SHIRLEY AND BRICE Phillips have a way with seafood -- and they've come a long way with it. If you've got any doubts, just stop by Phillips Harborplace in Baltimore's Inner Harbor, their 1980 addition to a small empire that began 25 years ago with a seafood carryout in Ocean City and now boasts five restaurants, one hotel and a number of seafood stands.
Like most of their enterprises, it often has a sizeable line of customers (we waited 11/2 hours to be seated on a recent Saturday night), but once inside you discover it's well worth your time. You can view the harbor while you crack open your crabs and listen to a ragtime piano player who pounds the keys every day from 1 to 11.
On weekends you can also hear the Gang Plank Ragtime Band. These guys seem to enjoy the music as much as the patrons who gather round the grand piano and sing old favorites such as "Roll Out the Barrel" or "Love Letters in the Sand." (They hand out song sheets for those who don't know the words).
Most of the musicians are stuffed behind the piano, sheltered by a large oak bar. But the poor tuba player, and his horn, jut into the path of waiters and customers. (One brave -- or numb -- patron stood within three inches of the tuba for a good 15 minutes.) Most people, however, give the musicians a wider berth, settling on the other side of the piano, where they can also shuffle to the music even though there's no designated dance floor.
If all that singing and dancing builds up your appetite, there are a variety of seafood appetizers (crab claw cocktail, oysters on the half shell) and entrees (stuffed fillet of flounder, broiled swordfish). "Maryland's Old-Fashioned Clam Bake For Two" for $29.95 includes two one-pound lobsters, clams, mussels, snow crab clusters, potatoes and corn on the cob and requires a monstrous appetite. For those who don't care for seafood, there are some steak and chicken dishes. (Phillips considers itself a family restaurant and includes a special children's menu.)
Domestic and imported beers run from $1.25 for National Premium and Miller Lite to $2 for imported beers such as St. Pauli Girl and Beck's. Rail drinks range from $2.25 to $2.75. If you opt for a large strawberry daiquiri for $3.95, you can bring home the glass.
The decor is Victorian, complemented by Tiffany lamps, ceiling fans and oversized Cabbage Patch-type dolls dressed as a barbershop quartet. Large glass doors facing the harbor make up one side of the restaurant and allow patrons to wander inside and out. There are wrought-iron tables outdoors for dinner and smaller tables for those who prefer just to drink. Unfortunately you can't hear the music from many of them, but they're wonderful when the weather's right.
So get in line; autumn can't last forever. PHILLIPS HARBORPLACE -- 301 Light Street, Baltimore. Open seven days a week, 11 to 11. 301/685-6600.