Thursday, September 22, 2011

Concussed Dining & Mama's on the Half Shell

On a good day, I sound like a well-versed champion of prose - a woman who uses her words and uses them well, every train of thought dripping from her tongue like sweet honey and the obvious envy of all those around her. People BEG to bring me along to social gatherings.*

On an average day, I end my sentences with prepositions and mutter to myself in the dairy aisle of the supermarket, complaining about the existence of fat-free half and half.

On days when I am concussed because a 12-foot ladder has fallen and given me a good knock on the head and a lump so unladylike that even Fergie wants nothing to do with it, I lose my words altogether and these are the days on which it is probably most fun to take me out and about, in public, for all to hear and be entertained.

My husband Chris sure thought so. And so when a ladder leftover from house renovations tipped over and knocked my head with a loud and angry "THWACK", we made the quick decision to ditch cooking dinner altogether and partake in what has become one of our favorite (and admittedly, most indulgent) activities: eating out.

A concussion is a good excuse to eat out, right?

Full disclosure: Chris made sure I was not all that badly injured. I reclined for a bit with an ice pack on my head and waited for the dizzy spells to subside (which took longer than it should have because I was watching H8TR on CW. I thought I was going to have to go to the hospital until I changed the channel and realized the nausea and dizziness were merely due to bad programming rather than a concussion).

When Chris initially suggested going out to eat, I got a little excited imagining whatever curry dish might be the nightly special at Annabel Lee Tavern. It had become a convenient mainstay in our restaurant cupboard and a comfortable place to enjoy dinner and conversation. Chris, however, was thinking some place where we hadn't been in awhile: Mama's on the Half Shell, a double-decker oyster joint on the corners of O'Donnell and Linwood Streets, overlooking Canton Square.

If you've never before been, Mama's can be a real treat. The atmosphere is warm; one part neighborhood tavern and two parts Great Aunt Mabel's downtown row home. The restaurant is famous for their oysters, the Orange Crush(a cocktail of orange juice, sprite, and vodka served in a pint glass with a fresh orange wedge), and their always decadent Grand Marnier French Toast. As a result, their weekend brunch is always packed, making 6 o'clock dinner during the week a more ideal time for quiet and conversational meals.


I have to confess: while many of my friends and family here in Baltimore love and consider Mama's a real treat, I have yet to be so impressed that I want to keep going back. If I loved oysters, I might feel differently. Oysters, as it happens, are one of the rare foods that I have tried and that I have no real urge to keep trying. I just don't care for them. Quite a lot of Mama's menu revolves around oysters, clams, or mussels - all shell fish that I am not so crazy about. I had never had anything off the menu that I disliked, but was never overly impressed either.

Until this particular visit.

Maybe it was that I was concussed. Or perhaps it was that I was not holding onto any impossibly high expectations. Whatever it was, my faith was renewed in Mama's on the Half Shell.

Chris ordered up the Pan Seared Diver Scallops as an appetizer, and my eyes widened as our server set them down between us. They were gorgeous! My glistening eyes nearly reflected back to me off these glittering golden-crusted little buttery bits of goodness. And they were huge, like someone had toasted and buttered up Betty Rubble's pearls and placed them on a platter.

The scallops were served over a dollop of creamed spinach, which had been lightly seasoned with cinnamon, and placed atop a crispy potato pancake. The combination of the buttery scallop, mixed with the creamy spinach, and the crispy potatoes was both simple and complex all at once. Chris and I immediately looked at one another wide-eyed after our first bite.

"That is AMAZING!"

And it was not alone in its amazingness that night. My cocktail of choice, the Sparkling Cosmopolitan, was truly delightful; Chris ordered one for himself after tasting mine and it was more than entertaining to watch his ego yield to a pink cocktail in a martini glass. I was also impressed with their vegetable of the day, which was sauteed brussel sprouts. I am always impressed with the courage it takes for a restaurant to put brussel sprouts on the menu. They were cooked excellently and made a lovely accompaniment to my broiled tilapia.

BFF Alejandra will be pleased to know that we DID order dessert! A Chocolate and peanut butter truffle cheesecake, which we enjoyed immensely at the restaurant and then again at home the following night (what's better than dessert? Enough dessert to be eaten again the following night)!

Now I will just have to make sure that we visit Mama's again when I am not under the spell of a concussion, and see if everything is just as delicious. And if not, it might be worth a few knocks on the head just for the same experience.

* I really felt like it was necessary to exaggerate - even if just a bit - to make my point. While I am loads of fun at social gatherings, it might not be true that everyone begs to take me along with them to theirs. I mean, it might be true. I've not yet polled everyone I know.

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