A Timonium mainstay for more than 30 years, Michael’s Café was born before some of its booze-loving customers gulped their first sips of milk. To keep current, the restaurant recently reinvented itself, opening a new indoor lounge and outdoor patio, and bringing in Mark Davis, formerly of Ten Ten and The Highland Inn, as chef.
Judging by the crowds we saw on our visits this summer, Michael’s is far from the throes of a midlife crisis. The patio area is an attractive walled oasis that exudes a vacation vibe, while excluding most of the noise and visual clutter of York Road. (Only the glowing arches from a McDonald’s across the street disrupt the suspension of disbelief.)
On warm evenings, almost everyone outside, including the super-attentive and friendly servers and bartenders, wears shades. A chalkboard details a variety of cocktails and crushes, which we found to be well mixed, properly proportioned, and incredibly refreshing. Even in the heat of happy hour, our bartender, Gill, peered through his aviators and made a coconut margarita and a Grapefruit Salty Dog—a concoction of Sloop Betty vodka from the Eastern Shore and fresh grapefruit juice—with care. Both were excellent, as was a Kentucky Buck, made with Bulleit bourbon, strawberries, lemon, bitters, ginger beer, and simple syrup, which we downed on a previous visit.
The food was a bit less even. A large roster of appetizers includes standards like wings. (The buffalo variety were excellent, spiced to satisfy everyone in our party.) The more exotic offering of fried green tomatoes, despite being topped with crabmeat, was disappointingly bland. Raw oysters are available, as are shrimp, clams, and mussels. The apple and bleu cheese salad, pepped up by caramelized walnuts, is a solid starter.
Throughout its life, Michael’s has been hailed for its crab cakes, and we found its current version, comprised of solid chunks of meat mixed with modest amounts of tasty filler, to be stellar. We enjoyed it with a medium-rare 6-ounce filet mignon, which was served exactly how we ordered it. Less successful was the lobster-crab cake hybrid, which left our palate confused—you’re better off sticking with the standard cake. The sides we sampled—mashed potatoes, beets, Broccolini, and asparagus—were nothing special.
Make no mistake about it: Michael’s is as much about the fun as the food. Inside, there’s a bright v-shaped bar, a spacious dining room, and a darker original bar that’s surrounded by sports memorabilia. TVs are seemingly everywhere, and music and conversation create a constant buzz. Even as it’s ditched its 20s for its 30s, the cafe’s continued the party.
MICHAEL’S CAFÉ 2119 York Road, Timonium, 410-252-2022.
HOURS 10 a.m.-2 a.m. every day.
PRICES Appetizers: $8-26; entrees: $18.50-42; sandwiches: $10-31.
ATMOSPHERE Fun in the sun-burbs.