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Regi's remains a beacon of dining in Federal Hill

Regi's American Bistro has been a Federal Hill fixture since 1978, and for the past 14 years, owner Alan Morstein has been running the place with the energy of teenager.

He's there morning, noon and night, making sure the restaurant offers a fun vibe and carefully prepared dishes using fresh ingredients. He even encourages people to bring their pets to the restaurant's patio with a bone-shaped sign that says "Welcome" next to a cute dog photo.

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And it doesn't matter whether you're a regular from the neighborhood or a visitor looking for a good meal before a baseball or football game. Regi's treats everyone like family.

We also like that we're not locked into a big meal at dinner. Entrees such as rib-eye steak and a recent soft-shell crab special are great, but you can also order a salad or sandwich.

"We stay current by being creative and by changing the specials," Morstein said. "It keeps it exciting for the guests and for us."

Regi's offers seasonal cocktails, an array of beers and a wine list divided into categories such as light, sweet, medium, full and more. On Thursdays, bottles of wine are half-price. Feel free to linger at the bar, where patrons enter the building.

The restaurant is a nest of rooms with 56 seats for dining, plus 18 at the bar and 20 on the patio.

We were escorted to a narrow white-brick room around the corner from the bar with glass partitions that allow you to watch the bar action. But it doesn't interfere with the intimacy of your meal.

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If you have just one appetizer, make it the Buffalo oysters. They are delicious. The fat, crispy morsels, dredged in panko crumbs, were enlivened with a zingy Buffalo sauce and served with a really good blue-cheese slaw.

For a while, Regi's was synonymous with A.J.'s tater tots. The fried potato orbs, thick with brie and bacon, make a great snack, but Regi's has a lot more to offer.

Other starters to consider are the luxurious cream of crab soup, with a rich, sherry-tinged cream broth and huge lumps of crab, and the Caesar salad, coated with a creamy, garlicky dressing and topped with thick shavings of Parmesan and big, crunchy croutons.

The calamari dish was fine but didn't stand out from those found on just about every menu in town.

We really enjoyed the salmon burger flatbread, which, unlike most open-face versions, was made like a sandwich with two thin, cracker-like crusts housing a moist salmon patty, avocado, lettuce, tomato and dill aioli.

The Pikesville chopped salad was a plate of refreshing greens mixed with crab lumps, shrimp with their tails, bacon, chopped egg and olives. The accompanying balsamic dressing in a small pitcher tied the flavors together nicely.

If you're craving pasta, the terrific chicken piccata is for you. Delicate angel hair pasta is the base for thin slices of pan-fried meat, a scattering of capers and a sauce of lemon butter, white wine and olive oil. Ribbons of Parmesan finish the dish.

The blackened mahi-mahi, painted with dill butter, was a great fish. We liked the chef's choice of sides: several small roasted potatoes and seasonal wax beans.

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The flourless chocolate torte and upside-down apple pie were OK but unexciting, and were overwhelmed by whipped cream.

Instead, go for a seasonal dessert like as the warm peach cobbler we had on our visit. It also had too much whipped cream, but underneath the frothy swirl was the cinnamon-laced fruit of the summer.

Under Morstein's direction, Regi's should continue to shine. We expect it to be a beacon for diners for the next three decades at least.

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