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May 13, 2009

Golden West takes the Eat in Season Challenge

GoldenWestC.jpgGolden West Café in Hampden cracks me up. The restaurant, not 10 years old, calls itself a "beloved Baltimore culinary institution" on its Web site. You gotta love it.

Anyway, the Beloved Baltimore Culinary Institution (BBCI) will take Slow Food Baltimore’s Eat in Season Challenge this month, starting tomorrow through Thursday, May 21.

This is the last month of the challenge, which Slow Food started in 2008 to encourage restaurants to focus on seasonal, local foods.

Little did the Slow Food organization know that this would happen anyway, and now even fast food chains are trying to get a piece of the action. (OK, maybe not. Maybe it just seems that way from some of the press releases I get.) ...

BBCI is offering the three-course fixed-price dinner menu for $30 ($40 including wine, although I haven't gotten any details yet on exactly what "wine" involves). All items will be available a la carte. Here's the menu:
Asparagus Soup with Poached Egg $8.00
Watercress Bacon Salad with Vinaigrette $7.00

Herb Rubbed Bison Short Rib with Creamed Spinach $17.00
Lamb Burgers with Shallots, Gorgonzola Potatoes and Peas $16.00

Vanilla Ice Cream with Warm Fig Chutney $6.00
Wow. Isn't this an interesting and mysterious photo? What's odd is that the caption doesn't identify who the woman is or what she's looking at. And Monica is gone so I can't ask her.
(Monica Lopossay/Sun photographer)
Posted by Elizabeth Large at 4:12 PM | | Comments (76)


Vanilla Ice Cream with Warm Fig Chutney - I fail to see what's seasonal or local about anything here but the cream.

And "beloved"? I guess they think so because they've never been the recipient of their own bad service and servers. Beloved is not the first word that comes to mind...

Slow food is correct...

i for one do love the golden west, crappy service and all. i have an affinity for green chilis and goofy hispters. i am guessing (based on the tone of this post) that you do not agree! perhaps they should settle for being a beloved hampden culinary institution (bhci).

I'm just having a little fun. No disrespect intended. :-) EL

She's looking at the "olden west". Are there ponies? Is OMG's missing pony in captivity there? OMG!!

Hey, I have business cards that say "Beloved blog commenting institution". Chicks dig it.

What--are figs in season already?

Whatever did happen to Snickers?

Oh LEC, how could you bring up my long lost Snickers. Hewent out for a beer and never came back. I've always suspected foul play. Pony is always in season.

Their website also touts a smoke free bar. Ummm, outside of that bar up in Keymar, all bars in Maryland are smoke free.

And is it me, or the prices a little high for a place whose signature dish involves a bag of fritos. $16 for lamb burgers and $8 for asparagus soup may be a hard sell.

I have never gone there because of the overwhelming number of people who said the service was indifferent and snotty, if not outright bad.

There are so many places in town with good food and good service that are happy to see me spend my money and treat me well that I'm not going to ever bother with this place.

Hmmm... "three-course fixed-price dinner menu for $30"

Lets say I get the Watercress Bacon Salad, Lamb Burger, and the only dessert. That's $29 of a-la-carte food for $30. Even if I spring for the most expensive items it is only $31. Where's the deal?

Well that turned out to be some terrible PR for this place.

Like Owl Meat, I wonder who did the PR for Golden West. Was it one of those PR flacks who are frequent posters to D@L?

Meanwhile, in response to pigtown's comment, see this recent New York Times article about the shifting meaning of terms such as "locavore" and "local food".

I wonder why they would use an Italian cheese in the potatoes rather than a blue made in Maryland. Assuming there are blue cheeses made locally.

Here's why we go: they are nice to children here. Which means lots of them come. So be afraid, Sandboxers. Be very afraid.

I think she's fencing fancy toothbrushes from the inside of her coat that she snagged from the Prince of Zamunda's luggage.

RiE gets the gold star! Good eye.

Actually, figs CAN be relatively local -

I had some great figs from a backyard tree along the Magothy River.

I don't think they're usually in season this early in Maryland, although they can be harvested in May in some areas.

Also, Golden West must be beloved by many, as it's usually filled up at dinner time. I second the green chili affinity, and the frito pie is, frankly, delicious. It's true that the service can be a bit slow, but the servers I've had ( and I've been going there since they were in a tiny hole-in-the-wall down and across the street) have always been polite and friendly. Then again, I never seem to run into the snotty waitstaff that so many people seem to experience.

