I have been going to Donna’s for as long as I can remember. As a youngster I frequented the location formerly in Pikesville (inside of what was a Bibelot and is now a Barnes and Noble). Despite having lost the location in Mt. Vernon to a fire, the locations in Cross Keys and Charles Village are both going strong: continuing to serve the same exceptional food in an elegant yet simultaneously down-to-earth environment. My roommates and I decided to end our weekends with a trip to Donna’s in Cross Keys for dinner. It was remarkably nice outside, so we opted for seating on the patio rather than inside which was rather empty despite the presence of the bar; everyone had the same idea. With large potted plants and umbrellas the part of the space is rather casual, but at the opposite end is an outdoor seating area excellent for early evening cocktails.
The menu is diversified, there is no one style in particular being highlighted here; the true binding force are high-quality ingredients, skill and wise flavor combinations. The four of us quickly came to a consensus as to how we would follow the bread and oil starter: calamari with crispy strips of red pepper with a drizzled aioli and mussels in a light broth with tomatoes, onions and herbs. The calamari was fried perfectly: the rings were crispy on the outside, slightly chewy on the inside; the tentacles were just as crispy but melted like butter once bitten into. The mussels were tender and larger than expected, originating from Prince Edward Island. Shortly after finishing our appetizers, our entrees were brought out as though a part of an exciting culinary parade. It was somewhat of a spectacle with three members of the wait staff emerging from the restaurant’s interior with our many plates in hand. The chicken and corn chowder (that day’s special) while slightly under-seasoned was hearty and ideal for the early evening weather that comes when the sun sets. The salad ordered to accompany it was a meal within itself, with a fried slice of goat cheese and runny egg over arugula with bacon, peas and potatoes. If not for the prudence of the vinaigrette, the subtle nuances of this salad would probably be lost. The New York Strip steak topped with a red wine demi-glaze and served with Gorgonzola mashed potatoes and roasted tomatoes was incredibly rich, powerful and unlikely to be finished in one sitting. Someone who, for the most part, abides by a vegan diet ordered it; she considered this indulgence to be a very smart one. My Kobe beef burger topped with cracker pepper, pomegranate tomatoes, and pecorino rustica was dense and juicy; distinct in flavor it needed no other condiment. The leftovers were quite good a few hours later. It always seems to be this way: overexcited at the sight of the menu too many things are ordered and the main dish is neglected at the time. Only later is it discovered in the depths of a refrigerator providing more of a delight than it did in the first place.
Extremely full I wanted nothing else, that is, until the dessert menu was mentioned and I was coerced into wanting something sweet to end my Sunday dinner. We shared slices Oreo cheesecake, key lime pie and enormous mugs of hot chocolate topped with house-made whipped cream. While the cheesecake and hot chocolate were very enjoyable, the definite highlight was the Key Lime pie; exquisitely tart it was the fruity treat we all needed to end what felt like the last day of summer.
For a worry-free lunch or dinner virtually nothing can beat this place. With consistently excellent service, it is always a reliable option for a quick meal, drink or coffee; but when it comes down to it, doesn’t everyone just want to sit down, relax and just eat for a while?
Price Range: $15-30/person
Cross Keys Location: 5100 Falls Road, Baltimore, MD 21210
Open Monday-Thursday 9:00AM-8:30PM, Friday & Saturday 9:00AM-9:30PM and Sunday 10:00AM-8:30PM