The Silver Queen of Harford Road

If you weren't looking for the Silver Queen Café (5429 Harford Road, [443] 345-2020, silverqueencafe.com), you'd easily miss it. Located on a block of Harford Road most recognizable for being home to the CVS and Hamilton Vacuum and Janitorial Supply, the nondescript storefront (formerly Herb & Soul Express) calls little attention to itself. Yet six months after its opening, the neighborhood is well aware of this cozy, family-friendly joint. On a mid-week evening, the country chic dining room—glossy black wainscoting below warm white walls—is bursting with couples across the age spectrum and families with small tykes.

This makes sense as family is front and center at Silver Queen (the word "family" is even framed and hung on the wall). Children are more than welcome and have their own designated play area within the dining room. When I called to make a reservation, I was asked if I was bringing kids. When I said I wasn't, I was reassured that we would be seated away from that area—a courtesy to adults dining without little ones and a courtesy to the families who are, so they can be only a few feet from the rumble and tumble of children finding joy in small plastic objects. It's a win-win solution, and if kid noise concerns you, come by later in the evening, say around 8 p.m.

Family is also behind the scenes of the restaurant as well: Silver Queen Café is owned by husband-and-wife team Jason Daniloski, who helms the kitchen, and Nicole Evanshaw, who contributes the killer chocolate peanut butter pie to the menu. Daniloski last cooked at the now-closed Clementine, and you'll find that quirky-yet-homey aesthetic in Silver Queen's menu, too, which reads as somewhat of a cross between a diner and a café. Food offerings are regionally focused, as you might expect from an establishment whose name is a nod to the local favorite variety of white sweet corn. The café is also BYOB with a single $5 corkage fee per table, which seems fair and practical.

The compact menu begins with "smalls," some of which are smaller than others. The spot-on crab dip ($13) made rich (but not too rich) with Gruyère and cream cheese is more than enough as a starter for a table of four (and maybe even for six). The dip is served with rounds of toasted bread, but even better accompaniments are the crudites: knobby local carrots and parsnips as thin as your pinky finger, pink cylinders of breakfast radish sliced lengthwise, and sticks of perfectly plain looking celery that are surprisingly the best pairing of all. Smalls also include a green salad, a soup of the day, a generous serving of fries either dressed with Parmesan ($8) and a bright, housemade ketchup or "disco-style" with shredded duck and gravy, and a bowl of mussels ($12) in a tame broth made from Union Craft Brewing's Duckpin Ale that with a bowl of fries could double as dinner.

The rest of Silver Queen's menu is divided into pizzas (which appeared on a majority of tables) and a handful of rotating entrees that often include several pastas and a pork chop. Puffy and crispy, Daniloski's pizza crust is a true winner, though like the mussels, the pulled duck pizza ($17) feels like it needs a bump of seasoning, in this case to balance the richness of the sweet caramelized onions and the shreds of greaseless duck. But the only thing that would improve Daniloski's Maryland Fried Chicken ($18) would be more of it. Glance around the dining room, and notice that nearly every table has a plate of breast meat snuggled into a pillow of mashed potatoes, and rightly so. Crisp and moist and napped in a tawny gravy, this chicken satisfies the comfort food craving. Daniloski also has an able hand with day boat scallops ($26) whose natural sweetness is allowed to shine via pan searing (on the night we dined, shrimp were also part of the plate).

Desserts mostly come from outside sources (Prigel's ice cream, chocolate cake from local Hamilton Bakery), save Nicole Evanshaw's aforementioned chocolate peanut butter pie ($6), a creamy paean to Reese's peanut butter cups.

Service at Silver Queen is warm on the phone and in person, though on the night we dined, one slightly overextended server took care of the entire room which led to moderate, though not inappropriately long waits for food. Daniloski also emerged from the kitchen to visit tables and to make sure that diners were happy with their meals. It's this kind of earnestness, along with an entirely approachable menu, the funky '70s and '80s R&B soundtrack (the Gap Band, Kool & the Gang, Evelyn "Champagne" King), the eclectic collection of art and tchotchkes, including a classic black-and-white photo of Eubie Blake, that gives Silver Queen a kind of Mom-and-Pop appeal, albeit one with a hipster twist.

Silver Queen Café is open for dinner Wednesday-Saturday and for brunch Saturday-Sunday.

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