Photographs were hottest items on the menu

If quarterback Joe Flacco's arm isn't what it should be next season, Baltimore will only have some of its most ardent football fans to blame.

Flacco's admirers were so busy getting their pictures taken with him Monday night, when he played celebrity waiter at a charity dinner at Morton's The Steakhouse, they neglected to take appetizers off the tray he held.The real wait staff at the downtown Baltimore restaurant swapped out the tray of tuna tartare bites Flacco was holding for a tray of mini-crab cakes. Still no takers. Only picture takers.

"Nobody's taking the food," Flacco grumbled good-naturedly. "I wish they would, so it would get lighter."

So it went Monday, as six Ravens traded helmets and pigskins for aprons and prime beef to benefit Ravens center Matt Birk's HIKE Foundation, which provides educational programs and resources to at-risk children in Maryland. The newly minted waiters had no trouble pleasing the crowd. But moving the food, not so much.

More than 200 people paid $250 a pop for the four-course dinner at Morton's, which featured hors d'oeuvres, mixed field greens salad, filet mignon and colossal shrimp Alexander with mashed potatoes and steamed asparagus, plus a dessert trio of New York cheesecake, double-chocolate mousse and fresh seasonal berries with sabayon sauce.

"Oh, oh, oh," a woman in a leopard-print blouse cried as she rushed a waiter with a platter of tomato-and-mozzarella appetizers.

Tracey Dowling of Forest Hill was not after insalata caprese but a photo with waiter Michael Oher, who has a day job as offensive lineman and is also famous as the man whose life story inspired the movie "The Blind Side."

Oher posed for the picture and Dowling walked away happy - and empty handed.

Offensive tackle Joe Reitz came up with a good strategy for lightening his tuna tartare load.

"You want a picture? It comes with a fee," he said, offering one of the raw fish bites to a photo-seeking fan. "They're really good. They might be a tad messy."

As servers, the Ravens were a JV squad. Of the six Ravens who participated, only offensive coordinator Cam Cameron had ever waited tables. And that was as a teenager in Terre Haute, Ind., at a restaurant called Ambrosini's.

Before the event began, the Ravens got a crash course in waiting tables from the regular Morton's staffers.

"If they're bringing out salads, grab some salads," Morton's general manager Ron McNeill coached.

"Sometimes the plates are hot, so if you can't take it," he teased, "let the professionals take care of that."

Some of the players took immediately to their new jobs.

Offensive guard Ben Grubbs was impressed with the "employee meal" they were served before they went to work. The players ate higher on the hog than the average Morton's server. The Ravens enjoyed prime sliders, filet sandwiches, mini-crab cakes and salad wedge bites. (The real wait staff got steak, stuffing and steamed veggies.)

"It was really good, really good," Grubbs said. "I might get a job here just to get the food."

Birk was pleased that the event sold out. He announced that the HIKE Foundation would launch two programs in some Baltimore-area schools in the fall to encourage children to read at home. The foundation will offer prizes including gift cards and Ravens jerseys to reward reading. The public school that logs the most reading minutes will win the grand prize: a school assembly with Birk.

The foundation also will offer Scholastic Book Fairs at schools where they are not normally held. Each student will receive a voucher to buy books at no cost.

Birk also said he was gratified that so many of his teammates were willing to participate in the event, which he said took place during "one of our few weeks off."

"There was no hesitation," he said.

He added, with a laugh, "Hopefully, nobody gets burned."


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