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Shoo-Fly Diner is a great option for families

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There was a sharing and liking frenzy on Facebook when news broke that Spike and Amy Gjerde of Woodberry Kitchen were opening a restaurant in Belvedere Square. For those of us in North Baltimore/Towson who aren't big fans of chains, the pickings are slim and this sounded like nirvana.

Shoo-Fly Diner opened on Friday, and I took the kids there last night. We were not disappointed.

The first thing your kids will talk about is the slide that remains from back in the day when the space was Hess Shoes. Even though my 10-year-old son is not generally big on slides anymore, the novelty of having one in a nice restaurant was too much to ignore and he went down it repeatedly, as did my 8-year-old daughter. It's actually kind of hard to climb onto because it's so high off the ground, presumably so toddlers won't unexpectedly jump on and go splat at the bottom.

(Although my kids loved it, I predict it will soon be roped off. It's right next to the stairs that the wait staff use to bring meals up to diners, and they spent the night dodging sliding children. Fun is fun until you're covered in Beau's Pork Cheesesteak.)

The upstairs has a traditional, nice dining room. But we sat in the lower level, which is fashioned as an old-timey diner and is adjacent to the open kitchen. The stools spin, and it's fun to watch the hustle and bustle of the cooks. We sat next to two lovely women who chatted with us about the food -- and of course it turned out we knew people in common; Smalltimore. Against a wall two people who'd run into each other stood chatting and drinking wine. It really seemed more like a dinner party than a restaurant.

Down a short flight of stairs from the diner is a playroom that features a vintage pin-ball machine (not in working order last night), a small table, and assorted small kids' toys like rocking horses and blocks. You can't really see this room from the dining area, so people with younger kids will want to accompany them there. If you're out with friends or significant others and your kids are old enough to wander a bit, this is a nice place for them to go after eating while you chat.

The menu is Woodberry-style comfort food. The two women mentioned above got fried chicken and meatloaf, respectively. My daughter got the kids' mac-and-cheese and reported that she liked their choice of cheese and that the dressing on her salad was good. My son got the Scrappledelphia -- scrapple, apples, griddled onions, mustard and melted cheddar on rye toast -- from the regular menu. "It's great," he said. "It's the best it could be."

As a vegetarian, I followed the waitress' advice and ordered Hashbrowns All the Way -- hashbrowns topped with sauteed kale and other veggies and greens. It was good but bordered on being a little too kale-y for my taste. Of course, I suppose if I liked kale more I'd still be size 4 instead of size mrphmhmm.

The kids also shared a watermelon slush, which my daughter said tasted like cherries but still liked, and my son thought tasted exactly like watermelon (which it did because of course that's what it actually was). No red dye #5 here.

Cleverly, a small dessert menu was placed under my daughter's bowl of mac-and-cheese so that kids could be sure to ask their parents for an after-dinner treat. They split the Mast Brothers chocolate pudding, which arrived white with a few chocolate shavings but upon stirring became full-on chocolate and was out of this world. And gone in about two seconds.

The wait staff was super friendly and there was a buzzing, positive energy about the place. I also loved that there were no televisions to turn my kids into wide-eyed, silent zombies.

As we were driving home, my son sighed and said, "God, I love that place."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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