George's, the restaurant at the Wyndham Peabody Court Hotel in Mount Vernon, is a sleeper. It hasn't completely shrugged off its hotel-amenity feeling, but it's getting there.
George's is making an effort to reach out. There's a good sampling on the beer list of local brews. George's runs smart specials, available both at the bar and in the dining room, like a Monday burger night and a $12 Wednesday comfort-food entree. Still, on a few weeknight visits, there was more action at the bar.
And credit a game bar staff with patiently and steadily building a base of neighborhood regulars, who have started coming in for dinner, too, and bringing their friends.
It seems to be working.
This was, from the start, one of the city's prettier dining rooms. The space was originally called the Brasserie when the Peabody Court Hotel opened back in 1985. That's when there was a glassed-in rooftop restaurant named the Conservatory.
In the early 1990s, when this was a Latham hotel, the Brasserie was known as Peabody's, and the Conservatory was briefly in the hands of Washington chef Michel Richard, who operated it as a Baltimore version of his famed Citronelle restaurant.
No one designs dining rooms
like this anymore.
Skip through the Clarion Hotel years to December 2010, when Wyndham took over the property. The rooftop space is now used for catered events, but George's is hoping to bring back the neighborhood crowd that came here in the old days.
No one designs dining rooms like this anymore. Deep ruby colors and brass fittings have given way to the upscale barnyard. You don't even see tablecloths that much these days, so George's aesthetic, even its quietness, can take some adjusting to.
Originally designed by Rita St. Clair Associates, the room is conservative, but it's not stuffy. Especially during the spring and summer, the room floods with natural light late into the dinner hour. The room's best features are the views of Mount Vernon Square through the tall mullioned windows.
The dining room, compared with the bar, can look a bit lonesome, and the dinner menu, at first glance, looks conservative, even for a hotel restaurant. The fare consists of those old stand-bys, Chesapeake chicken, pasta a la vodka, stuffed Gulf shrimp, and steak and cake.
It's not inspiring stuff, but George's handles it well, and the food turns out, almost every time, to be better than you thought it was going to be.
If you've grown impatient with small plates,
know that George's doesn't have them.
And if you've grown impatient with small plates, know that George's doesn't have them. The portions, especially with the appetizers, are quite large, almost too large. Our waitress told us she was concerned we were ordering too much. When she saw our reaction to the cumulative effect of the mussels Ortega, seafood toast, chicken wings and blue cheese potato chips, she said, "I tried to warn you."
The seafood toast appetizer was about a pound of jumbo lump crab, shrimp, tomato and mushroom sauteed in an Old Bay-laced cream sauce. It was, as these things go, delicious and very satisfying, with a pleasant browning. But who can eat that much? The answer: I watched a woman at the bar polish off the whole thing by herself.
It was served with toasted pita bread, when a baguette would have been better. That was even truer with the mussels, another heavy-duty appetizer, which were served in one those zesty white wine broths you want to mop up with good bread. These were good mussels, shiny and healthy looking, all of them open, and the broth, brimming with chunks of onion, tomato and jalapeno peppers, was a winner.
George's blue cheese potato chip appetizer is the kind that tops homemade potato chips with a warm blue cheese fondue. A pico de gallo helped to cut the cheese's strong flavor.
Each of these was a treat, and any one of them would have been enough for a party of four.
Entrees are prepared well, and garnished with fresh herbs and served with crisp vegetables. The best of them was the steak and cake, a perfectly respectable petit filet with raspberry demi glace and a tasty crab cake prepared with a combination of lump and regular meat.
There is apparently someone in the kitchen with a knack for barbecue. We liked the peppery tomato sauce served with both a rack of ribs, a weeknight special, and Earls BBQ Chicken, a regular item. The ribs were tender, and the chicken, topped with frizzled onions, was juicy and flavorful.
The only entree that didn't work was the fresh salmon, which can be ordered grilled, broiled, blackened, teriyaki glazed or orange glazed. Our waitress recommended the orange glaze. It was not good — too sweet. And the salmon was farm-raised and flavorless.
By the end, there's the feeling of having experienced something pleasant but lackluster. Desserts at George's are brought in from outside and too uninteresting to consider trying.
The next time you're in Mount Vernon, though, consider stopping in.
George's on Mount Vernon Square
Rating: two and a half stars
Where: 101 W. Monument St., Mount Vernon
Contact: 410-727-1314, peabodycourthotel.com
Open: Daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner
Prices: Appetizers $7-$13; entrees $14-$29
Food: Classic American bistro food.
Service: Courteous and professional.
Best dishes: Earls BBQ chicken, seafood toast, mussels Ortega
Parking: On-street parking in Mount Vernon.
Children: There is nothing on the regular menu pitched to children.
Noise level/television: The bar can get noisy, but the dining room stays quiet. The sound stays off on the television sets, which are hard to see from the dining room.
[Key: Superlative: 5 stars; Excellent: 4 stars; Very Good: 3 stars; Good: 2 stars; Promising: 1 star]