Dinner as Usual
A Federal Hill bar/restaurant feels welcoming, but not inspired
"I'm here!" a woman announced as she walked through the front door of The Hill stopping briefly to strike a pose. Only a few heads turned as she made her way to a table of friends sitting by the restaurant's storefront windows. But later, as a wiry man sporting a tiny ponytail exchanged travel golf stories with a mustachioed buddy at another table, and a raucous round of "Happy birthday!" broke out at the bar, I wondered, half-aloud, if everyone knows everyone at the Hill? Probably not, but I've a feeling if you go there more than once, the cheerful staff will start to recognize you, and the regulars will include you in their conversation. It has that sort of neighborhood feel.
The same kind of casual familiarity extends to the décor and the menu, and if you think you've eaten at places like the Hill before, you have. The restaurant has the same warm exposed brick and pressed-tin ceiling as a half dozen other bars/restaurants in Federal Hill, Fells Point, or Canton, although we couldn't decide if we liked the panels of frosted glass that divided the bar and its televisions from the dining area. The menu is an amalgam of bar favorites (fried calamari, quesadillas, buffalo wings), sandwiches (blackened tuna, a Reuben, a chicken wrap) pastas, and home-style entrées, some with touches that hearken back to restaurant food fads of the last 20 years (ravioli with pesto sauce, anyone?). I was a little surprised to see filet mignon encrusted with blue cheese, topped with lump crab and raspberry sauce? And while I harbored hopes that the phrase "served with rice and vegetable" had finally disappeared from Baltimore menus, sadly, it hasn't here.
Which isn't to say that there's not decent food to be had at the Hill. The stuffed pork chop ($18), split and splayed across a hearty bread and sausage stuffing flecked with corn is a more than generous amount of meat, and, like the stuffed flounder entrée, a treat usually found in dining rooms far more old-fashioned than this one. I would order it again, though I found the scent of the accompanying cinnamon-and-sugar-dusted sweet potatoes distracting, as if dessert had landed on my dinner plate. The Hill's roasted chicken ($17) was juicy and pale, rather than brown and crisp-skinned, but its simple salt and pepper seasoning made it a good foil to the nicely tangy collards and smoky mac 'n' cheese that shared the plate.
Chef Tony Petteway's crab cakes are available as appetizers ($12 for two mini crab cakes) as well as an entrée ($24), and while their outer surface is pleasantly crisp (they appeared to be breaded before frying), the inside was unpleasantly mayonnaise-y moist and a little bland. The red curry buffalo wings ($8) were similarly disappointing, meaty, but oddly mild despite a curry sauce. Desserts are from Catonsville's Sugarbakers, but it's doubtful you'll have room for cake if you order that pork chop.
The Hill offers a long list of martinis, local beers on draft, and more specials than you can absorb in one reading. We happened to dine on ladies night when glasses of wine were $5 and all appetizers half price, deals that made the evening more than affordable. While it might not be enough to lure you out of your neighborhood, I'm betting those in Federal Hill are happy to have a new local on the hill.