Jennings Café in Catonsville was opened in 1958 by Omar Jennings after he sold his interest in the once legendary “Pimlico Hotel”. 55 years later, his great-grandson, Omar Jennings III, owns and run the café that bears the family name. The founder’s interest in horses is evident as you enter from the rear parking lot with a large horse’s head on the welcoming side as well as from a gallery of photos featuring the original Mr. Jennings with winning horses at Pimlico Race track.
(The glass case with an embalmed squirrel with a nut in its mouth just inside the back door is a mystery that we’ve never quite figured out! <Wink>) Inside there’s a long bar (popular and frequently filled) and two dining rooms with knotty pine paneling that reminds my buddy Marty of classic Baltimore “club basements”. Red seems to be a big decorating theme with bright red top tables and red lighting fixtures (as well as red light bulbs!)
Jenning’s menu features Baltimore flavored comfort food. Maryland Crab soup and Oyster Stew (in season!) are featured. Traditional salads include “Chef”,”Greek” and Caesar ($8-9; you can add grilled chicken for $3). A dozen appetizers (most $6-$9) include standards like Wings and potato skins but also fried chicken livers and rockfish bites. 20+ sandwiches and wraps (most $6-9 are served with chips & pickle; fries are $1 extra) and include some uncommon ones like “Fried Egg” or “Braunschweiger” sandwiches. There are a couple dozen entrees (most $10-$16 which typically come with choice of two “made here” sides.
One of our favorite “Thumbs Up” appetizer are Jennings’ “Wings”; these can come BBQ, teriyaki, Old Bay or Hot style – we like the “hot” which is tangy with a bit of hot; our biggest problem is trying how to equally share 10 wings when three or four friends are sharing them!. We’ve tried the fried chicken livers – Marty gave these another “Thumbs Up” (undeterred by what his doc would say about these cholesterol heavy goodies!).
Picking a main course here isn’t easy! Marty’s a fan of the “Shrimp Salad” sandwich ($11) which is stuffed thick with big pieces of shrimp and nicely seasoned with “Old Bay”.
John likes the “Fried Chicken Basket” ($9) which comes with four pieces of chicken in mild breading and fries. (He also recommends the meat loaf ($10 – which offers a choice of mashed or fried potatoes) and chicken Parmesan ($13). FYI – The “cucumbers and onions” are a great side item to try.
Our friend Tom gives his Thumbs Up! to the Chicken Pot Pie which comes in a large oval baking dish filled with chunks of white meat chicken and veggies under a thick home made crust (and at $9 is a real bargain!)
If you’re lucky and it’s not sold out, the Coconut Cake ($6) is scrumptious and gets John’s Thumbs Up! (It is whipped up by one of the waitresses on a regular basis!) If Jennings is out of Coconut Cake, the Rice Pudding ($3) with whipped cream and a cherry on top puts a smile on Marty’s face who swears it is as good as his mom used to make!
Service is wonderful. Peggy, who has worked here longer than it is polite to ask about, is an institution at Jennings.
There are photos and cartoons of her in the back dining room where she’s known to “hold court”. (Zagat named her “Baltimore’s Best waitress back in 2004). Jenning’s Café may not win awards for its trendy kitchen or red lit club room décor, but Jennings Cafe is one of my favorite places to eat in Catonsville (and around Baltimore for that matter! <Smile>.
FACTS: Jenning’s Cafe ;808 Frederick Rd; 410-744-3824; http://www.jenningscafe.com; Limited Vegetarian options; Full Bar; lunch & dinner Mon-Sat 11:30 am – 11:30 pm; Closed Sundays; On street parking in front on Frederick Road; additional free Parking at the rear.