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Fabulous Atmosphere Outshines Food At Lively Irish Spot

Christopher Myers

Maggie Moore's

This location is closed

By Richard Gorelick | Posted 3/29/2006

Maybe there’s something to the west-side revival after all. Maggie Moore’s Irish Pub and Restaurant opened last fall right across the street from the Hippodrome Theatre in the old Baltimore Equitable Society building. It’s a convenience for theatergoers, and citizens of the neighboring University of Maryland medical campus automatically make it a useful establishment. And although Baltimore needs another Irish joint like it needs another crooked politician, the folks who saw this National Register property, dreamt about it, and then so thoughtfully restored it happen to be native Irishmen—so what would you have them put in there? A Korean barbecue?

The most impressive thing about this renovation, which covers three stories of the Renaissance-style building, is how reserved it is. Overdoing it, playing up to its dimensions, would have been easy. But the first-level main space, even with its 20-foot ceilings, feels intimate, pubby, lively. Painted in warm mustard and tomato and trimmed and wainscoted in brown, the cheery room is sectioned off smartly with upholstered banquettes and simple stained-glass screens. Framed black-and-white landscape photographs hang on the walls, not Gaelic kitsch.

Maggie Moore’s menu really ought to have one of those welcome pages, pointing out and explaining details like the massive revolving safe at the entrance; original light fixtures; and the old teller’s counter, which has been converted into the bar. And unless you go looking for them, it’s easy to remain unaware of the “bank manager’s room,” now a very handsome and quieter dining space adjacent to the bar, and beside it, a narrow stone vaulted room that accommodates one lucky table of four. More delights are found up a winding staircase—a mezzanine level with another, larger, vaulted room, a balcony overlooking the main floor, and an expansive office-party-ready upper floor, with its original pressed-tin ceiling intact.

The food has its moments. Not enough of them, probably, to encourage a foodie’s visit, but enough to make for a satisfying pre-theater dinner or post-show snack. The kitchen did splendid work with a cider-brined pork chop ($19), grilling it very nicely, so that the meat was both juicy, tender, and packed with flavor. Underneath it was a moist, tasty pile of warm oats flavored with sweet peas and bacon that played very nicely with the sharp cider flavors—actually, a little more cider tang would have sent this dish soaring. Lovely, too, was the autumn harvest risotto ($17), with a mellow creaminess lent by butternut squash, and hearty taste by a sturdy vegetable stock. Garnished with roasted walnuts and dried cranberries, this dish was as good as vegetarian cooking gets. A minor objection—it’s out of season.

Maggie Moore’s traditional Irish breakfast ($12) features two of the best fried eggs I’ve been served in Baltimore. These were accompanied by black and white puddings, pork sausages, Irish bacon, baked beans, and a cheddar-topped broiled tomato —all good, except the thick, pasty tomato, which wasn’t really broiled. A pot of strong Barry’s Irish tea comes with this, too. A small complaint—the little plastic half-and-half packet looks tacky next to such a pretty setup. (Similarly, ale-steamed mussels, perfectly fine, need soft bread, not dense rolls, to mop up their buttery, herby sauce with.)

Several dishes sounded better on paper. Two fried green tomatoes sandwich a creamy blue crab salad ($9). Garnished with a red pepper aioli, this looked good on the plate—and the crab was fine—but the tomatoes were overbreaded and very mushy. A roasted garlic Caesar salad ($8) was pleasantly chilled, cheesy, and crunchy but its “nontraditional” element—roasted garlic—failed to materialize on our palates.

A two-way salmon appetizer ($12) was a victim of precious plating. Choice bits of both hot-smoked and cold-cured salmon, intelligently garnished with powerful mustard paste and a caper/red onion crème fraîche, were marooned on such a big plate that it ended up looking, unfairly maybe, like a ripoff. A shame, since the salmon was great.

Only a plate of fish and chips ($15) was a total dud—perhaps the fillet was too thick, but the batter never fully formed in the fryer and seeped mushily into the fish. It was pretty unpleasant.

Maggie Moore’s is good with the grace notes, like little posies on the table. It gets lost occasionally in the vast middle ground of serving interesting food. But it works very well on the grand scale of being a swell place to be in.

Green with envy

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