If you grew up south of here and yearn for traditional, home-style cooking, Courtney's Place in Randallstown might be the restaurant for you. Courtney's, which specializes in Southern food such as catfish and lake trout, collard greens, ribs and fried chicken, looks as if it might be more than just a restaurant to the neighborhood: It was quiet when we were there, but it has entertainment, ranging from live jazz to karaoke, nearly every night.
Courtney's has a full bar that's cleverly situated behind the main dining room and can be entered by two standard-sized doorways. This allows bar patrons to talk and drink and not be disturbed by the entertainment in the dining room.
Because there was no entertainment while we were there, we quickly settled down to the business of eating. We followed the waitress' recommendation throughout the meal, and we weren't sorry. We started with buffalo wings and catfish sticks, along with homemade lemonade and a selection from what must be a huge beer list. "Just name a beer and I'll bring it to you," our waitress said.
The buffalo wings (we chose the "mild" sauce) were crispy, slightly sweet, slightly vinegary and so good that we paid no attention to the prepackaged blue-cheese sauce and half-hearted-looking carrots and celery that accompanied them. Catfish sticks - homemade - were crunchy-crusted, tender and generously portioned. They come with more of the dull blue-cheese mix and a much better, slightly minty tartar sauce that tasted homemade. The lemonade was the best we've ever had, and the refills are free.
EntrM-ies are big and hearty, and include homey favorites such as smothered pork chops, meatloaf and gravy, Southern-style catfish, crab cakes and strip steak.
We ordered fried chicken, which had a light, pleasant batter coating. A rack of ribs was sweet and tender, with a little background zest, but was not fresh off the grill. A platter of lake trout consisted of three very large pieces of fried fish. Parts of the fish were dry and other parts were plump and juicy. All were smothered in a medley of fried sliced potato, onion and red pepper that made a savory complement to the fish.
As if you could eat more, each entrM-ie comes with two side dishes. We tried collard greens, mashed potatoes and candied yams. The greens were the standout: naturally sweet, tender without being stringy and containing big chunks of ham hock that made them just a little salty. Mashed potatoes were merely good. Topped with serviceable gravy, they tasted real, but a little butter would have gone a long way. Candied yams may have been canned, but they worked with the meal.
Enough was finally enough, although we have to confess that if the desserts had been in the same Southern tradition, we would have ordered them. The meal cried out for sweet potato or lemon chess pie, but all that was available were a couple of Ms. Desserts. They can be fine, but you can get them anywhere.
Courtney's really gets going later in the evening; the crowds build around 8 or 9 o'clock as people fill the best tables for a view of the musical acts, which don't start until 10 o'clock.
We arrived earlier in the evening and the restaurant was subdued, with a few couples and families enjoying dinner or a drink and one family celebrating a quiet birthday.
Courtney's doesn't offer much in the way of scenery; its bare-bones dM-icor includes plain wooden booths and white walls. But once the food was on the table, even the early birds like us had enough to look at and enjoy.
3526 Brenbrook Drive, Randallstown 410-655-3645 Hours: Open daily for lunch and dinner
Credit cards: All major cards
Prices: Appetizers $4.25 to $9.95; entrees $9.95 to $21.95
Ratings system: Outstanding: ****; Good: ***; Fair or uneven: **; Poor *