Based on my listening tour of Greater Baltimore, Golden West is the city's most divisive restaurant, genuinely loved by its ardent admirers and something like loathed by its detractors.

I have heard many reports about the service being improved. I do think at one point there was some perverse pride taken there in not being nice.

I have never believed that "the customer is always right," but the Golden West's policies (listed on their web site) still after all these years strike me as nonsensical, insolent, condescending, capricious, self-regarding, mean, and small of spirit, and I just can't get beyond them (which, I know, says something about me).

I mean it when I say that I want them to stay there and succeed, just without me as patron.

Sean... I wasn't saying that figs aren't local. I have several secret locations for fig trees in the city. I am just saying that they're not local NOW. Fig season is at the end of the summer. Vanilla's not local, and I am willing to bet that most of what's in the chutney is not local.

They could have done a rhubarb & strawberry dessert with a custard that could have been a lot more local than what they're serving. Rhubarb is in season now, there are some local hot-house grown strawberries, and they could get local cream and eggs.

This is fig season? Figs are local? For my whole life - which, today, feels like since the beginning of time - I've pictures figs growing in desert oases.

OK, embarrassing admission: I have always thought that Golden West was part of a chain. Doesn't the name just sound chainish?

In fact, I am sure it's a buffet-style lotta beef chain, because I ate there about 10 years ago. It's in Fullerton, around the corner from the KMart.

To jump on the Sunshine bandwagon, we have to do a top ten list for Baltimore's most divisive restaurants. Restaurants that are either loved or hated. Clearly Golden West would be on the list. Martick's, back when it was open, would also feature prominently.

I mean it when I say that I want them to stay there and succeed, just without me as patron.


There are fig trees in Little Italy but they are certainly not fruiting yet. The old Italian guys pick and eat them in the summer.

Eve, that is dates that are grown in oases.

RoCK, I like the idea for a top 10 most divisive.

The deer ate most of my fig tree last fall. This winter killed the rest of it. No fresh, really local figs for me this year. Again.

"It's duck season!"

"No, it's wabbit season!"

"Sean... I wasn't saying that figs aren't local."

And yet, earlier...

"Vanilla Ice Cream with Warm Fig Chutney - I fail to see what's seasonal or local about anything here but the cream."


Just kidding... :)

Eve, are thinking of Golden Corral?

When I lived in Hamilton, we had a fig tree in our yard.
The restaurant in Fullerton was the Golden Corral. (Sometimes referred to as The Golden Trough)

I also heard the service at Golden West improved, so recently when a friend was in town for the weekend, I decided to test that theory.

It was wrong. So very wrong.

As usual, we waited about 15 - 20 minutes before someone came to take our drink order, and it was done with disdain, as if we were bothering the wait staff with our assumption that we should even deserve drinks. We noticed that ALL the wait staff in that restaurant do not make eye contact with anyone. If they make eye contact, they might be flagged down and forced to take and order, or update you on the status of the food.

So yeah, nothing new. If it weren't for those heuvos montelenos I wouldn't go at all. As it is, I only go when I'm already in such a good mood that poor treatment won't matter, and I have a lot of time to waste. So it's not very often.

And the worst part? The restaurant doesn't care. They don't have to.They fill up and nearly always have a waiting list. I think they even pride themselves on such crappy customer service. The wait staff must get lessons on holier-than-thou attitudes.

And the patrons keep taking it. It's like being married to an abusive alcoholic. "Next time it will be different."


That'd be the Golden Corral. You know, the one with the commercials of people getting hit over the head with a cast iron frying pan?

Epitaph for a waiter: God finally caught his eye.

Hal -- that is priceless.

Nicole -- do you think they'll send you a hand-written thank you note?

After Nicole's description, it sounds like all the waitstaff from Louie's Bookstore Cafe are now all up at Golden West.

I love the food at GW, but it's too far for me to go.

I thought of Louie's too. MIserable servers, slow slow almost hateful

We always had decent (if quirky) service at Louie's but the last time we went I think I had a touch of food poisoning from something served long past its expiration date.

I miss Louie's. It was sorta amateur hour, but endearing. Nice fries. Nice bar community. The desserts were baked by people who wanted you to like them, not Sysco. Caroline's ribs were good. Jimmy Rouse succeeded in making an art-and-quirky-inclusive community hangout, and didn't have to.

