Triple Creek tries to move upscale from casual joint

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Triple Creek Cafe started life in April as a burgers-and-brews joint but was turned into a fancier restaurant when Guy Mettle took over as general manager a short while later.

The unassuming restaurant along a major road in Westminster is still a bar, but now it serves crab cakes, steaks, ribs and the like, plus nightly specials. Mettle, who is chef as well as general manager, described the new menu as "upscale casual."

Mettle is trying to spiff up Triple Creek, yet there's something about this neighborhood hangout, with its linoleum tabletops and paneled walls, that seems to resist spiffing. That painting of a sailboat is lovely, but it just doesn't look right hanging next to the Miller Lite flags.

The parts of Triple Creek that don't want to be spiffed are good. We were there on a Sunday night, and a group of people who seemed like regulars were yukking it up at the bar. Another group of people in a side room were pounding on steamed crabs, and the sweet tang of Old Bay filled the air.

But the crabs were only for parties and had to be requested in advance, so we contented ourselves with the regular menu. The menu may have been spiffed, but the food didn't seem to want to comply. Many of the dishes didn't match the menu descriptions.

For example, the menu claimed the fried calamari would be "simmered in aioli sauce," but that doesn't even make sense - aioli is a thick garlic mayonnaise not suited for simmering. However, the rings were served with a dipping sauce that could be considered aioli.

Similarly, a dish called shrimp lejon promised crustaceans stuffed with horseradish, then wrapped in bacon. The shrimp were wrapped in nice, crisp bacon, but I couldn't detect a horseradish stuffing. Instead, a dipping sauce with horseradish was provided.

In the case of a main-course-sized fried oyster Caesar salad, the menu promised frizzled onions, which should be crisp little garnish-y shards. What we got were onions that had been sauteed, but not even to a golden brown. These were just limp and white.

Granted, we went on a Sunday, the one night that Mettle isn't in the kitchen. Who knows? Maybe he's a genius with a frizzled onion and an aioli simmer sauce.

The best thing we ate were the baby back ribs, which had a sweet-tangy sauce and plenty of tender, almost fatty, meat. Though seafood is prominent on the menu, the shrimp and calamari were tough, and the fried oysters in the Caesar salad were disappointing.

A special of mussels, shrimp and crab meat over bow-tie pasta arrived in a broth of white wine, cheese, tomato and onions. It could have been an elegant dish, but the seafood was average, and the wine sauce was bland.

For now, desserts arrive from an outside vendor, but Mettle said Triple Creek may start making its own sweets soon. A peanut-butter pie recommended by our server was deliciously rich, but the apple pie, which had a nice blast of cinnamon, arrived cold.

When we told our server, she apologized and returned moments later with a slice that had obviously been zapped for a few moments in a microwave. There were warm spots, but most of the pie was still icy.

Mettle seems to be focusing on the big picture at Triple Creek, but details are important, too. We like our apple pie warm, and we like the food we receive to match the descriptions on the menu.

We hope things are better on the nights when he's in the kitchen.

Triple Creek Cafe

Where: 3600 Sykesville Road, Westminster

Call: 410-552-6400

Open: Lunch and dinner daily

Credit cards: All major cards

Prices: Appetizers $5.95-$8.95, entrees $6.95-$20.95

Food: **

Service: ** 1/2

Atmosphere: ** 1/2

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