Burke's Cafe serves traditional standbys in a homey setting


I have always taken comfort in Burke's. Amid the renaissance raging on Baltimore's waterfront, this quiet cafe has maintained its homely identity and comfortable atmosphere.

At the bottom of St. Paul Street, Burke's Cafe, in business since 1934, is a dark but inviting pub where a diner can be at ease alone or in a large group.

With high wooden booths, cold draft in oversized goblets, perhaps Baltimore's best onion rings and a selection of good food that includes such standbys as open-faced turkey sandwiches and sour beef, Burke's has repeatedly impressed me as being unpretentious but reliable.

Unfortunately, I was not so comforted during a recent visit to Burke's with my family. The food was OK, but little more.

Even the "world famous colossal french fried onions rings" ($3.40), as they are described on the menu, seemed to have less flavor and more grease than I had remembered. The portion, which would have been more of an issue if the taste had been better, appeared smaller than in the past.

Early on a Sunday evening, the four of us found Burke's rather quiet, compared with the lunchtime hustle and after-work bustle. We were seated in the side room, which is far less attractive than the barroom itself.

Burke's does not have a children's menu as such, but does offer varied enough fare, including sandwiches and plain vegetables, to accommodate most young tastes. Even in the mostly empty dining room, there were other families with small children all the time we were there.

Our two young diners settled on a usual -- large hot dogs served with french fries ($2.80). They also shared side orders of applesauce and green beans ($1.35 each) in which they showed little interest -- far less, certainly, than in the chocolate ice cream to follow. The green beans and applesauce are among a vegetable selection that includes German potato salad, stewed tomatoes, baked beans and pickled beets.

My entree, Baked Flounder Filets ($10.85), was prepared as one might expect to find in a much fancier restaurant, although in a fancier place I probably wouldn't have had to ask for lemon wedges to spritz the fish with. The two large filets were moist, tender and nicely seasoned.

With the fish, I was served an ordinary tossed salad and a baked potato that had been sitting too long.

My husband found his Sour Beef ($7.55) too sour for his liking, but, then, he's never been much of a devotee of this traditional Baltimore dish. Besides, he had his taste buds primed for liver and onions, but the kitchen was out. I, on the other hand, found the taste of the Sour Beef satisfying.

The potato pancake and red cabbage served with the beef were run-of-the-mill.

For dessert, I had Cheesecake ($2.30) laced with chunks of chocolate sandwich cookies. One of two homemade desserts at Burke's -- the other is rum cake -- the cheesecake was rich and quite good. My husband had Apple Pie a la Mode ($1.85). Although not homemade, it was also fine. The kids loved their chocolate ice cream ($1.70), although our 2-year-old wore as much home as she ate.

The bill, with two coffees (95 cents), three drinks and a glass of wine, came to $55. We enjoyed good service from a friendly waitress, and the relaxed atmosphere that is Burke's on a Sunday. I only wish the kitchen was a little less comfortable with the food it put before us.

** 1/2

Burke's Cafe

St. Paul at Lombard


Hours: 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. everyday

Reservations: Not necessary

Credit cards: Major credit cards accepted

Handicapped access: Restrooms not accessible

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