Seduced by gushy write-ups and assurances in the Baltimore Sun and “yelp.com” about Cunningham’s in Towson awarding it almost instant “Baltimore Best” status, we made reservations for dinner (in spite of wisdom that eating at a restaurant that opened barely a month previously on November 22nd, 2013 might offer pitfalls worth avoiding…)
We arrived on time for our 7 pm reservation but the hostess told us our table wasn’t ready and to wait in their (very crowded…) bar. Two bartenders paid more attention to filling the servers’ drink orders than to us.
Forty minutes later, the hostess came to escort us to a table which only had one chair for our party of four! After digging up the missing chairs, she left us with a wine list on a PC tablet encased in a leather cover (Interesting touch but John wondered how customers unfamiliar with PC tablets would find this…) The attempts at an elegant atmosphere were undercut by faux butcher block tables tops and awkward table layouts (Small two seater tables are laid out in claustrophobia inducing rows a foot apart.)
The menu offers a dozen starters ($8 – $15), a handful of pastas (most $18), and fifteen entrees ($20-$65). For lighter fare, there’s a burger ($13) and a four flat breads ($10-$13).
Some sliced bread brought to the table (baked here…) was tasty though actually cold to the touch (probably from the same overactive a/c that the management couldn’t seem to turn off). We finally figured out that the a/c was on to compensate for the wide open kitchen but there were also customers 30-40 feet away from the kitchen who put on their winter coats to stay warm.
Our server tried telling us about specials but we had trouble hearing her in the very noisy dining room.
John started with the pumpkin soup ($8) and Marty ordered the lobster ginger soup ($9); both were tasty but arrived at the table luke warm as if they’re had been sitting around too long.
Frank’s roasted beets ($9) featured a single diced beet with a few pieces of artichoke which looked lost on the large plate and decidedly overpriced; he wouldn’t order it again.
Tom ordered the Sweet Potato flat bread ($11) as his starter. Looking like a makeshift pizza; the crust was soggy from the topping but the blue cheese mentioned in the menu description was missing.
Our entrees were a mixed bag. One of our friends ordered the grilled maitake mushroom “steak” ($20); when it arrived, the small mound of mushroom placed on the side of a large white plate looked as if the kitchen had forgotten to put the main course on the plate. Our server explained that WAS the entree. Geez Louize!
Short rib beef ($24) arrived on top of some pureed cauliflower with a couple of leaves of sauteed swiss chard and was ok. Another entree, duck breast included 4 small slices of duck with a spoonful of “gold rice” and topped by a squash and turnip warm “salad” ($29) was ok.
Marty’s two crab cakes ($28) served with a copper tankard of french fries and a little dish of celery root slaw. Marty liked the fries and crab cakes (but not the overly acidic slaw) and consensus was that he had made the best entrée decision. Regardless, entrée portions were pretty small particularly in context of the prices (A nearby diner’s $13 hamburger looked more satisfying that at least a couple of our $20 – $30 entrees!)
We sampled three desserts. A trio of three different flavored “made here” ice creams for $6 was best of the three (though the flavors were hard to distinguish from one another)
The “trifle” ($8) was trifling with more whipped cream than anything else and not recommended.
The third dessert, Pumpkin Creme Cake ($8) included three not particularly satisfying tiny 3/4″ squares with layers of cake and creme and a tiny scoop of green apple sorbet (did the kitchen really need to add the green food coloring ?).
With a 40+ minute wait past our reservation time for a table, bartenders who ignored us, as many “misses” as “hits” with our meal, a bill that averaged $40+ a person (and that’s without drinks), a very loud dining area (that got in the way of conversation), and blasts of air conditioning (and this on a 27 degree evening outside), our meal at Cunningham’s was memorable – but for mostly all the wrong reasons. The average customer (who isn’t a reviewer for the Sun or friend of the owners…) may find that Cunningham’s has a lot more rough edges than you’ve read about. Hopefully, the new restaurant will work out some of the “new restaurant” rough edges a couple of months into 2014.
Caveat Diner #1: Cunningham’s makes a big deal about free valet parking. Finding the valet parking isn’t obvious at all and a friend who gave up and ended up parking on the other side of York Road from Cunningham’s had to pay $240 to rescue his towed car. He also found if you don’t use the valet parking, finding Cunningham’s unmarked front door isn’t obvious either.
Caveat Diner #2: If you do find the valet parking (you have to drive into the garage under the restaurant), you’ll be directed to the elevator to take you up to the restaurant. The catch is that the elevators have the most unusual elevator controls that I’ve ever encountered! OUTSIDE of the elevator, you need to indicate what floor you’re going to. Once inside the elevator, there’s no panel of floor buttons to push that all would typically expect to find. My guess is that there are going to be a good number of customers who are totally befuddled by this re-invention of how to use an elevator….
Facts: Cunningham’s; Towson, 1 Olympic Place; (410) 339-7730; cunninghamstowson.com; Full Bar; Limited Vegetarian Options; Free Valet Parking (under the restaurant off of Olympic Place); visited 12/12/2013