The brain works slowly in winter. There are dozens of beautiful art-glass pieces displayed behind the bar at the Glass Grill east of Highlandtown. There are two dazzling, enormous Dale Chihuly-inspired glass sculptures hanging from the Glass Grill's ceiling. If you ask your server about these sculptures, he'll tell you that the pieces were forged by Tim McFadden, and that you're welcome to stroll over with your beer to the adjacent glassworks, a converted garage, and watch him at work.
You'll notice, in a separate building, the McFadden Art Glass studios, which holds classes, demonstrations and events such as "date nights" on the first and third Friday of the month. Only then, back at your table in the dining room does it hit you: oh, the Glass Grill.
This is something new: an art-glass campus, complete with a restaurant that students and visitors can retreat to after a hard day in the hot shop. I love that the Glass Grill fits no preconceived image of what such a restaurant would be like. This is not some fancy little museum restaurant serving celery soup and watercress sandwiches; it's a good, old-fashioned, Baltimore-style strip-mall sports bar/restaurant. I never visited when it was the old Eastwood Inn, so I'm not sure how much its new owner, the McFadden family, has changed it. It still comes across more as a bar than a restaurant, but when we visited we enjoyed a relatively quiet and relaxed dinner.
The menu is not fancy. The appetizers are modern pub standards like mozzarella sticks, steamed shrimp, chicken wings, creamy crab dip, quesadillas and onion rings. Squeezed in there, though, is a very likable garlic grilled shrimp appetizer. These were big, plump and nicely seasoned shrimp layered over a half-loaf of buttery toasted bread. The onion rings we tried were good, too - crispy and obviously home-battered.
The entrees are mostly pub fare and comfort food as well, but all just a bit more ambitious than you'd expect. So, in addition to fish and chips, crab cakes and ribs, there are bourbon-glazed salmon, a half-roasted chicken and a grilled shrimp and pasta dish: nothing elaborate, but things that call for some kitchen skills. Similarly, among the burgers and chicken melts there are several kinds of panini and a salmon club.
We enjoyed our food, which was served on pretty colored-glass plates, and everything tasted homemade. The broccoli served with our entrees was fresh, bright and crunchy, and the french fries were crispy, salty and hand-cut. The ribs were meaty, tender and natural-tasting; some kitchens let the sauce do too much talking. A salmon club sandwich is well put together, with crispy bacon. But because it only cost $7.99, we weren't too surprised that the salmon wasn't loaded with wild flavor. I didn't quite take to the Glass Grill's meatloaf, comfort food that sounded perfect for a cold winter's night, but we all like our meatloaf a certain way, and I like mine fluffier.
There was only one other table with diners on the Thursday night when we visited, and the cook was doubling as the food runner and a backup for the bartender/waiter. He half-smiled when we ordered noodles and butter from the menu; he seemed to know that we were ordering it partly out of fun. It's like ordering a bowl of cereal. He brought it out to us when it was done, and he had garnished it with fresh parsley. It was the best dish of noodles and butter you could ever want.
the glass grill
Where: 6804 Eastern Ave.
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-midnight Monday-Thursday; 11:30 a.m.-2 a.m. Friday-Saturday; noon-midnight Sunday
Credit cards: American Express, Visa, MasterCard
Food: ** 1/2 (2 1/2 stars)
Service: ** 2 stars)
Ambience: ** 2 stars)
Appetizers: $3.99 - $9.99
Entrees: $8.99 - $18.99
on the menu
* Onion rings: $3.99
* Garlic grilled shrimp: $7.99
* Salmon club sandwich: $7.99
* Half-rack ribs: $8.99
* Meatloaf: $8.99
* Fish and chips: $8.99
* Half-roasted chicken: $9.99
* Noodles and butter: $3.99