The restaurant formerly known as Harvey's in Green Spring Station has had more facelifts than Zsa Zsa Gabor. Each restaurant concept seems like it should be a winner -- sophisticated casual, seafood and now steakhouse -- but they come and go in the blink of an eye. Likewise the forgettable names: Towne Hall, City Crab & Seafood Company, and now Mick & Tony's Baltimore Prime. Even so, every time I've been back, the place seems pretty busy.
We ate there a month after the place reopened as Mick & Tony's. When we noticed one of our menus was different from the others, our nice but spacey waitress told us it had changed without warning the day before. The wine list was in disarray, but the new one should be in place by the time you get there.
Maybe owner Andrew Silverman just likes change.
My guess is that customers don't care a whole lot what the restaurant concept is. This neighborhood has a dearth of restaurants, particularly surprising given the average household income of the people who live around here. They are going to come if the food is decent -- it doesn't have to be fabulous -- and the service is good.
For one thing, Mick & Tony's has one of the best outdoor seating areas of any restaurant around, in Green Spring Station's interior courtyard. At night, the restaurant's umbrella tables are set with white tablecloths and handsome flatware; tiki torches and flowers give the courtyard a festive air. The contemporary dining room inside, while handsome, isn't half so inviting this time of year.
It's no secret that upscale steakhouses can be cash cows, so I'm not surprised at the restaurant's latest incarnation. But so as not to alienate loyal customers, Mick & Tony's has to be more than an upscale steakhouse. It's weirdly still a sports bar, still a place where families take their kids, still a place to drop in for a bite after a hard day at the office, still seafood-friendly, and only secondarily a restaurant where the New York strip costs $33 -- and that's a la carte. The baked potato will be another $4.50.
The 18-ounce prime rib chop is a heck of a piece of meat, worthy of any steakhouse: tender, well-marbled and meaty. At these prices, though, the steak should be cooked exactly as ordered, medium rare, not medium. The housemade steak sauce I asked for never showed up.
With the steak I also ordered two a la carte side dishes. The baby asparagus, thin as matchsticks, were much too delicate for their heavy blanket of melted parmesan cheese. Pureed, vanilla-scented sweet potatoes had the texture of whipped baby food.
If you crave beef, but not in large quantities, you might try the miniature beef Wellington, a first course. There are four of these little cubes of tenderloin wrapped in gilded puff pastry. But you have to accept the fact that the beef will be well done. With such small pieces, it's hard to get the pastry to puff without overcooking the meat inside.
The waitress insisted a first course of tomato, fresh mozzarella and basil was fabulous, but when it arrived the tomatoes were pre-summer pale. She whisked it away and came back with a dish of melt-in-the-mouth, golden-crusted fried calamari.
Fried seafood is also part of Mick & Tony's version of oysters Rockefeller. The oysters are crisply fried and then placed on a bed of crab meat and spinach on the half shell.
This was a more satisfying starter than the huge lumps of crab meat spilling from a radicchio leaf, served with two little slices of avocado and a salsa-like sauce. The crab meat was beautiful, but not flavorful enough to carry the plate.
If steak isn't what you want, there are more non-red meat items on the menu than steaks and chops. A pristine piece of sea bass, beautifully cooked, was balanced with delicate sides of Asian-accented vermicelli noodles and whole baby bok choy. This is chef John Peragine at his best.
No Baltimore area steakhouse -- or just about any Baltimore area restaurant, for that matter -- can survive if it doesn't offer crab cakes. Mick & Tony's are fine, the fat lumps nicely seasoned. But I'd pick the sea bass over them every time.
There is also Italian-accented comfort food on the menu, like the mushroom-filled ravioli with a rich cream sauce topped with chicken and spinach.
Desserts are housemade: profiteroles stuffed with coffee ice cream in a chocolate espresso sauce, a brownie cake a la mode and apple cobbler with a caramel sauce. All more than respectable.
But the dessert that knocked my socks off was -- get this -- cheesecake with creme brulee topping. When our waitress told us about it, I thought the cheesecake would have a caramelized sugar topping. Not at all. The marvelous cheesecake, impossibly light and incredibly rich, had a layer of creme brulee custard on top and then the crackly topping.
Mick & Tony's service wasn't bad, but it wasn't good either. We waited forever for someone to take our order. Things were pretty much OK until the end. (We were in no hurry on this nice spring evening.) Then, unfortunately, the computer broke down. When we finally couldn't wait any longer, our waitress added our check by hand; all we saw was the total.
So there are some glitches. But if I could afford it, I'd eat here on my own dime just to sit on the patio.
Meanwhile, I'll watch with interest to see if the current concept takes hold, or whether I'll be back in a year to review yet another kind of restaurant.
Mick & Tony's Baltimore Prime
Food: ** 1/2 (2 1/2 STARS)
Service: ** (2 STARS
Atmosphere: *** (3 STARS
Where: 2360 W. Joppa Road, Brooklandville
Hours: Open daily for lunch and dinner, Sunday brunch
Prices: Appetizers, $6-$13.50; Entrees: $16.50-$33
Outstanding: ****; Good: ***; Fair or uneven: **; Poor: *