The quality of life has gone up a notch in Towson in the last few months. But if you haven't eaten at the Garden Spot Cafe, you just don't know it yet.
Open since July, Paul and Jane Resko's restaurant looks a lot like the way it did when it was a Donna's Coffee Bar. The glass cases up front are still a major presence. The counter is the same cool marble. But framed prints of garden scenes dress up the walls and potted ficus soften the view out the front windows. The place still feels like a lunchtime cafe, though, with the bright lighting and open floor plan. Maybe those ficus trees could be used to partition a more intimate dining area, at least at dinner time.
I love restaurants that have ambitious menus and prices that are low enough to make your jaw drop. Here a dinner of shrimp and saffron linguine or grilled salmon is $8.95.
One of the pricier items is the Black Angus sirloin. It's $14.95 and worth every penny. With a thick, dark crust, the steak was incredibly tender -- full of flavor and juice. It was paired with mushroom sauce, ribbons of peppered squash and wonderful lumpy mashed potatoes. This meal was so comforting, it was better than a massage after a long day of work.
Another winner was the shrimp and saffron linguine, suggested by our helpful waitress. Five jumbo shrimp and spears of grilled asparagus were arranged on top of linguine in a seafood-tomato sauce with high notes of saffron. The fresh pasta was a little limp and there was a little too much sauce -- two minor flaws that my friend pointed out but which hardly bothered me at all.
For more casual dining, there are plenty of sandwiches on the menu, served on focaccia, wrapped in tortillas or layered onto rolls. Ours had freshly roasted and carved turkey breast with baby greens, ripe tomatoes and bright-green, pencil-thin asparagus on herb focaccia with chive mayonnaise. Cut into two huge triangles, it was enough to share.
So was the grilled vegetable antipasto, with thick slices of zucchini and yellow squash, rounds of eggplant and halved plum tomatoes, all pleasantly charred on the grill and arranged on a bed of greens with sticks of fontina and provolone cheese.
Melted fontina cheese kept chopped mushrooms and basil in place on grilled bruschetta, another of our appetizers. The bread slices were softer than usual, which made them seem more like a variation of garlic bread. They were good, but they couldn't compare with the portobello mushroom stuffed with crab meat and nuggets of lobster, or grilled shrimp in a sweet orange-tomato barbecue sauce.
Both were well-executed and delicious. The only thing we did not like about them was their garnish, which turns up on a lot of dishes at the Garden Spot -- a scoop of tasteless squash slaw the menu calls vegetable relish.
The Garden Spot Cafe has pared its homemade dessert choices to just cheesecake and muffins. Tart blueberries make a fluffy, cakelike muffin a lovely choice for breakfast or lunch, but the crumbly moist turtle cheesecake with a ribbon of chocolate throughout is hard to resist any time of day.
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Garden Spot Cafe
22 W. Allegheny Ave., Towson
Hours: Open Monday to Friday for breakfast, lunch and dinner; Saturday for lunch and dinner. Closes at 5 p.m. on Monday
Credit cards: All major cards
Prices: Appetizers, $2.95-$6.95; entrees, $5.25-$14.95 (no liquor license)
Ratings system: Outstanding: ****; Good ***; Fair or uneven **; Poor *
Pub Date: 10/07/99