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Pearson's restaurant mixes the good, the bad and the ordinary



Where: 808 Westminster Pike, Reisterstown.

Hours: Tuesdays through Thursdays 5 p.m.

to 9 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays 5 p.m.

to 10 p.m., Sundays 4:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.;

closed Mondays.

Credit cards accepted: AE, MC, V.

Features: American food.

Non-smoking section? Yes.

Call: (410) 833-3994.

... **

The Country Fare Group of restaurants -- which includes the Brass Elephant, Fiori and Kings Contrivance, among others -- has been consistently reliable since it started out in the middle of nowhere on Westminster Pike. Well, that first site is no longer out in the middle of nowhere. The Northwest Expressway puts you practically on its front stoop.

A couple of months ago the consortium opened up a new restaurant there. (Enrico's, a family style Italian restaurant that replaced Fiori when it moved, has come and gone.) The new place is called Pearson's, and it's very much in the mold of a lot of new restaurants these days: The food is casual, the atmosphere is laid-back, the prices are moderate.

The setting at this locale has always been country-kitchen, even when it was Fiori and the cuisine was haute. The new menu of grilled foods and burgers fits in well with the rustic dining room, which I, for one, have never been moved to describe as "charmingly rustic." It's dark and low-ceilinged, with oilcloth tablecloths and paper place mats.

We didn't expect anything fancy -- one look around told us that a burger or a steak might be the best bet. But we also didn't expect our meal to be as uneven as it was. One thing I've always admired about this group of restaurants is its professionalism. You wouldn't know it from our meal.

I'll start with the negatives so I can end with the positives. Jamaican jerk wings ($4.50) were greasy, lacking any assertive spicing, and were served with a small plastic cup of ice-cold black beans. (Not room temperature. Cold.) A soup sampler ($3.25) arrived lukewarm and featured Maryland crab with tired vegetables and one crab claw, a shrimp bisque that had an unidentifiably odd but definitely unpleasant flavor, and a creamy clam chowder that would have been excellent if it had been hot.

Salmon Monte Carlo ($14.50), the fish of the day, tasted a bit fishy and was overcooked for my taste. At the end of our meal, Oreo cheesecake, imported from Fiori, had the flavor and consistency of a soggy Oreo.

But the other dessert we tried, a slice of Snickers pie from Ms. Desserts, was decadently good. Here's what else I liked without qualification: A "petite cut" -- not too petite -- of charbroiled top sirloin ($10.50): generous, full of flavor, nicely charred and cooked pink just as I asked. Fresh cauliflower in garlic butter. Interesting bread baked on the premises.

But then grilled potatoes ($1.95 if you order them as a side dish), a house specialty, arrived with half of them too blackened to eat. The ones that were edible were great; the sliced baking potatoes had been covered with olive oil, garlic and parsley, then grilled.

Salads were ordinary, made with iceberg lettuce, grated carrots and red onion rings. (The creamy herb dressing was very good, but restaurants that serve simple grilled meats should have great salads. It's not as if the owners don't know how.)

I see I haven't exactly ended with something positive, so I'll add that the staff members are not only very good at what they do but seem really nice, which made our evening much more pleasant than it might sound from my description of our food.

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