The Catonsville Gourmet seems to have been instantly popular since it opened in 2008 (despite the absence of a liquor license and a minimum $5 “corkage” fee for BYOB). A lunch visit this week seemed to bear that out with the restaurant filled up and business bustling.
FYI – Back prior to 2008 when this space became the Catonsville Gourmet, the same space used to be a local non-chain, old fashioned hardware store (that was likely driven out of business by the presence of Home Depot and Lowe’s a 5 minute drive away)
There are several small dining areas with a light color scheme which suggests a seaside place (totally appropriate since it specializes in seafood!). Many of the tables are spaced noticeably close or awkwardly placed (we were seated at a table where the staff and customers had to pass within 6 inches of me to access the front dining room) . At the rear of restaurant is a market which sells raw and prepared seafood, desserts and the “made here” kettle potato chips.
The menu is the same at lunch and dinner (with a printed page of daily specials); lunch time possibilities don’t come cheap though – one of the very few options under $10 was a tuna fish salad sandwich. The menu offers several soups ($5/cup), four “entree” salads ($12-$15; I’ve tried the “Bookmaker” salad for $13 and was disappointed with the portion size and skimpy seafood that was included ), a dozen sandwiches ($12-$19), and 10 “tweeners” (aka “light fare”) options ($12-$19). Available at both lunch and dinner time are a dozen appetizers ($11-$14) and 18 entrees (starting at $18 for two crab cakes up to $35 for four preparations of fresh fish filet; you can add a side salad $3 extra).
For my lunch, I decided on the “Ultimate Soup Meal” ($12) which included a cup of soup, 1/2 of a sandwich (tuna salad, ham or turkey) and the house “kettle chips” (I opted for the ham and the crab & corn chowder). My buddy Tom decided on an item from the “Tweeners” offerings – the crab/spinach quiche ($13) which included a side salad and some fresh fruit. We also decided to share a side dish of sauteed mushrooms ($5)
The soup in my soup meal was an easy “Thumbs up!” winner – rich and creamy with discernible pieces of crab meat and a luscious sweet and spiciness that left me wishing I had a big bowlful instead of the small 6 oz cup I was served. I woke up to the fact that my half sandwich was on plain white bread (admitted a step up from “Wonder Bread” but still I wished in hindsight that our young, friendly waiter had offered me an alternative). The slices of ham looked like they had been sliced off a real ham (no deli cold cut ham here!) and garnished with lettuce and tomato; when I asked for mustard, our waiter almost instantly materialized a bottle of Gray Poupon in front of me. The kettle chips dark golden brown, lightly salty and crunchy and an excellent, satisfying alternative to standard fries.
The side of small button mushrooms were sauteed nicely with some onion (though $5 seemed a tad pricey for the portion size)
Tom’s plate was eye catching with a big wedge of quiche, a fresh interesting side salad and a cup of fresh cut up fruit. The combination of quiche, salad and fruit made for a satisfying lunch that he enjoyed (and fully polished off!)
Service was attentive and very good (Our college-aged waiter had a cute smile and great attitude). While dessert offerings we spied in a case looked interesting, we passed up on those wanting something lighter. I confess that we took a quick walk to Atwater’s (a mere couple of store fronts from Catonsville Gourmet) and got a couple of frosted spice and lemon nuggets (2 for $1) that offered a wonderful small sweet ending to our lunch!
We enjoyed our lunch at Catonsville Gourmet but it comes at a price (consider that soft drinks, tax and tip – not even including the mushroom side dish and with no dessert – quickly approaches $20 per person). For me, the price puts Catonsville Gourmet in almost a “special occasion” category and has me feeling dubious about the value proposition.
FACTS: Catonsville Gourmet – Catonsville – http://www.catonsvillegourmet.com – Open 7 days a week for lunch and dinner (typically 11:30 am to 10 pm) – No liquor (Corkage fee for BYOB is $5 with $2 per bottle extra after the first bottle or 6-pack and an initial corkage fee of $10 for parties of 6 or more), large parking lot in back; market offering seafood & more; No reservations are taken (particularly on weekends this can result in long waits for a table – web site suggests arriving before 5:30 pm or after 8:30 pm on weekends); Menu curiously states management’s right to limit use of a table to no more than 2 hours; 20% mandatory gratuity for tables of 6 or more; $3 for soft drinks, coffee or tea.