Restaurant review: Cafe Hon is hard not to like

I know that not so long ago some folks were up in arms over Cafe Hon owner Denise Whiting's efforts to trademark the "h" word." Yet there was no malice in my heart when I went there recently for supper. I just wanted a good meal, and I got one.

Sitting near the feather boas and the shelves selling mugs and key chains emblazoned with Baltimore's favorite term of endearment, my wife and I had a pleasing appetizer, a good burger, an exceptional pot pie and two quality desserts.

Granted, the decor is theatrical. The leopard skins covering the booths and some of the waitresses are faux, but the food is real. The main dining area is noisy, what with the wood floors, the soda fountain, the close-together tables. A romantic hideaway it is not. But our table had a good view of the homemade pies and cakes, and that stirred my soul.

The crab dip appetizer ($9.99) featured a platter of hot, cheesy dip that had genuine crab flavor and amazing elasticity. Each time I dipped a piece of toasted French bread into this mixture, it held tight and did not want to easily relinquish the bread. I liked this little tussle mainly because winning it proved to be so rewarding. I wrestled every dollop of crab dip off the plate, working the crevices with the bread.

The chicken wings ($8.99) with Old Bay, which the menu promoted as award-winning, were pleasant enough. They were served very hot, which I appreciated, but they made me wonder if every eatery in Baltimore has won some award for its wings.

The star of our supper was the chicken pot pie entree ($13.99). This was a thick, creamy mixture of chicken, onions, peas, carrots, potatoes and celery, served in a bowl covered with a square of perfect puff pastry. In addition to a remarkable texture, the pot pie had vivid flavors. It is easy for pot pie ingredients to get overcooked, but the chicken and vegetables here still had plenty of life. The accompanying salad, composed of fresh greens and topped with Cafe Hon's dill vinaigrette, was also noteworthy.

Jen's Hon burger ($9.99), ground beef topped with applewood-smoked bacon, feta cheese and baby greens bathed in a dill dressing, was a keeper. Cooked the way I had requested, medium rare, the meat was moist and flavorful. The bun was substantial and the bacon, cheese and greens toppings allowed the burger to be a burger while still delivering interesting side notes.

I had had my eye on the dessert case most of the meal, and I was looking forward to ordering. I was not disappointed.

Dottie's bread pudding ($5.99) was also promoted as an award-winner — a judgment I agreed with. A deep, dark cake had rich flavors of brown sugar and caramel. At our house, we make a bread pudding from a Paul Prudhomme recipe, using lemons, Chantilly cream, raisins and nuts. The Cafe Hon bread pudding finished second, but a close second, to the one we make at home.

The cherry pie ($5.99 a slice) was also made on the premises. It had a respectable crust, but its winning feature was the cherry filling. Unlike so many cherry pies, these cherries were not sickeningly sweet. Instead, they were delightfully tart, the way God and Mom intended.

Service was professional. Everything we ordered was delivered as we had ordered it, in a timely fashion. When our waitress was swamped, one of her co-workers slipped into the bar and picked up our beverages, a glass of house chardonnay ($5) and a large glass of Resurrection Ale ($6). That is my kind of teamwork.

Maybe not everyone in Hampden is fond of Cafe Hon. But for a casual (if kitschy) restaurant, I found the food good and the service smooth. One more thing: No one called me Hon, and that was a plus.

You be the critic: Have you been to Cafe Hon? Write a review.

Cafe Hon

Where: 1002 W. 36th St., Hampden

Contact: 410 243-1230, cafehon.com

Open: 7 a.m.- 9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday. 9 a. m.-10 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday

Credit cards: All major

Appetizers: $5.99- $15.99

Entrees: $7.99-$27.99

Food: ✭✭✭

Service: ✭✭✭

Atmosphere: ✭✭✭

[Key: Outstanding: ✭✭✭✭; Good: ✭✭✭; Fair or Uneven: ✭✭; Poor: ✭]

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