So this is where all the single people in the Timonium area go on a Friday night.
Just about everyone walking into Hightopps on a warm spring evening had that freshly laundered look, all shiny hair and scrubbed cheeks, stomachs sucked in, wearing their favorite jeans.
They were crowded onto the restaurant's large wooden deck, which manages to convey a beach-town mood even though it overlooks a parking lot. And they were in the outsized indoor bar area, with its wide windows and expensive-looking pool tables.
The live music, on this night a mellow Jimmy Buffett-like sound, is what gets the whole place into a good mood. That, and the dollar drafts on special for happy hour. But it's easy to see the appeal of the restaurant even for people not interested in the bar scene. For those customers (like me), there's an interior dining room, decorated with music posters and photos.
Music is a big part of Hightopps, which also runs a catering business serving rock stars including Billy Joel and Elton John. A Hightopps bar and restaurant was a Fells Point staple for many years before owner James Bell decided to shut it down and focus on cooking for the musicians and their entourages.
Now Hightopps is once again a restaurant, with a larger space and more parking than in Fells Point, but still a focus on live music, which can be heard there often. The menu at Hightopps is a fairly basic selection of burgers, wings, crab cakes, steamers and pasta dishes. But if it's good enough for Bono, it should be good enough for you and me, right?
Well, not really.
I don't know what the Hightopps folks are feeding the rock stars, but I'm fairly certain it's not the same food that's being peddled in the restaurant. No way would Toby Keith eat a blackened tuna sandwich overwhelmed by salt or a slice of cheesecake that tasted as though it has been sitting in a fridge for weeks.
To be blunt, I liked the atmosphere at Hightopps, but the food left a lot to be desired. The best thing I tried was the moist and meaty burger ($7.85), but nearly everything else was flawed.
Let's start at the beginning: Crab dip ($8.95), served warm and in a hollowed-out bread bowl, had hardly any crab taste at all. Quesadillas ($6.95) with diced chicken and tomatoes blanketed in melted cheddar and jack cheeses lacked any discernible spice. Same for the nachos ($7.95), topped with cheddar, diced tomatoes and jalapenos.
On to the main course: The Athena, ($15.95), a penne dish topped with chicken, spinach, feta cheese and olives, was less than the sum of its parts. The chicken was in thick slices that had to be cut with a knife, and the other ingredients had nothing to hold them together. The blackened tuna steak sandwich ($7.95) was dry and vaguely fishy.
The sandwiches came with hand-cut fries or potato chips that needed a little more salt and a lot more crispness. The pickles were good, though, nice and garlicky.
But it was our desserts that delivered the final insult to our taste buds. An ice cream sundae ($3.75), described on the menu as "three scoops of your choice of ice cream topped with chocolate sauce, whipped cream, jimmies and a cherry" turned out to be three scoops of not particularly good vanilla, with a few jimmies and a thin splash of chocolate sauce.
And the cheesecake ($3.95) would have been bad when it was fresh. But its dense, dry texture was made even worse by the fact that it had clearly spent too much time in a refrigerator. Probably next to onions.
Hightopps was crowded the night we were there, mostly with people having drinks on the deck, or eating burgers in the indoor bar area. It seems to be Timonium's new hot spot, but it would be even better if the owners paid as much attention to the food as they pay to the music and the mood.
Hightopps Backstage Grille
2306 York Road, Timonium
Daily 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., kitchen closes at 1 a.m.
Appetizers $5.50-$8.95, entrees $6.50-$19.95
** (2 stars)
** (2 stars)
*** (3 stars)
[Outstanding:**** Good:*** Fair or uneven:** Poor:*