut loose on yet another bread rant. It is a mystery: How can a place with the understated panache of The Falls slip off the dance floor on something as accessible as good bread? It's particularly curious because everything else from the kitchen suggests knowing care. Go figure.

The Falls

Where: 1604 Kelly Ave.

Contact: 410-367-7840

Lunch hours: 7 a.m.-5 p.m.

Lunch entrees: $6-$10

Food: ✭✭✭

Service: ✭✭1/2

Atmosphere: ✭✭✭

[Key: ✭✭✭✭ Outstanding; ✭✭✭: Good; ✭✭: Fair or Uneven; ✭: Poor]

Dining time 53minutes