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Joy American Cafe - Baltimore, MD

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Joy American Cafe - Baltimore, MD

Bill Erwin | Aug 17, 2002 07:00 AM

It's perched atop the American Visionary Art Museum across from the Rusty Skupper on Key Highway. After 6 you can park free on the street, but I didn't know that, so I parked in the pay lot near the RS. From the restaurant's large window (1) you can see Victor's (and wish you had gone there), and the Mariott hotel, and 2 deserted parking lots. Since the cafe is associated with the museum, they have some "artwork" in the place, I guess from the museum. As we ate, our side of the table faced a truly hideous painting of a female nude with JOY painted on it, so along with the view out the window, we were treated with the view of a very unappetizing anatomy.

On the positive side, they do a killer guacamole salad, prepared right at your table (as they used to do with Caesar Salad in the old days when real egg yolks were used without worrying if they would kill you instantly). Along with, comes a basket of all kinds of good chips: corn tortilla, flour tortilla, and what we think was either plantain or very unsweet banana. I ordered a Cutty Sark and soda, they didn't have CS, so I had to do with something pronounced "dours" but spelled some other way. It's the scotch that non-scotch drinkers often have at home for guests. It was acceptable, and the barkeep did mix a nice, strong drink, which helped, considering the total experience. It goes down from there.

In addition to the guacamole, we ordered 3 tamales. They were dear little things, about 2`` long each. They came still in their corn wrappers (an absolute no, no in terms of proper presentation of tamales) with a sauce over the wrapper! I immediately imagined the number of "chic" patrons trying to cut and eat the wrapper along with the contents, since the sauce was on it. And, of course, since the sauce was on the corn husks and not on the tamales, you got no taste of the sauce once you unwrapped, by hand, those pesky little husks, getting the sauce all over your fingers. The 3 were supposed to be different "types," but they all tasted exactly the same and were ok. We cut them into 3 mm. pieces so everyone could have a taste.

There were 6 of us, and we ordered a total of 5 of the entrées. Mine was judged to be the best: Cuban Pork Roast with tasteless pinto beans and tasteless brown rice. The pork was well-seasoned, but the whole thing can't compare at all to the roasted sucking pig at Tio Pepe's. That's the best pork in seventeen states!

Two people had what turned out to be a roasted 1/2 (small) chicken, barely warm with cold chopped tomatoes that, at one time or other, had had a sprig of cilantro passed near them. The chicken was not nearly as good as Boston Market's (or even the Giant's [grocery store]) and was 48 times the price. It was half raw (very pink by the bone). That was enough to keep one person from eating almost any of the bird, and the other got to the pink part and stopped. It is unacceptable for a restaurant to undercook chicken because it's not healthy and undercooked chicken has a hideous texture! There was no starch on the plate, only a dollop of some green veggie like cale that no one ate. They don't serve bread with meals, so we got more chips. Corn chips and roasted chicken? Hmmmmm.

One guy had a piece of halibut on a bed of what looked like French Fries, but which was fried yucca (the big, thick Mexican kind, I assume). I like southwestern food, but the yucca fries were dreadful. Another person at the table had the same thing and ate the fries. She just thought they were hideously tough and ghastly-tasting fries, but since there was nothing else on the plate, it was either eat them or have nothing but a square hunk of fish for her entrée.

One other guy had the special which was a whole fish of some kind, well-presented so that it wasn't looking you in the eyes, but he made no comments at all about it, so I have to assume it was OK, but not great. Presentation for everything, except the tamales, was good--artsy, of course. The other five had wine and I kept drinking the scotch.

Two desserts were ordered and finished so I assume they were OK. We all had what was excellent coffee, strong and rich. That is unusual for a restaurant. The total bill was $55 each, and all I kept thinking was that we could'a gone to Tio Pepe's (or almost anywhere else) instead.

Recommendation: Don't bother; we wouldn't go there again for dinner on a bet. Service was good. It's "in" and "chic" and "trendy" but the food is way overpriced and very average (except for the guacamole). Maybe a good place to go for drinks and guacamole only and sit at the bar, or coffee and a dessert after dining somewhere else. They have a lunch menu, but I can't comment on it.

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