I approached Baltimore House on a double mission. I've been beckoned before by the siren song of its big red-and-purple neon sign casting color over an expansive parking lot (that to me signals "roadhouse fun") but had never answered the call. And I'd been remiss in responding to another urging voice -- the cheerful caaa-raaaay-zeeee chatter of Music Power104 deejay Charlie Apple, who descends from the airwaves every Wednesday night to spin Pittsburgh oldies in the nautical-themed environs of Baltimore House.
We went through the front door and straight into the "Yakety Yak." Actually, we were in the bar, through which you can see some of the oddly laid-out rooms. From the outside, Baltimore House looks like an oversized four-sided barn, but inside, I discovered a restaurant built in many tiers, filled with endless warrens and odd half-levels. Charlie Apple was perched inside, surrounded by his plastic tubs crammed with CDs of "X-treme and moldy oldies" on a mezzanine above the main dining area and a small dance floor.
Our request for a no-smoking section took us under the mirror ball, around a corner and down some steps to another staggered level that did remind me of being in the depths of some ship. But then maybe it's just the nautical décor, of which there is plenty: oil paintings of seafarers and ships, barometers, clocks set in portholes, stair banisters that look like ship's wheels, harpoons, model ships along a railing, and a full-sized tuna fish suspended from the ceiling.
Wednesday is also all-you-can-eat salmon, cod or pork chop night. That sounded simple -- and certainly filling. I picked cod, sautéed (fried and Cajun-style are the other choices), and my companion opted for the pork chops. We split the first side dishes -- a bowl of super-thick New England-style clam chowder, and salad. The side salad was packing a lot of colorful action: sliced cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, peppercinis, black olives, green peppers, red onions, shredded carrots, lettuce and croutons. From the half-floor above, Hank Ballard pleaded, "Let's go, let's go, let's go."
Our big platters of food arrived quickly. I had three pieces of cod, a pile of fresh-cut French fries and a bowl of sweet, creamy coleslaw. Plenty of food, but it couldn't compete with the pork-chop plate which was groaning with vittles: two big steamin' hot chops (here, "fried pork chop" evidently means "dipped in batter, then fried"), a small mountain of savory sage stuffing topped with gravy, a potato pancake and a small dish of apple sauce. The onion-accented potato pancake was wonderfully thick and irregular -- clearly shaped by hand -- and less greasy than thinner versions.
My companion managed to clear his plate, but turned down the waitress' offer of a pork-chop refill. She laughed and said she'd never seen anyone get a second helping. It's hard to leave when the deejay is playing the swoony "High on a Hill," so we repaired to the bar for a beer and to watch the still-romantic older couples slow-dancing.
Apple dropped the needle on "Lady Soul" and two-stepping began in earnest. "These are the kings and queens of the cha-cha," he crowed. A lively dart game was unfolding in the game room next door; two TVs offered a choice of The West Wing or a replay of a NASCAR race; and a guy across the bar was claiming '60s music is the best. Over in the corner there was a tank labeled "The Lobster Zone," where unknowing lobsters can watch the bar life come and go while awaiting their fate. (They may be "in the zone" now, but not for long.)
Apple said, "By request," and I heard the distinctive organ notes and cowbell clanks that open "Topsy." I chided my companion for requesting this most undanceable drum-bangin' number while couples were still on the floor twirling. I'd underestimated this crowd: When the lengthy drum solo kicked in, Apple, my companion and every oldies lover in the joint began flailing their arms, pounding on their imaginary skins. Someone shouted, "Louder!" -- and the crazy beats just bounced harder off the dozens of walls. Another Wednesday night at Baltimore House. * * 1/2