Restaurant review: Dick's Last Resort raises the bar for pub grub

This is the full rack platter of pork ribs at <a href="http://findlocal.baltimoresun.com/listings/dicks-last-resort-baltimore"><b>Dick's Last Resort</b></a>, a restaurant/bar in the Inner Harbor.
This is the full rack platter of pork ribs at Dick's Last Resort, a restaurant/bar in the Inner Harbor. (Barbara Haddock Taylor, Baltimore Sun)

"Are you here to sell me something? Or do you wanna drink?"

Thus did a dodgy looking 20-something greet us upon our entering Dick's Last Resort at the Inner Harbor's Power Plant complex. My first thought was: "Does this guy really think I look like a Bev Nap salesman?"

12:50 We stand momentarily stunned in Dick's lobby. It looks like a Gap t-shirt display, only more crass. That, by the way, is a compliment to both places. The rest of the joint looks like its interior decorator blew his entire $138 budget at a surf-shop fire sale. And chose poorly.

We tell the host we're here for lunch and he dismissively waves us into Dick's dining room — a hose-downable concrete hall that's a cross between a Beach Boys memorial and a minimum security prison mess hall, lined with rows of heavily shellacked picnic tables and detached benches.

The place is almost deserted. We hunker at the end of a table near a far corner in the crossfire of thrumming speakers. Hopped-up covers of Boomer standards from the likes of Tom Petty and Talking Heads blare into the cavernous void. A multicolored curtain of bras hang over the bar's awning.

Clearly, somebody has opened his fantasy man cave to the public.

12:53 Our server tosses a couple paper placemats at us then dumps another three on the table. He slaps down a "girly drink" menu and unnecessarily informs us, "This is not a classy place." It is a barbecue place, however. We order ribs, wings and a pork sandwich.

Dick's too earnest invitation to bad behavior prompts us to bet the kitchen lacks as much taste as, so far, everything else about the Last Resort.

1:04 We would lose that bet. The ribs and wing orders sit on stiff paper covering small galvanized metal buckets. You remove the paper, which serves as a plate, and toss the bones in the bucket. Cute. The pulled pork sandwich comes in a basket with fries. The rib and wing orders also come with fries. We have a lot of fries.

And they are good. Hot, crisp, moderately salted, Dick's French fries are as good as any I've had outside a fine dining establishment.

Same with the pulled pork sandwich (Dick's Big Pig, $7.99). Seriously tender thin-sliced meat, a tiny dollop of slaw and a commercial looking but fresh sesame seed bun surprised us. The Carolina BBQ sauce complements but doesn't overwhelm the pork. The Big Pig was the high point of our meal.

Any wing not covered in flabby skin is at least acceptable to me, so Dick's offering (in a rib-wing combo for $14.99) worked well enough. They're coated in a thin, Tabasco-type sauce. Nothing wrong with that, but nothing exceptional either. They're not the main draw, but neither are they treated as a complete afterthought. Good enough.

The ribs (half rack $14.99, full $18.99) were another matter. Dry rub hardliners need not even apply. The subtle character, nuanced spice and hardwood smoke of day-long cooking give way to practicality at Dick's. Thick, tender meat — and plenty of it — drops easily from the bone. A mild sauce accents rather than disguises. I'm not sure I'd spend $15 for another half rack of Dick's ribs, but they're better than other chain ribs I've tried at that price.

1:23 We finish and call for the tab. Like other themed chains where your server scribbles a name, a smiley face and "Have a Great Day!!" on the check, our server penned a bold note at the top of our receipt: "LEAVE!!"

1:27 And we did. My dining companion and I decided Dick's Last Resort would be a good stop for informal, fun staff lunches. The caveat there would be to vegetarians; unless you have a major French fry jones, you're in trouble. Even Dick's salads feature steak or chicken.

Dick's is like Hooters without the redeeming qualities. Its rude shtick is forced and silly. But its pub fare is better than average. It may look like a surfer/skater beer hall and sound like an aging Parrothead hideout. Lord knows what it must be like Friday and Saturday nights. But danged if it doesn't raise the bar on chain pub grub.

Dick's Last Resort

Where: 621 E. Pratt St. Inner Harbor

Contact: 443-453-5961

Lunch hours: 11:00 a.m.-4 p.m.

Lunch entrées: $8-$20

Food: ✭✭✭

Service: ✭✭1/2

Atmosphere: ✭✭1/2

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

Dining time:

37 minutes