Rudys' 2900 is a perennial favorite of people who prefer their food to be more Continental than cutting-edge. Food that's not trendy, or stodgy, but polished.
Throw in an attractive dining room with country-club panache and a gracious staff, and you have an idea of what has made this Finksburg restaurant so popular.
There are actually two Rudys at the helm ' Rudy Paul and Rudy Speckamp, who opened their doors in Carroll County in 1983. Paul is likely to greet you at the door and drop by your table during dinner, while chef Speckamp is turning butter into sophisticated sauces with kitchen alchemy.
One of their best dishes isn't on the menu, although it's a house specialty. The grouper is succulently moist inside a crisp golden crust of shredded potato. We loved the play of textures, flavors and even colors, given the contrast between the pearly white fish and the dark pool of red-wine butter sauce that's sweetened with a touch of port.
Sauces are standouts at Rudys', especially the creamy green peppercorn sauce we tried with half of a slow-roasted duck. Like velvet against fire, the cream softened the sharpness of the peppercorns, but not their vivid intensity. Our waitress, who did a smooth job all night, brought a finger bowl with lemon ' in case my friend who ordered the duck wanted to gnaw on some of that wonderfully crispy skin.
Another specialty is the smoked shrimp appetizer. Plump shrimp are quickly brined, slowly cold-smoked, grilled to order and placed atop field greens with a triple mustard sauce. Just as impressive are phyllo boats of warm goat cheese teamed with cold ratatouille.
Our other entrees included a veal chop that was tender and nearly 3 inches thick, covered in an earthy wild-mushroom sauce. The side dishes were perfectly matched ' spaghetti squash with caraway seed, a wedge of grilled polenta and buttered green beans.
From the attractively priced light-fare menu, we tried the penne with grilled shrimp wrapped in prosciutto and basil leaves. The cured Italian meat gave a certain depth of flavor to the pink tomato-cream sauce. But that didn't stop Rudy Paul from coming to our table to convince us that it needed a sprinkling of grated cheese. We were charmed.
Light-fare entrees aren't served with the small house salad of fresh baby greens that comes with regular entrees. It's the fine vinaigrettes, especially one made with chunks of blue cheese, that make these salads seem special.
But the food at Rudys' stops just short of dazzling. Some seafood, in particular an appetizer of seared sea scallops and the grilled shrimp in our pasta dish, was overcooked to the point of toughness. The herb-flecked seafood sausage was moist, but paired with a pale clam sauce, it made a bland starter.
There are some clunkers on the double-tiered dessert cart, too. If the Bavarian cheesecake had been named lemon chiffon cake, maybe we would have appreciated its frothy texture. It reminded us of those whipped gelatin desserts. The deeply flavored chocolate ganache was a better choice.
Where: 2900 Baltimore Blvd., Finksburg
Hours: Open Tuesday through Friday for lunch; Tuesday through Sunday for dinner
Prices: Appetizers, $3.50-$9.95; entrees, $8.95-$26.95; major credit cards
Rating system: Outstanding: ****; Good: ***; Fair or uneven: **; Poor: *
Pub Date: 8/16/98