A friend’s recommendation motivated me to try on Johnny’s Bistro on Main Street in Ellicott City (It opened in a small totally renovated store front back in 2006). Inside there’s a dozen or so tables in a dining room that feels like a long time, very pleasant bistro/cafe and would leave you guessing Johnny’s had been here much longer that it actually has.
The menu emphasis is on casual fare with soups ($5 – $6), a half dozen salads ($7 – $14; add $3 for chicken breast, $5 for salmon or shrimp, four paninis ($12) and eight sandwiches (mostly $10) which include fries or slaw, and six 12″ pizza combos ($13). There’s also a chalkboard back at the rear next to the open kitchen with specials of the day. We decided to start by sharing an order of Buffalo Chicken Wings from the specials board that was priced at $10. For that price and based on experience with wings from a lot of other restaurants, we expected probably 9-10 wings.which could be nicely shared between the three of us. Surprise! The wings arrived and there were only 6 standard sized wings with a small half filled cup of blue cheese dressing and a small pile of celery (which looked like one 3″ long piece of celery had been sliced into half dozen celery “sticks”). While the wings were good, they weren’t particularly memorable or outstanding and I was left wondering whether a back office “bean counter” was responsible for the skimpy, overpriced portion.
For our main course, I decided to splurge on the $15 “Seafood Jambalaya” special which promised “clams, crab, shrimp, fish and sausage over rice”. Tom ordered the “It’s a Wrap” sandwich ($10) featuring chicken, prosciutto, mozzarella and red pepper while Paul decided on the Italian Panini ($12) featuring prosciiutto, mozzarella, red pepper and garlic aioli.
My jambalaya proved to be darn disappointing. The jambalaya arrived in a 4″ square shallow dish with a thin layer of jambalaya over a thick bottom layer of rice with half of the plate filled with a slice of buttered, toasted baguette and two mouthfuls of dressed greens. In the jambalaya, I found 3 pieces of shrimp (which at best had been one small shrimp cut into 3 pieces) and three small pieces of andouille sausage. I couldn’t find any evidence of the clams or fish or crab that was supposed to be in it.. Honest to gawd, a couple of days later I fed a 3 oz can of “Fancy Feast” mixed seafood hat cost me 60 cents to my two cats and I was chagrined to realize that the small can of cat food had more pieces of shrimp and fish in it than my $15 serving of jambalaya. The kitchen should be embarrassed over that!
Tom enjoyed his wrap but the size of wrap and small portion of fries weren’t exactly what anyone would term generous (and might have been more appropriate for something that cost a buck or two less.)
Paul’s panini was perhaps the most satisfying of our three main courses. (FYI – I searched on Google for a recipe or mention of the “Williamsburg Slaw” that Paul opted for but curiously the only references I could find to it were references to Johnny’s Bistro!)
Service was haphazard and as unsatisfactory as some of Johnny’s Bistro food. The four young women who whirled around the dining room at warp speed appeared to be doing some kind of tag team service approach where they were all responsible for taking care of us but that obviously just didn’t seem to work particularly well. Paul ordered a glass of Merlot when we sat down which just never appeared. Ironically, after waiting 25 minutes without a word from the servers for our entrees in a not particularly crowded dining room, one of them stopped long enough and asked if we wanted dessert (!) obviously totally clueless that we were still waiting for our dinner! (And if we had by chance finished our dinner with plates cleared, a 25 minute wait for someone to acknowledge your presence and ask if you wanted dessert isn’t exactly re-assuring!). After our main course finally arrived, at least three of the four servers stopped to ask if all was ok but mostly dashed off without giving us any time to respond.
Despite arriving around 7:30 pm, with all the delays in getting our meal, it was nearing Johnny’s 9 pm Friday closing time and with us being only one of two tables occupied, the servers got became obviously eager to get rid of us and started putting chairs on top of a number of tables in preparation for cleaning the floors at 8:45.
I was left wondering if we had hit Johnny’s on just a particularly bad night when both the kitchen and servers were stressed. (We noticed the servers carrying some large plates of food out of the restaurant to some kind of catered function). Did we just have the misfortune to order the “wrong” things? (A couple at an adjacent table seem to be enjoying the pizza they ordered…) Regardless, between the manic servers, the $1.50 a piece Buffalo wings and the vastly disappointing, “way overpriced for what it was” Jambalaya, I’m not going to be particularly eager to be back to give them another try.
FACTS: Johnny’s Bistro on Main; Ellicott City; 8167 Main Street; 410.461.8210; http://www.johnnysbistro.net ; beer and wine available (but no bar); Limited vegetarian options; Closed Mon and Tues; Open Wed and Thurs 11 am – 8 pm; Fri and Sat 11 am – 9 pm; Sun 11 am – 5 pm; on street parking (FYI – particularly on weekends, parking in Ellicott City can be headache producing!)
DiningOUT Suggestion: Allow time to enjoy a walk up and down Main Street in Ellicott City and browsing in some of the shops (as well as sizing up other eating place options!)