At Golden Wait, I think they may be nicer if you're displaying their herd recognition cues, like tattoos, piercings, slacker retro dress and no grey hair.

Really?? I've only been to Golden West two or three times, and only for lunch, but I never found the service to be less than courteous. Yes, the food takes a while to arrive, but I expect that where it's made to order. I don't get all the "bad-mouthing."

But, chowsearch, I have grey hair ironically!

herd recognition cues


[Staff at Golden West]...may be nicer if you're displaying their herd recognition cues, like tattoos, piercings, slacker retro dress and no grey hair.

...I never found the service to be less than courteous...

Wow. Ya know that perceptive discord thing, where you suddently stop short because the picture in your mind has to be completely redone? I have to re-draw Dottie.

Ohmigawd, Eve, no. I'm a middle-aged -- no tats, piercings, or slacker retro dress. My first visit was with a similarly-aged woman, the second with my 13-year old goddaughter, and the third with the goddaughter's mom. I assure you, NONE of us bears the slightest resemblance to the "herd recognition" picture! Here's a thought...maybe because we DIDN'T fall into the herd recognition picture they wanted to serve us fast and get us the hell OUT of there before we ruined the "ambiance"! Yukyukyuk...

Wait a minute, Dottie. I'm tattooed, pierced and middle aged. The kids didn't invent this stuff, after all. There isn't anything they do that my buddies and I weren't doing 20-30 years ago, with more style and less money.

Getting back to the photo--is that woman carrying a black cat handbag?

Can't be, Dahlink. Not enough claws and bloodstains.

Oh Lissa, I hope I didn't offend you--SO sorry if I did! I just meant I'm a totally ordinary woman, certainly not the perceived "norm" for GW.

Heavens, no, Dottie. It takes wilful ignorance to offend me. Or the colour pink. I really hate pink.

For what it is worth, despite the piercings, tattoos and moped, I consider myself a perfectly ordinary middle-aged woman myself.

I just couldn't resist tweaking kids today. Who need to get off my lawn.

I don't think Lissa has a lawn for the kids to get off of.

Lissa--trust me. You are not "perfectly ordinary." You bring something special to this gathering.

I have some cat grass in a pot, Hal. Does that count?

I have some cat grass in a pot, Hal. Does that count?

If the kids are in your pot of cat grass, you certainly should shoo them.

Is THAT why we always get friendly service at Golden West? Because my wife wears earrings? Does that outweigh my gray hairs and lack of tattoos? Interesting.

Geez, all these gripes about the GW!
I have been going there since it opened in the smaller space on the Avenue. Admittedly it had some growing pains when it moved and the food suffered a bit, and yes the service can be slow when it is busy. However IMO the service and food have improved dramatically over the past year or so. They have had some very interesting and tasty specials. I have no herd recognition signs but usually get decent, friendly and sometimes good service. If its busy I give them some slack, but we know not to show up at 11AM on a Sunday, when it is packed. What do you expect??
Re: the figs - I'm pretty sure they are from the owners fig tree in his garden. So, local yes, seasonal, no.

ACTUALLY, The Golden West Cafe has been open for almost 13 years now. I would recommend that if you're going to write a snotty column, at least PRETEND to get your facts straight. Oh, by the way Elizabeth, which culinary institution did you graduate from that makes you such an expert? Personally, I have been dining at this restaurant for years and have always had an enjoyable experience. It always makes me laugh a little about how the most uneducated people are always the ones with the most opinions. I will actually be surprised if you approve this comment for your blog.

I was going by the information on the Web site. EL

Offended Patron, get the twist out of your drawers before posting nasty things about Elizabeth. Hmmm, why is it that suspect that your real name is Joe Owner? Or Joe Investor perhaps?

Elizabeth didn't say anything snotty about your beloved GW. If you find this blog offensive, that's way too bad! You can do one of two things, one is leave, and two is figure out why people think your restaurant sucks and fix it.

Wow, maybe we could put "Humorless" inbetween Offended and Patron.

Maybe GW should at least PRETEND to get their facts straight, since their own website states "Over the course of nearly a decade, The Golden West Cafe has become a beloved Baltimore culinary institution." So, um... sounds like EL is getting her non-straight facts directly from the source!

"Oh, by the way Elizabeth, which culinary institution did you graduate from that makes you such an expert?"

Er... she's not a professional chef, she's a restaurant critic with 35 years of experience.

"I will actually be surprised if you approve this comment for your blog."


Oh silly Offended Owner, I mean Patron. If you were familiar with this blog you would know that EL always prints comments like yours.

