Pat & Mike's, 720 Kenilworth Drive, Towson. (410) 821-9303. Open Sundays to Tuesdays 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Wednesdays to Saturdays to 11 p.m., AE, MC, V. No-smoking section: yes. Wheelchair access: yes.
Not many chain restaurants make their way into this column. The food may be mass-produced, but they serve their purpose. Sometimes, though, I have a pretty good meal in a chain; and it seems too bad to avoid telling people about it just because there are more than one of the restaurants around.
The last time this happened was at Pat & Mike's in Towson, a place that opened about a year ago. It doesn't look like a spot to get good barbecued ribs. The large, multi-leveled space used to house the Rusty Scupper. It's all angles and wood and glass, with plants everywhere and enough seats for 300 people. An enormous staff of hostesses and waiters fall over themselves to get your food on your table.
I guess it depends on how much atmosphere matters to you when you're eating barbecue. Can ribs really be soul-satisfying if you're in the kind of place that brings you a warm wet cloth napkin and a slice of lemon to clean up with when you're through? If you can live with the fact that Pat & Mike's isn't a bit down-home, you'll get a large rack of baby back ribs ($13.95), meaty and tender and practically fat free. The good, vinegary sauce is sweet but not too sweet and has a little heat to it -- a grown-up version of barbecue.
We tried a variety of dishes at Pat & Mike's; the best were the homey, leave-your-diet-at-home ones. Be prepared for a lot of food. The ribs came with a high pile of puffy, crisp, waffle-fried potatoes and a simple, fresh-tasting coleslaw. A side order of barbecued baked beans was sensational: smoky and peppery and tangy-sweet. And I loved the big, moist corn muffins studded with grated Cheddar.
Not much in the way of first courses is offered -- a soup or two and some bar munchies. The gumbo ($2.50) had a fine flavor and just the right texture, plus chunks of andouille sausage. But watch out: It's so spicy you'll have steam coming out of your ears. Cheddar bacon skins ($5.25) are supposedly enough for two, which in Pat-&-Mike-speak translates into plenty for four. A large plateful of potato skins with lots of potato still left on them and crisp bits of bacon was slathered with melted Cheddar, sprinkled with chopped green onions and arranged around a generous cupful of sour cream.
If I've made this sound like a rib place, I've misled you. Pat & Mike's has large, flavorful hamburgers ($5.95) on big soft rolls. It also has grilled entrees and -- as a token nod to dieters (believe me, at this restaurant this is a joke) -- you can get your chicken with or without the skin.
A rib eye steak ($12.95) was OK, but without the good charred flavor I expected and not particularly tender. It came topped with a scoop of Worcestershire-flavored butter. Seafood gets short shrift at Pat & Mike's, but I should say that there are always a couple of fishes of the day offered for those who aren't interested in the beef-heavy menu, plus two seafood pasta dishes.
The house salad served with dinners was enormous, mounded high with somewhat tired lettuce, chopped egg, tomatoes, croutons and -- to the restaurant's credit -- real crumbled bacon. Blue cheese dressing, served on the side, consisted of four huge cubes of cheese in a little seasoned mayonnaise. A better bet would be the Caesar salad, which was made of gorgeously fresh romaine. Either salad arrives with one of those good corn muffins stuck on top of it. (Don't expect a butter plate, or for that matter, butter.)
We also tried the Chicago smokehouse chicken salad ($6.95), which had strips of excellent marinated chicken breast on top of the just-OK, or maybe even give-it-a-skip, house salad. Next time I'd opt for the Caesar chicken salad -- same good chicken, better salad.
None of these meals leaves much room for dessert, so of course dessert consists of (among other choices) one-pound -- yes, one-pound -- slices of cake. " 'What the Heck' Chocolate, Chocolate Mousse Cake" ($4.95) sounds exciting, but it doesn't involve any mousse. Just a somewhat dry chocolate cake, chocolate icing and vanilla ice cream -- and lots of everything.
I preferred the small, whole Old Kentucky pie ($3.95). "Small" is the wrong word, except to compare it to normal-size pies. The best way to duplicate it would be to press hot, soft, just-baked chocolate chip cookies into a 6-inch pie crust, add a little Wild Turkey and cover it with a cup of whipped cream. So go ahead, have your chicken without the skin first.