Silver Spring Inn's decor may not be impressive but the sour beef is


The Silver Spring Inn just doesn't look like the kind of plac that serves some of the best Sour Beef around. Or does it?

Sour Beef is old-time Baltimore. Heavy, filling, intensely delicious if prepared properly. Nothing lite, nothing nouvelle about it.

The Silver Spring Inn is also old-time Baltimore, despite its location beyond the Beltway on Belair Road. The inn is a corner bar with dining room attached. Dark, smoky, the kind of place working folks have always stopped at for a few beers on the way home.

At one end of the bar are the package goods and a TV tuned to Wheel of Fortune." At the other, signs that suggest patrons "Try Our Buffalo Wings -- Regular or Hot -- With a Beck's Beer." Which only goes to show that, even here, yuppies can't be ignored.

Off to one side is the dining room, about half the size of the bar, with stucco walls, booths and tables, about a dozen in all. The look is dim, dark, been there a long time. Not, at first glance, an appearance that leads the newcomer to expect good food.

But appearances, as we try to teach our children, can be deceiving. Not across the board, mind you, but in spots.

I began with a tossed salad ($1.35), my husband had a cup of bean soup (90 cents). But what bean soup! Lima beans in a rich, thick, well-seasoned stock that surprised him with its out-of-place luxuriousness -- and for less than $1. My salad, by the way, was a large plate of very fresh lettuce, tomatoes and onions. Dressed with oil and vinegar, it was a minor surprise.

I ordered, you guessed it, Sour Beef and Dumplings. Frankly, in a dozen years in Baltimore, I have not had better. And that may be a conservative compliment.

Our waitress said the three fist-sized chunks of fat-free beef had been soaking for three days in the Silver Spring's own marinade. The oh-so-tender beef was accompanied by two average dumplings and topped with a rich, gingery, almost sweet gravy. It was everything Sour Beef should be and, these days, seldom is. No corners cut here.

My husband had Crab Imperial. Not bad, just average, with a good sauce that topped, but was not mixed with, the crab and, it seemed, a bit of filler. With it he had french fries, which were good but not exceptional, and overcooked, bland spinach.

At $11.50 for my sour beef and $10.50 for his crab, we had had, by far, the most expensive items on the menu, which is heavy with sandwiches, fried appetizers and entrees in the $6 to $9 range. You can, by the way, get a half order of sour beef, with one dumpling, for $6.50, and you can order extra dumplings, too. We saw many of the restaurant's older customers being served the half-orders, which looked to be enough for almost anyone. I took half of mine home.

For dessert, my husband and I split Rice Pudding ($1.50). We should have split before the rice pudding. Its crunchy, ice-cold rice was held together by a canned-tasting pudding so thick it held the rice captive, even when it hung half-an-inch over the edge.

With two mixed drinks, a draft and two coffees, the bill came to $36.21. (Be sure to bring cash; no credit cards welcome here.)

That's cheap.

Especially when one considers that in this step-child of a dining room I had had some of the area's best sour beef.

Worth noting . . .

. . . Churchill's Restaurant on Liberty Street has started 'u rewarding its regulars with membership in the Frequent Diners' Club. For every dollar customers spend in Churchill's restaurant or pub at lunch or dinner, they receive one point. And once a diner collects 500 points, he's entitled to a $25 gift certificate.

. . . The Kids' Diner is back in business. Leftover from the Baltimore movie "The Diner," it is enshrined on a triangle of land at 400 E. Saratoga St. near City Hall. It used to be a training spot for teens, operated by the city schools. Now it has re-opened as a restaurant-vocational school supervised by the state's Department of Juvenile Services. With a lunch counter, booths and a juke box, The Kids' Diner is open weekdays for breakfast, lunch and carryout. "Diner" food includes hot sandwiches with mashed potatoes and gravy, burgers, "melts," malts and even meatloaf.

** 1/2

The Silver Spring Inn

8634 Belair Road


Hours: Monday and Tuesday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Wednesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.

Reservations: None accepted.

Credit cards: None accepted.

Handicapped access: Accessible.

Smoking area: None designated.

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