I love a good irate comment. How many years does it take to become a "Beloved Baltimore Culinary Institution". Their web site have called itself that for at least five years. Hopefully they will soon have the power to heal the infirm.

Wow, Offended, aren't you just the nastiest little man?

OP, you seem to think Elizabeth writes all the comments, being as what you are objecting to isn't the original post.

Pretty funny, since Elizabeth is far more likely to print a comment slagging her than one slagging any of the commenters.

You really need to lurk some. Then, please, come back, and try posting again.

Why do I get the feeling that Offended Patron has "been dining at this restaurant for years" because he/she works there?

I'm not down with OP, yeah you know me.

C'mon baby, why you gotta be like that?

I ate this meal.

You got the salad, the soup, the main course, and a dessert (incidentally, a rhubarb & strawberry pie with vanilla ice cream) for $30. $40 if you also wanted their wine pick. So it was quite a value. I had the ribs, my friend had the burger.

The greens in the salad were a little bitter for my taste, but the bacon & tomatoes were lovely. The soup was delicious (the egg was perfect), the ribs were falling-off-the-bone tender and well seasoned, and the dessert was excellent. My friend adored her burger, which was too big to even finish. Also? The servers were so quick and attentive, it was almost strange.

If they do it next year I will go again.

In the early 1980's I would often sport a pair of OP corduroy shorts. Man do I miss those shorts.

Ms. Large... you are a good egg, and I like like "snarky" in ones choice of words. Who else to keep me on my toes and it is a privilege.
I do, however, remember squeezing oranges for your juice at the counter in the ole' 842 W. 36th st abode. I believe this was in the Fall of 1997?

We do oblige the "slow food" movement in every way we can. A static menu*, volume, Maryland's temperate climate i.e. lack of availability, and ultimately cost can be barriers. Nearly of the menu is constructed from core whole foods... tots, etc excluded. Local meat and produce is expensive, which is contrary to the movements Italian roots. Pricing for premium local products is regrettable and smacks of a larger class issue, but it is better in every way and we are stuck with an imperfect infrastructure for now.

It would be interesting to me and others I suspect to report periodically on the new Baltimore City Public schools food director, Tony Geraci and growing its own food on a farm in Catonsville. My children attend the Green school of Baltimore and we have volunteered several weekends clearing brush and preparing the farm for production once again. It is very exciting.

BTW- the figs aforementioned did come from my trees, and two neighbors who do not like them(?!?).
I also just harvested beautiful Bamboo shoots for personal use, and we are growing our own Mint and Cucumbers on the roof above the GW. Solar panels would be nice up there, but cost prohibitive for now.

*this is unavoidable, there are customers who have ordered the same thing for 10 years.

I'm sure most of us agree with Mr. Rudis--Ms. Large is a good egg. Grade AAA. Perhaps we can also all agree at least some of the complaints about GW are not random or baseless and that there's always room for improvement in any venture.

Okay, T. Rudis--you get big points in my book for being green and for responding to comments. I resolve to try your restaurant one of these days.

Major points to Mr. Rudis for participating. It's the smart thing to do

I have to say I have never had a problem with the service at Golden West. I often go with a friend and we spend time catching up and chit chatting, so maybe I don't notice whether it's a long or short time before the food shows up. However, I showed up this past Saturday at noon, sat at the bar and ordered brunch, and my order was up within less than 5 minutes. (Even the bartender was a little surprised at how fast it came.) Got great service, too.

It's hard to get ignored at a small bar at noon.

Even the bartender was a little surprised at how fast it came

Quite telling.

A serving of tater tots is 6.50. I don't care if they're constructed from core whole foods or platinum, 6.50 for tater tots is outrageous. So is 5 dollars for a single pancake.

I'd pay $5 for a pancake if it was drizzled with AWESOMENESS.

Platinum tots for $6.50...I dare to dream. We get a 31% food cost on the tots, and 28 % on the pancake, soooo our Gold leafed yellow brick road to Boca Del Vista will have to wait...a long time...sobs...dammit.

Lot of whining about this place...I wonder how many of you even know where it is let alone have eaten there! I've enjoyed many meals over the years and have never found the wait to be too long depending on the crowd. If you go on a Sunday morning, you will not be getting the same service as a Wednesda morning...pretty sure some of you are just whining!

Bart, will you please tell me the other restaurants in town you like, so I can avoid them? Thanks.

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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