It's easy to feel that you're somewhere else on Baltimore's Water Street.
Tucked into this cobble-stoned side street, Peters Pour House and a few other establishments serve lunch at outdoor tables shaded by downtown office buildings.
The picturesque scene looks like the South Street Seaport area of New York. Or perhaps a street near the waterfront in Seattle or San Francisco.
But step inside, and you'll know exactly where you are. The shrimp steamer is located next to the massive wooden bar, and the smell of crab spice confirms that this is Baltimore as surely as any longitude and latitude coordinates.
Having sniffed out their availability, we couldn't resist ordering a half-pound of shrimp, which were firm and fresh-tasting. These were big shrimp, so there were fewer of them (each portion is weighed to make sure it's a half-pound). They were heavy with spice -- lots of cayenne and celery seed -- just the way we like them.
Another Baltimore classic, the crab cake platter, was a good deal at $6.95. The crab cake wasn't enormous, but it was gently made to preserve every sweet lump and served with a large portion of crisp fries. A side of slaw in a paper cup was the sweet, commercial variety.
The crab cake platter was a special that day. On the regular menu, there aren't too many surprises. Peters offers the standard lunchtime repertoire, including tuna melts, BLTs, turkey clubs and shrimp salad sandwiches. The house combo with roast beef, corned beef, slaw, provolone and Thousand Island dressing is about as daring as it gets.
Of the four salads on the menu, we tried the garden. It was large and fresh, made with crisp iceberg lettuce, ripe tomatoes, red onion and some wedges of red and green bell pepper. There wasn't a homemade salad dressing to try, so we sampled the Caesar.
It was a decent bottled version and also worked well as a dipping sauce for our mozzarella sticks. We didn't like the bright yellow honey mustard that Peters serves with them. It just didn't partner well with the oozing cheese. The mozzarella sticks looked a little like corn dogs, encased in a thick batter and fried till golden. Maybe that's why the kitchen came up with the mustard connection.
If you stick to the basics at Peters, such as a hand-formed burger on a fresh egg knot roll, you won't go wrong. Ours was cooked just as we ordered it and served with fries and coleslaw on the side. Veer into foreign territory, as we did with the chicken teriyaki, and you're not as safe. The chicken cutlet itself wasn't bad, brushed with an Oriental glaze. But one forkful of canned green beans and bitter rice pilaf was enough.
Peters serves food only at lunch, and there were plenty of ties, suspenders and heels in the wainscoted dining room to confirm that this place is popular with the business crowd. It was easy to see why. Service was attentive, prices were reasonable and food came quickly to the table.
As for decadence, we noticed a few business types with cocktails in hand, but no one lingering over dessert. There's a good reason for that: Peters doesn't serve any.
Peters Pour House
Where: Water and Grant streets
Hours: Kitchen open Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.
Credit cards accepted: American Express, Visa, Choice
Non-smoking section? Yes
Call: (410) 539-5818