June 8, 2010

Best Place to Take an Out-of-Town Visitor: Mama's on the Half Shell

June 8, 2010

After a winter of unprecedented snowfall and blistering temperatures, it goes without saying that Baltimoreans – known for their complete intolerance of winter weather – couldn’t be happier that summer is finally upon us. Finally, it’s time to pull the grill out of the shed, put on your flip-flops, and crack open a bottle of Natty Boh. And of course, its time to eat some good seafood! And whether you’re looking to shuck oysters or savor a fine filet of Rockfish, Mama’s on the Half Shell is the place to go.

Mama’s on the Half Shell, located on the Canton Square next to sister Mexican joint Nacho Mama’s (stay tuned for “Battle of the Mexican Specials”, featuring Nacho Mamas) does a superb job of pairing a rustic-yet-upscale atmosphere with a range of seafood dishes that varies in style and price, but not in quality. Mama’s serves as a perfect venue to which to take out of town guests, or just to have a nice dinner out. However, reservations are recommended, as the space is small and the fan base is large.

On the particular Tuesday evening that we visited (just a pair of us), we did not have a reservation, and thus were subject to a reasonably short wait (in the ball park of 15 minutes). So we wandered over to the snug bar area, nursed glasses of cold beer, and watched the Orioles lose on the several flat-screens behind the bar. The service at the bar was not particularly quick, but since the bar area was filled to capacity, we weren’t particularly surprised. With that said, the bar area is a bit cramped and has minimal standing area, making it not ideal for hanging out with a group of people.

About 15 minutes later we were escorted to our table in the second floor dining room, a dark cozy room adorned with southern nautical nick-knacks on the walls. We found the ambiance of the dining room to be quite pleasant, a combination of intimate and casual.

We started our meal with an appetizer of their legendary crab dip – a must do – which is served in a bread bowl with a generous serving of bread, crackers, and vegetable sticks for dipping. The dip itself was loaded with lump crabmeat, and is perfectly complemented by artichoke and a blend of cheeses. In short, this is the best crab dip we have tasted, ever.

The dinner menu offers a wide array of fare, from fish & chips to filet mignon (available several ways). There are also consistently a fair number of specials, which tend to reach the higher end of the restaurant’s price range (often in excess of $30), but are worth every penny. Off of the regular menu, we ordered the scallops – pan seared. The scallops were generously portioned, plump and tender, and pan-seared perfectly. As someone who is not considerably fond of scallops, I found this to be absolutely delightful. As with all regular-menu entrĂ©e items, the scallops were served with 2 sides of our choosing; we requested the whipped potatoes and the vegetable of the day, both of which were cooked perfectly with just the right amount of seasoning.

From the Specials list, we ordered a broiled salmon dish served over leeks with a mushroom demi-glace. I believe that it is pretty hard to mess up salmon; still, this dish was exceptional: the salmon was very fresh and was complimented perfectly by the leeks and mushroom sauce. The mushrooms were fresh and perfectly tender from being cooked in the sauce. And the portion was generous – more generous that it initially appeared.

In short, when it comes to Mama’s on the Half Shell, we don’t have much to complain about. The food is exceptional, the service was good, and the ambiance is pleasantly unique. The bar area could be a bit bigger, but that can be done in the corner rowhouse which houses the establishment. So, next time you have an out of town guest, take them to Mama’s and get them the best crab dip Baltimore has to offer!

Mama’s on the Half Shell
2901 O’Donnell Street
(on the Canton Square)
Baltimore, MD 21224
410-273-3160

5-Star Rating
Food: ****
Service: ** ½
Ambiance: ***
Price: $$$ ($20-35)

Mama's on the Half Shell on Urbanspoon

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