Yup, nobody does the Baltimore “Hon” shtick like the owner of “Cafe Hon”. Who else would put a two-story pink flamingo above their restaurant, eh? But the shtick doesn’t compensate for some dubious food and service plus the owner’s attempt to trademark the “Balmawr” classic “Hon” salutation ticked off a LOT of people. With the reality of good restaurants popping up along the “Avenue” in increasingly gentrified Hampden and Cafe Hon’s business was in decline. And magically, Gordon Ramsay of TV’s “Kitchen Nightmares” showed up to try to turn things around.
I hadn’t been to Café Hon in a long time and I talked four of friends to eat there and try discovering what difference the the intervention of Chef Ramsay and a “Kitchen Nightmares” make-over had made.
The main dining room has an old-fashioned counter you can eat at along one wall, booths along the facing wall and dozen-plus small tables squeezed in between. Café Hon has grown over time with a small “spill over” dining room on one side of the main dining room and the popular “Hon Bar” on the other side.
The “Hon” theme is evident in the PeptoBismo pink walls, a life size Elvis statue, faux leopard skin booth upholstery, two huge “Hon face” paintings and (dubiously?) by tea pots on the walls.
Ramsay’s influence is evident in the pared down menu with 8 appetizers ($5-$11), 7 sandwiches ($7 – $14), a few salads ($5 – $8; added “protein” starts at $50) and 8 entrees ($12 – $19 plus a Monday thru Thursday single Crab Cake special for $13). Marty and three of our friends opted for the Crab Cake special while John ordered a “Classic Burger” ($8 with fries) while we both ordered a Fried Oysters appetizer to share. Our other friend decided on a Ruben sandwich ($9 with chips but fries cost him an extra $3). Our appetizer included 8 nice cornmeal crusted variably sized oysters but the accompanying overly sweet tartar sauce didn’t enhance them at all.
The crab cakes were good sized and included a pile of hot fries (lightly dusted with “Old Bay”) and coleslaw. Marty and our friends liked the “cakes” which were mostly crab with a hint of “Old Bay”. While the slaw was ok, Marty thought that the fries were at best average. When one friend got fries when he had requested a side salad, our waitress brought him a saucer size salad in place of his fries (at no added cost, thank goodness!). John’s burger was a big 8 ounces and arrived medium rare as ordered; both the burger and hot, freshly cooked fries earned a “Thumbs Up” from him.
I felt sorry for the friend who ordered a Ruben – it was under-stuffed and looked rather over toasted. It also arrived with salted chips instead of the un-salted fries that he had ordered. The Ruben proved to be an even bigger disappointment when it turned out that the skimpy stuffed corn beef was kind of dried out. Fortunately, the unexpected “home made” Kettle style chips dusted heavily with “Old Bay” proved addictive (although probably not helpful to my friend’s efforts to stay on a low sodium diet!)
Our waitress (friendly, obliging but not a classic “Hon”…) talked us into sharing an order of Bread Pudding. While the 3” tall and wide chunk of bread pudding with whipped cream piled on top surrounded by caramel sauce looked darn impressive, the caramel sauce was too thin and the pudding was too dense and flavorless. It proved less than a hit with us (judging from the fact that half of it remained on the plate despite being shared by a table of chow-hounds!)
While Ramsay’s effort may have had some positive effect on the food and service at Café Hon, the touristy “Hon” shtick can grow old. An increasingly gentrified Hampden neighborhood has at least a half dozen competing restaurants within walking distance that have tended to steer us away from returning to Cafe Hon.
FACTS: Café Hon (Hampden); 1002 West 36th St; 410-243-1230; www.cafehon.com; (FYI: Menu on the web page is higher priced and different from the actual menu) Open 7 days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner (Mon-Fri 7 am – 9pm, Sat 9am – 10pm, Sun 9am -8pm); Full bar, Vegetarian options; Brunch on Sat and Sun. (DiningOUT visit: 5/7/2012)
FYI – Check out our update on our visit to Cafe Hon in 2014/July!